The African Methodist Episcopal Church said Wednesday that the Rev. Jamal H. Bryant, leader of Northwest Baltimore's Empowerment Temple Church, did not face a disciplinary trial in 2008 after a scandalous affair ruined his marriage because no one came forward with a complaint against him.
Bryant is now facing fresh allegations from a 34-year-old California woman who claims that he fathered a son with her last summer and has not consistently maintained child support payments.
"Rev. Bryant was never charged through the church system with anything," said Jeffrey Cooper, chief information officer for the AME church, in an interview with The Christian Post Wednesday on whether or not pastors found guilty of adultery should face a lifetime ban from the pulpit.
According to the church's website, Bryant is a "spirited third-generation pastor," who started his church with just 47 members on Easter Sunday April 2000. Empowerment Temple Church is now described as the fastest-growing African Methodist Episcopal church in the denomination's 200-year history, with well over 10,000 members.
Bryant's father, Bishop John Richard Bryant, is also one of the Chief Officers of the Connectional Organization of the AME Church. These officers are elected for life by a majority vote of the General Conference, which meets every four years. Bishops are retired at the General Conference when the Bishop's seventy-third (73rd) birthday is on or before July 15th of the General Conference Year. Bishop Bryant oversees the organization's Fourth Episcopal District, which covers Indiana, Chicago, Illinois, Michigan, Canada and India. He is expected to retire in 2016.
Cooper explained that the AME church has a judicial process in place for persons who may find themselves having violated some laws of the church but the outcomes of this process vary according to each situation. In the case of Pastor Jamal Bryant, however, the church did not even start a process with him for any violations because no formal charges were brough against him by anyone.
"He was not subjected to a church process by way of anyone charging him with any particular crime and therefore there was no process that began with him or to end with him. There is nothing the church has investigated because the church was never presented with any claims against him by anyone," Cooper stressed.
Research highlighted by the Pew Forum from the AME Church's Book of Discipline explains how strict the church's ecclesiastical law can be for just lay members alone. Lay members may be subject to discipline if they disrupt their congregation or behave in ways that, in the words of the church's Bishop Clement Fugh, "exclude them from the grace and glory" of the church. This may include being rowdy during services, being drunk in public or refusing to submit to the authority of church leadership, notes the Pew Forum.
The Board of Stewards, which is a group of the congregation's leaders, are responsible for investigating and issuing an opinion on charges laid against lay members who are allowed to explain themselves during the hearing. Possible punishments for offending lay members include suspension of membership or being barred from holding leadership positions in the church.
When it comes to sexual misconduct, if the charge involves a minor, the matter is immediately turned over to civil authorities for investigation. For other kinds of sexual impropriety – for example, when a minister is alleged to have had an extramarital affair with an adult congregant – the Board of Stewards of the minister's congregation reports the charge to the presiding elder of that congregation, says the Pew Forum. The presiding elder then refers the allegation to the Judicial Committee of the Annual Conference to which the church belongs, which then investigates the matter.
"If the Judiciary Committee finds the charge is credible, it convenes a Trial Committee – comprised of 12 elders from the Annual Conference – and holds a formal trial. During the trial, the Judiciary Committee provides the evidence against the accused and may call witnesses. The accused may be represented by a secular lawyer, church elder or other counselor and may also call witnesses," notes the Pew Forum.
"Members of the Trial Committee act as judges and rule on the charge. A person can challenge the ruling of a Trial Committee by appealing to the Judicial Council, a body of nine ministers and laypersons elected by the General Conference as the highest judicial body in the church. The Judicial Council reviews the trial and issues a ruling, which is final."
Fugh noted however that the AME Church rarely employs its complex judicial system. With more than 4,000 AME congregations in the United States, he said at the time that "very few" cases arise each year against either laypersons or ministers.
CP calls to Empowerment Temple seeking comment from Bryant were not returned by press time.
In 2008, when Bryant's now ex-wife, Gizelle, filed for divorce, according to the Baltimore Sun, AME Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr., who presided over the Second Episcopal District, which covers Maryland at the time, said he would raise the issue of Bryant's adultery at the church's annual conference. He currently oversees the eleventh district which covers Florida, Central, South, West Coast, East, and the Bahamas. Bishop William P. Deveaux Sr. currently oversees the Second Episcopal District which covers Baltimore, Washington, Virginia, North Carolina and Western North Carolina. He is expected to retire in 2016.
"There will be some questions that I ask," Richardson said at the time. "Simply the same questions that we have with every pastor that deal with the character of pastors and whether or not anything official has come to the secretary of the conference about the moral or religious character of a pastor."
In court papers, Gizelle accused Bryant of adultery, cruel treatment and "excessively vicious conduct" that caused "reasonable apprehension of bodily suffering so as to render cohabitation unsafe."
Bryant and his ex-wife have three children together while he fathered two other children before that marriage. One of those children, he only acknowledged after an issue over his child support payments erupted in a court battle.
In addition to his role as a pastor, Bryant has been a sought after social and political commentator in mainstream media and was recently tapped to be one of four pastors expected to co-host a new faith-based talk show to be tested on FOX this summer called "The Preachers."