ARLINGTON — Two of the Agape Christian Fellowship elders named in a lawsuit that claims Bishop Terry Hornbuckle sexually assaulted three women have broken with the church.
The civil lawsuit contends that Eben and Sarah Conner and six other elders are partially responsible for Hornbuckle’s actions because they hired him as senior pastor of Agape in Arlington.
The Conners and the other elders were represented by the same attorney. However, the Conners have hired a lawyer who filed court documents on their behalf last month asserting that any injuries to the women were caused “by the intervening criminal acts or act of Defendant Hornbuckle.”
If the Conners, who have started their own church, are found liable, they want to be reimbursed by Hornbuckle, according to the court documents.
No other elders had filed counterclaims as of Wednesday.
A cross-claim is a common legal maneuver in cases with more than one defendant, said Gregory Jones, Hornbuckle’s civil attorney.
Hornbuckle, who started Agape in the mid-1980s, was indicted in March on four charges of sexual assault. In two of the cases, the women claim Hornbuckle used date-rape drugs to overpower them.
Hornbuckle’s criminal attorney, Mike Heiskell, said he cannot talk about the allegations against his client, the church or the church elders because of a gag order issued last month by 371st District Judge James Wilson.
“We have no problem with [the Conners] starting a church,” Heiskell said.
The Conners left Agape last fall and officially formed Word of Truth Family Church in February, according to incorporation documents. Eben Conner is the church’s pastor.
He declined to say why he left Agape or why he started his own church. Some of his parishioners said he agonized for months before leaving Agape in November.
“I’d rather not comment,” Conner said, while greeting parishioners after his service Sunday.
The Conners’ attorney, C. Michael Gray, also would not comment.
Conner started his church with a group of about 30 people who met for weekly Bible study at members’ homes.
The congregation, which now numbers about 150 members, meets in the Kenneth Davis Elementary School cafeteria in south Arlington. Its first service was on Easter Sunday.
“I really like the way Pastor Conner preaches using the Scriptures,” said Yolanda Veal, a former Agape member.
Derrick and Stephanie Givens, who live in the same neighborhood as the Conners, said their three children enjoy the church’s youth activities.
“The kids’ programs are top-notch,” Stephanie Givens said. “I like Pastor Conner’s message and how he applies the Bible to everyday life.”
On Sunday, Eben Conner’s sermon was titled “Pregnant with your purpose” — showing a parallel between creating a child and growing one’s faith.
“God determines our purpose,” he said. “Conception occurs when you allow the seed to be planted. In the spiritual, the seed is the Word of God.”
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