Longform

The Reverend Freak

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Another time, Williams said, she saw a spirit spring from one of the female elders during a church service. It flew out of the woman, who was rumored to be having an affair with Bishop Hornbuckle, looking like a ghostly shadow. Then it stood next to her with its hands on its hips and spoke.

"It said, 'This is my house,'" Williams says, swaying her body from side to side. Only later, when the confessions began pouring in, did she understand what she'd seen.

Many of Hornbuckle's victims, she said, confided in her and her husband months before their allegations became public in the media.

Tony Williams, Traci's husband, says at first he and his wife would wonder why people were suddenly leaving the church. Then, as the stories rolled in, "Traci and I put it together." There were the Gressets. Mary Gresset testified during the trial that Hornbuckle had tried to seduce her while her husband, Mark, was in rehab for alcohol addiction. They told the Williamses about their experience.

Then, Tony says, he was the one who finally convinced Joycelyn's parents that the rumors about the bishop's numerous affairs were true when they refused to believe what was happening at the church. Traci worked with the relatives of several of the accusers and would end up hearing their stories at work.

Tony Williams, a hairdresser who used to color Renee Hornbuckle's hair, is also a touring musician and backup singer for Kanye West. He'd run into the bishop at some of the area nightclubs where he performed. Tony was there to do a job; the bishop was there to chase women. He says many victims came to the couple totally unaware that others had shared similar stories of what Hornbuckle had done to them. "They...would feel led to come to us and say, 'This is what happened to me,'" he says.

The Williamses stopped attending Agape in April 2004. Though rumors about the bishop were flying all over the church, many members elected to stay. "They have your emotion and your spirit and your money and your time," Traci says.

The members, bound up in what Traci calls "man's rules," stayed blindly loyal to the bishop. Scriptural references about submitting to those in authority were cited constantly. Emphasis was placed on never questioning the bishop's role. Even new member pamphlets command parishioners to stay loyal to their leaders.

It was that kind of loyalty that kept radio personality Rudy V at Agape for two mind-wrenching years.

The Lost Sheep

Rudy V, former host of the Quiet Storm on KRNB-105.7 FM, said that at the height of his passion for Agape Fellowship, he would do anything for his bishop. So would a lot of people.

"There was an obsession with the man," Rudy V said in an interview in his Mansfield home in 2005, a year before he started his radio gig at Dallas' KSOC-94.5 FM--"K-SOUL." The smooth-talking radio host started attending Agape in 2000 after gospel singer Kevin Thornton spoke highly of the church one Sunday morning when he appeared on Rudy V's religious-themed morning show.

Rudy V, born Kevyn Matthew Williams, was intrigued. From Monday through Thursday, he invited listeners to come with him to see this Bishop Hornbuckle preach. Rudy V described it as "invigorating."

He was so taken by Hornbuckle that he'd play clips of his sermons on the Sunday morning show. Each week, he'd implore his listeners--mostly women--to visit Agape. He became enthralled with the bishop's constant preaching about tithes and the potential wealth that would come to him if he'd just give, give, give a little more of his own money to the church.

Rudy V said he vividly remembers scrounging for change in his 400-square-foot apartment in north Arlington, terrified that something calamitous would happen to him if he didn't come up with his tithe every week.

"If I didn't have that whole tithe," he said, "either I was going to get struck down, or if I got too close to [the bishop] he would get killed."

Everyone had good reason to believe such things, Rudy V said, especially because of the placards. Some Sundays, Hornbuckle might call up a group of volunteers from the audience and hand them signs to hold up at the front of the church.

On one side were the tragedies that would befall the congregation if they failed to tithe: disease, divorce, loss of job, loss of home, children gone wild. But there was hope. A tithing church member could hope for "increase." More wealth. More happiness. More stability.

Eventually, Rudy V met his third wife at the church. Hornbuckle counseled them and would later preside over their wedding. When they missed three Sundays right after the wedding because of traveling, something happened that turned Rudy V off forever.

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Andrea Grimes
Contact: Andrea Grimes
Stephanie Morris