Former Church of the Highlands pastor sues accuser over defamation in rape allegation

YAKIMA (WA) [Birmingham, AL]

October 25, 2022

By Anna Claire Voller

Former Church of the Highlands pastor Micahn Carter has filed a defamation lawsuit against a woman whose 2021 rape allegation against him, he says, resulted in his loss of employment at Highlands and loss of reputation.

Carter, who denies the rape allegation, filed the lawsuit in July in Jefferson County Circuit Court. He’s asking for $500,000 plus general and punitive damages.

“Accusing somebody of rape is devastating,” said Carter’s attorney, William Bright. “It’s hard to calculate all that is involved in that type of accusation and what the damages are to come from it.”

The complaint alleges Carter also lost “publishing contracts and paid speaking engagements,” and that he suffered “mental anguish” and “humiliation and embarrassment.”

The defendant in the suit is Mary E. Jones of Spokane, Washington. In court records she alleges that on April 29, 2019, Carter sexually assaulted her at Together Church in Yakima, Washington, an evangelical megachurch where he was the lead pastor and she was an employee. While does not typically name victims of alleged sexual assault, Jones has written publicly about the alleged incident under her own name, in a blog post she published last year.

Carter’s attorney told that since Carter resigned from Highlands, he has worked at various jobs to provide for his family, including doing some ministry work.

Still, Bright said, the rape accusation “follows him around like a cloud.”

Jones’ attorney, Marc Ayers, declined an interview request but said he does not believe the Jefferson County Circuit Court has jurisdiction in the case. Jones’ motion to dismiss is scheduled to be heard on Nov. 14.

“Unfortunately,” said Ayers, “rather than provide much of a legal response to our motion to dismiss, the plaintiff filed a response that includes false, harmful and quite irrelevant personal attacks on Ms. Jones, further demonstrating the baselessness of the plaintiff’s legal position.”

Before he was hired as a pastor at Church of the Highlands, Carter resigned from his position at Together Church in mid-2019, a few weeks after the alleged incident with Jones. In a public address to his Together Church congregation, which later made its way to YouTube, Carter said at the time that “an inappropriate incident,” coupled with a previously undiagnosed mental health disorder, was the reason for his departure.

Court documents do not indicate whether Jones ever spoke to law enforcement or filed charges. Bright said Carter has not denied an incident occurred, but is prepared to present testimony from individuals who say Jones told them the incident was “consensual.” In court documents, Jones maintains Carter sexually assaulted her.

Carter and his family moved to Birmingham in 2019, several weeks after the alleged incident. A year later, in July 2020, he gave his first public sermon at Church of the Highlands, which is the biggest evangelical church in the state and one of the biggest in the nation, reporting an average weekly attendance of more than 50,000 in 2019, across more than two dozen campuses.

In July 2021, Jones mailed a certified letter to Church of the Highlands founder and lead pastor Chris Hodges, alleging Carter had raped her in her office at Together Church during a leadership event in 2019. Jones included the letter in her court filings. Jones said in an affidavit that she later received a letter in response from Hodges, but did not detail what was in his letter. She said she had no further communication from him or the church.

Jones published a blog post on on July 21, 2021, that does not mention Carter by name but alleges that her pastor at Together Church in Yakima sexually harassed and later raped her at the church. Jones confirmed in her affidavit that she wrote the post.

The blog post began circulating on Reddit and Twitter. On July 31, 2021, Highlands cut ties with Carter.

The church issued a brief statement at the time, announcing Carter was no longer employed by the church and revealing that he had been a pastor at Highlands while undergoing a rehabilitation process:

“In 2019 Micahn Carter’s Pastoral Overseers from Washington state asked Church of the Highlands to assist them in directing a ministerial restoration process for him. Highlands agreed to do so, and since then we have been working with Micahn and his family. Recently, Highlands received correspondence raising new allegations about events that occurred over two years ago in Washington state. When we shared this information with the Carters, they resigned from their positions on staff to work through these issues themselves. Highlands is no longer involved in the restoration process.”

Representatives from Church of the Highlands did not respond to a request for comment.

Jones’ attorneys have filed a motion to dismiss the case, arguing the Jefferson County Circuit Court doesn’t have jurisdiction because Jones does not live in Alabama and incidents like the alleged rape and the mailing of the letter did not occur in Alabama. Bright says Alabama is the proper venue for the lawsuit and that he hopes to take the case to trial.