When the vote was announced in church on Sunday, members of the New Heart Family Worship Center on Anglin Street thought they were starting the new year right by voting in new Senior Pastor Claude Gilliland III.
Gilliland, 54, had been an associate pastor of the church for several months and was named the new leader after former Pastor Carl Roye fell ill.
But congregation members didn’t know about Gilliland’s past.
“I’m shocked,” said church member Phyllis Kaylor when she found out Gilliland is a registered sex offender. “It’s terrible. People aren’t going to come to our church knowing that.”
According to Texas Department of Public Safety records, Gilliland was convicted of sexual assault of a 35-year-old woman in 1993. He is required to annually re-register with the state. PublicData.com records show Gilliand was also convicted of theft and driving while intoxicated.
Paul Tatum, who said he was a minister of the church, said the congregation voted as a whole to appoint Gilliland.
“There were some people in the church that are aware of [Gilliland’s past] but not the general congregation,” he said, adding more people have found out in the last several days.
Tatum said he had no further comments.
Tatum’s ex-wife, Jamie Smith, said she was afraid for her children who still attend the church with Tatum.
“I am without words to describe it,” she said. “We would not allow our family doctor to be a ... sex offender, or our teacher. However, we have a church pastor who is. It was incredible to me that I had to explain to my children, ‘Stay away from your pastor.’”
Cleburne Deputy Police Chief Amy Knoll said there are no laws, at least locally, that govern how Gilliland chooses to live or work. And because his offense was against an adult, there would have been no laws about his interaction with children, she said. He was, however, listed among all sex offenders residing in Johnson County in an October Times-Review story that warned parents about trick-or-treating at offenders’ homes.
“If he’s not on probation or parole, there are not any rules about whether he can be around children,” Knoll said. “There is nothing about where he can work that we [the police department] would deal with.”
Still, the reassurance from Knoll does little for Smith who doesn’t believe someone with such a record should be leading a church.
“It’s a pastor’s duty to go to the homes of the elderly women, to go to the hospital rooms, put his your arm around you during prayer,” Smith said.
Kaylor said the matter needed to be discussed in “a church meeting” and declined to comment further.
Repeated phone calls to the church and to Gilliland were unreturned as of press time Wednesday.