Longform

The Reverend Freak

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In recent years, the calls for offerings reportedly intensified. On Sundays, Hornbuckle would often ask everyone who hadn't given their tithe--a donation of 10 percent of one's income, a common practice in Pentecostal churches--to raise their hands. Many were embarrassed but took it as inspiration to work harder and give more to their bishop. Pay your rent last, he said, and give Agape your tithe, the "firstfruits." God will provide.

Gradually he became a figurehead in the black church world. Bishop T.D. Jakes wrote a laudatory blurb for one of Hornbuckle's self-published books. The bishop hung out with Michael Irvin and Deion Sanders, he'd brag from the pulpit. He knew Quincy Carter. Emmitt Smith even wrote a letter to Tarrant County prosecutors extolling the virtues of Hornbuckle and his marriage to Renee. The couple had counseled Smith and his wife, he wrote, and he looked up to them. In his eyes, they had the perfect marriage.

And there were a lot of good things going on at Agape under the Hornbuckles. Church leaders helped people buy homes and build better job skills. Maybe they could live in a $742,000 house, just like the Hornbuckles. He'd tell them how they could save up and drive expensive cars, such as his Cadillac Escalade. All blessings from God--though ones that came from exercising responsibility as well as faith, he was careful to note. But behind the bishop was the man. A man addicted to women, power and, in the end, drugs. It would ultimately cost him his church and his freedom.

It's hard to say when drug addiction entered his life. Hornbuckle had a bad back and had been taking painkillers for a long time. But methamphetamine--which he had in his possession when he was first arrested for sexual assault in March 2005--is a step beyond painkillers. Since Hornbuckle, his wife and the church elders aren't talking to the media, it's anyone's guess when hard drugs became a part of the bishop's lifestyle.

Sure, he'd give what he called "muscle relaxers" to his then-girlfriend and executive assistant, Lisa Mikals, back in 2003, she testified. Sometimes, he'd act a little crazy or paranoid. But meth? The bishop? Once, Mikals said, she'd even found a glass pipe in that little black bag he always carried with him. He told her it belonged to his "knucklehead" nephew. She wanted to believe him, she said. And she did.

But it became obvious after the arrest that Bishop Hornbuckle, not a wayward relative, was the one taking drugs. In addition to the meth that police confiscated from Hornbuckle's Escalade, they found Valtrex, a drug used to control the symptoms of herpes; Viagra; and a variety of prescription drugs. Some were valid prescriptions. Others appeared to have been prescribed to one of his elders. The bishop, it seemed, needed a lot of chemicals and had a hard time living without them--a condition of his bail.

Over the next year, Hornbuckle would have his bond revoked twice, fail two drug tests and refuse to take another. Police would book him in and out of jail four times for bail violations. Finally, after posting a $3.62 million bond in March 2006, Hornbuckle left the Tarrant County courthouse before the paperwork was finished. He was rearrested and would spend the rest of his time awaiting trial in a jail cell.

From tailored suits to jail garb, it was a long fall for Terry Hornbuckle. Terry and Renee had been at the top of the world, leading more than 2,000 people to the promised land from their 30,000-square-foot sanctuary. They were beloved, some said. Others described the congregation's dedication to Bishop Hornbuckle as something much darker.

Five women would publicly accuse Terry Hornbuckle of sexually assaulting them. The prosecutor and plaintiffs' attorney would allude to other victims, but only these five chose to subject their allegations to legal scrutiny. The accusations of three women--one of whom was also an accuser in the criminal case--are detailed in the pending civil case against Hornbuckle, the church and several of its elders. Joycelyn was an adolescent on the brink of womanhood whose sexuality had been called into question. Rosita was a grown woman expecting one of the bishop's blessings. Buchanan, the virgin, was the first to testify in the criminal trial. According to court documents, Terry Hornbuckle used his position as their bishop to lure each of them to him. After all, Agape was their church home.

The Bath

A well-meaning friend steered 17-year-old Joycelyn into Hornbuckle's hands, according to her complaint filed in court in December 2004. She claims the bishop sexually assaulted her on two occasions.

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes
Stephanie Morris