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His church in New Tampa has 1,400 members.
By BILL COATS, Times Staff Writer
Published December 15, 2007
[Mike Pease | Times (2004)]
NEW TAMPA - The pastor of a leading New Tampa church is stepping down because of his addiction to online pornography.
The Rev. Brian James, pastor of St. James United Methodist Church, is taking an indefinite, voluntary leave of absence, said Erik Alsgaard, director of communications for the Florida Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church, the Methodists' Lakeland-based governing body for most of Florida.
Alsgaard said James disclosed the problem to a church committee early this week. The committee consulted the hierarchy of the Methodist conference, leading to James' leave of absence, he said.
Alsgaard said the church had no evidence that James' had broken the law.
"There was no dealing with pornography of children or youth, as far as we know," Alsgaard said.
A computer firm under contract to the church is investigating the computers at St. James, he said.
Legalities aside, viewing pornography is unacceptable, Alsgaard said.
"We expect our clergy to uphold the highest moral and ethical standards," he said. "Online adult pornography does not follow those moral and ethical standards."
James, 45, is married, with four children. He has been pastor of the 1,400-member church for seven years. Three years ago, he successfully challenged his members to raise $1-million in 10 days to buy adjacent property to expand the church.
"I look at the community we live in," James said then, speaking of affluent, master-planned New Tampa.
"This is not a community that is lacking. It is a velvet ghetto. Most of us live comfortable lives, but on the inside, we're struggling."
This year, St. James made a local splash by converting an empty Krispy Kreme shop on Bruce B. Downs Boulevard into a Christian nightclub for teens.
"I feel enormous sadness for him, and especially his family," said Gary Brosch, a leader in St. James' youth programs. "We do talk about how we're all imperfect, and this certainly shows that."
Brosch said he had heard no church member express outrage.
"There is that stuff in the Bible about who should throw the first stone, and there aren't many of us in a position to throw the first stone," he said. "We're all imperfect, and we all struggle with different kinds of things."
Alsgaard said James would issue a statement in church on Sunday.
Through Christmas, St. James' services will be conducted - and sermons preached - by the Rev. Bert Blomquist of Plant City, the Methodists' district superintendent for the Tampa-Lakeland area. Beginning Dec. 30, the Rev. Riley Short, a retired pastor from Lakeland, is to serve as interim pastor, Alsgaard said.
Methodist pastors in the Florida conference are appointed by the conference's bishop, Timothy Whitaker.
Alsgaard said James would be allowed to stay in his church-owned home for up to three months.
"The church is going to offer some support," he said.
"We're still the same church, and we're still the same people," Brosch said. "We'll keep doing what we're doing."
Bill Coats can be reached at 813 269-5309 or email@example.com.
[Last modified December 14, 2007, 22:08:53]