CLEBURNE, Texas -- Last Sunday, members of New Heart Family Worship Center elected Claude Gilliland III to senior pastor. Some now say they didn't know he's a convicted sex offender.
The founder and retiring leader of the little church in Cleburne said there was no intent to hide Gilliland's past.
"There's nothing that was ever kept secret," Carl Roye said. "He said two weeks ago, 'I've got a dark, dark past, and if anybody wants to know about it, you just ask me and I'll be glad to tell you.'"
Pastor Carl Roye said Gilliland told church leaders about his past when they interviewed him this summer. He said he served four years in prison for sexual assault involving his now-former wife.
"We thought we'd let the congregation get to know him first, then tell them," Roye said. "We thought it would be best if he told them."
Weeks passed. Then in October, a Cleburne newspaper published photos of registered sex offenders, including Gilliland. Roye said no church members complained.
"He's asked God to forgive him. He's told us he asked God to forgive him," Roye said. "I take him at his word for it."
But now that he's been elected senior pastor, some question whether Gilliland should be around children, or whether his presence will keep the church from growing.
Roye said this is a story of redemption, not scandal.
Pastor Roye is 72 and in failing health. He needs someone to take over the church, and lead the roughly 85 worshipers who regularly attend. He said Gilliland offered to resign, if it would help the church. Roye said the church board told him to stay.
"I really think God sent him to this church," Roye said. "I really believe that."