A former Southern Baptist pastor in Houston was arrested for allegedly sexually assaulting a teenage relative over the course of five years. Stephen Bratton, 44, also previously advocated for the passage of a bill that would criminalize abortion in Texas, which would have made the death penalty a possibility for those who undergo the medical procedure.
On Friday, Bratton, who was a pastor at Grace Family Baptist Church, was arrested and charged with the continuous sexual abuse of a child, according to the Harris County Sheriff's Office.
“The victim said they would have sexual intercourse multiple times a day or several times a week,” the sheriff's office said in a statement provided to Refinery29. “The complainant stated that Bratton sexually abused her starting from 2013, when she was just 13 years of age. The abuse continued until 2018.” Bratton, a father of seven, has been excommunicated from his church and is currently out on a $50,000 bond.
Officials began investigating Bratton on May 16 after he reportedly confessed his actions to three fellow Southern Baptist clergy members, the Houston Chronicle reported. Two of his co-pastors called the sheriff’s office, and the third reported the complaint to the Texas Department of Family Protective Services. According to church leaders, there are no other known victims.
“This activity is wrong according to biblical and civil law, and the church condemns the behavior as abhorrent. The elders have called upon Stephen Bratton to accept the full responsibility for his actions and to place himself at the mercy of the criminal justice system,” according to a public statement from the church. “Stephen Bratton was also excommunicated by the church [on] Sunday, May 19th. Therefore he is no longer a member of the church. Currently we are working to meet the needs of the family and the victim.”
A staggering number of Southern Baptists with roles in the church have engaged in sexual abuse in the past two decades, according to a new investigation called "Abuse of Faith" by the Houston Chronicle and San Antonio Express-News, leaving behind over 700 survivors. One of the reports details how the church harbored and protected sex offenders for years, while another explains how a bill currently making its way through the Texas legislature could weaken survivors' rights to sue organizations that might have protected their abusers, such as churches.
Bratton was known to be a local anti-abortion advocate, and recently testified in support of a failed Texas House bill that would have made it possible for prosecutors to charge people who undergo abortion procedures with homicide, a crime technically punishable by the death penalty under current Texas law. Under House Bill 896, abortion providers would also be charged with assault or criminal homicide. At an April 8 hearing on the legislation, Bratton was one of 350 people who signed up to testify in favor of the bill. “Whoever authorizes or commits murder is guilty,” Bratton said.
Texas' current law bans abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, with certain exceptions, such as if the fetus has “severe and irreversible” abnormalities or is unviable. Last month, the Texas Senate passed SB 1033, which would remove these exceptions.
Bratton isn’t the only man in the news recently who has been accused of abusing a female family member, while publicly advocating against abortion. In May, Mississippi State Rep. Douglas McLeod, who has consistently voted to restrict abortion access in his state, was arrested for allegedly punching his wife in the face for undressing too slowly when he wanted to have sex.