Rekha Basu: Investigation needed after Des Moines Apostolic bishop, 63, weds teen congregant he guided

Des Moines Register [Des Moines IA]

March 30, 2022

By Rehka Basu

Former church members and a church official in Texas want a formal investigation of Bishop Dwight Reed’s actions.

When the Iowa Attorney General’s Office issued a report last year about sex abuse by Catholic clergy, it also publicized a hotline for people from any denomination to call with similar concerns about that taboo topic in their own places of worship.

Since March 21, seven calls have involved the 53-year-old Christ Apostolic Temple in Des Moines.

The calls follow online chatter about the November 2021 marriage of the church’s thrice-divorced, 63-year-old bishop and pastor to a 19-year-old he had been offering special guidance to as dean of the church school.

It’s not illegal to marry someone so much younger if they’ve reached the age of legal consent, which in Iowa is 16. But Bishop Dwight Reed’s critics, some of them former church members, have taken to social media to challenge his actions, contending he used his position to facilitate a personal relationship with someone over whom he had authority. They’re calling for an investigation by outside authorities.

Information for this column was gleaned from in-depth interviews with seven people close to the church, hours of recorded and live forums on social media, including recordings on the Clubhouse and Facebook Live social media services, and recordings of Reed’s Sunday services. Several people I interviewed said they feared retaliation and asked that I not publish their names. Reed has announced in his Sunday church services that he will air the dirty laundry of those who speak ill of him. And he has followed through. 

Dwight Reed and his wife declined through a church secretary to speak to me.

Former church member says pastor is ‘a predator’

In announcing their engagement, Reed and Jordan Goodlett said their marriage was God’s plan. But people close to the families suggest that Goodlett was pressured, telling me that she expressed reservations and made efforts to call the wedding off both the day before and the day of. They believe that she ultimately succumbed to pressure from Reed and her father, a musician on the church payroll. 

A picture on the church website and a Facebook page shows the two smiling happily. A screenshot of a Facebook post attributed to Jordan Goodlett, which was sent to me by a source, says she had second thoughts but married of her free will and “I’m moving forward and having faith in God every step of the way.” It concludes, “My last name is REED now.” 

Though the wedding was in November, many people affiliated with the church were prompted to speak up after a former church member, Jazmn Napier, took to Facebook, using a pseudonym, to call Reed “a predator masking himself as a man of God.” She accused him of using his power and privilege as a pastor to groom a teenager for marriage. 

Napier was among several people who told me that, a few years earlier, Reed told the congregation he’d be taking Goodlett under his wing for special attention as she was struggling with the impending divorce of her parents. They also said that she spent time in his home and on outings with him from about age 16 and that he bought her a car as a graduation gift.

“It’s not ok, it’s not normal, black women matter,” Napier posted in reference to the church’s predominantly African-American membership and leadership. “I am sick of black women being treated like we don’t matter. … We matter; it’s time our stories from surviving Christ Apostolic be told!”

That post, which went on to denounce Reed, has attracted national engagement on Facebook and Clubhouse. Reed has since devoted his last two Sunday services tofighting back.

Texas bishop says he is planning an Iowa trip to rally against Reed

In returning my call to Dwight Reed, church secretary Sherrie Pruitt said the bishop wouldn’t be speaking while the church is “pursuing legal matters,” and she guided me to the church’s Facebook page, where a March 23 letter from the Quilty law firm is posted. It’s directed at a bishop from Houston who has been outspoken in calling for Reed to be criminally investigated and removed from his position.

Bishop Demetrius Sinegal is presiding bishop of Kingdom Churches in Covenant and the pastor of The Kingdom Church of Houston, Texas, which is also ofthe Apostolic denomination. He’s also the founder of Safehouse Unmuzzled, an advocacy group for victims of clergy abuse.The Quilty law firm letter accuses Sinegal of making “false, malicious and defamatory statements” about the couple and about Dwight Reed’s previous behavior with women, and threatens legal action unless he removes the statements from his social media platform.

Since coming upon Napier’s post, and doing his own digging, Sinegal has been organizing against Reed. He has also launched a petition calling for a criminal investigation by police and the Polk County attorney. 

He said he plans a trip to Des Moines in April to rally people to action. 

Marriages of teenagers are not uncommon at Apostolic churches, Sinegal said. In earlier times, he said, “women were literally property” and could effectively be “sold” by their fathers. But an age disparity this large, he said, is unusual. 

What is Christ Apostolic Temple and who are its leaders?

Apostolic churches are a Christian denomination with Pentecostal origins. The name is in reference to Jesus’ 12 apostles. Bishops are generally consecrated by an ecumenical council of bishops within a region.

Dwight Reed “was baptized by his father and pastor, and filled with the Holy Ghost in 1972 at Calvary Church of God in Des Moines,” says a biography on the church’s website. “He began his preaching ministry at 18 years of age.”

He succeeded his father as minister at Christ Apostolic Temple Inc. a few years ago, not long before his father died, according to the website. 

According to an obituary published in 2018, Bishop Jeremiah Reed became a pastor in Des Moines in 1969. He helped develop programs to help youth offenders and people struggling with substance abuse and hunger, according to the obituary. “His ministry touched the lives of thousands locally, but also reached billions more through the Apostolic Oneness Network television station, around the world,” the obituary said..

A nonprofit agency formed by the church in 2003 came under scrutiny a few years later over alleged misspending.

Marriages of teenagers called commonplace

Dwight Reed previously preached at a church in Louisiana. Sinegal is one of several people, including from Reed’s family, who have said that Jeremiah Reed excommunicated his son from the Des Moines church. Dwight Reed returned in 2017 as his father’s health was declining and took the helm.  

Under Reed’s late father and predecessor, Napier wrote on Facebook, “The Christ Apostolic Temple has been marrying off young girls for decades.”    

A longtime church member I spoke with, who attended when Jeremiah Reed was the bishop, said her 16-year-old daughter was betrothed to an 18-year-old man in 2006 while the surprised mother was watching the church service virtually. “My late mother called me and said, ‘Your daughter’s getting married,'” she said. “I didn’t want it, but didn’t want to be badgered by his father. He wasn’t nice when you didn’t do what he wanted you to do.”

Under Jeremiah Reed, “15,- 14-, 16-year-old girls were married to young men,” she said. “I know at least 10 sets. Only one of those couples is still together.”

Napier, who saw such arrangements take place, described them this way: “The females would come up like livestock and the men would pick them.” 

Responding to a Clubhouse Live discussion on such practices, Dwight Reed at a  subsequent Sunday sermon insisted his father never forced people to get married. “You jumped up when he asked who wanted to get married,” he scoffed. “You put your hands up.” It was unclear if he was referring to the teens or their parents. 

Sinegal says people are leaving the church every day in this climate. “People are emotionally, spiritually, mentally fatigued,” he said in a Clubhouse forum. “…There are numerous proven track record of attempts at intimidation, at muting and muzzling the mouths of people.”

He also faulted what he called a level of apathy within the broader African-American community “about our responsibility to one another, especially as people of God.” He said the misuse of power is enabled by admonitions to “mind your business. Nobody’s perfect.”

Pastor responds from the pulpit

Reed has devoted his last two Sunday services to decrying his critics and, in some cases, shaming them personally. Of Sinegal, he said, “We’ve got a preacher down in Houston running his mouth who’s a homosexual!” He then suggested his followers get “stirred up” against same-sex marriages. Sinegal said that he’s not gay but that such a claim against others weaponizes the idea within the church that homosexuality is ungodly. 

In response to a woman who quit the church and claimed in an online forum that Reed had threatened her, Reed chided, “You slept with a pastor for eight years and he was married. Keep running your mouth, I’m going to put your business out there.”

He referred to his nieces, one of whom has spoken out publicly against him, as “my rotten, no-good nieces,” called another critic a “(expletive) liar” and agent of Satan, and responded this way to a woman who said Reed had shown an inappropriate interest in her when she was 15: “Looking like a gorilla!” He shouted, “You are lying! Ain’t nobody went after you since you were 10.”

Neither the Iowa Attorney General’s Office nor the Polk County Attorney’s Office is likely to launch investigations on this, according to people in both agencies, unless police file criminal complaints against Reed. The Attorney General’s Office is focusing on offering victim assistance to people who need it.

People say they have called police but couldn’t generate any interest. Des Moines Police Department spokesman Sgt. Paul Parizek said the department has had no reports and has no ongoing investigation involving Reed.

A marriage between a 63-year-old and a teenager is troubling, especially when that man, as a pastor and church school dean, was in a position of authority over the young woman. Iowa lawmakers should also consider raising the age of legal consent; 16 is awfully young to marry. Also of concern is an issue Sinegal has raised about the tacit acceptance by church members, sometimes expressed in the mantra to mind one’s own business. A type of groupthink and even complicity can set in when loyalty to a charismatic leader — especially one interpreting the word of God — becomes paramount.

Now some longtime church members are choosing to leave, feeling the church hierarchy can’t objectively investigate itself. That warrants an outside investigation.