Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Pastor Paul Burress Accused of Inappropriately Touching Women

paul burress

Paul Burress, senior pastor at Victory Church in Rochester, New York and operator of Fight Church, stands accused of forcibly touching two women.

Steve Orr, a reporter for Democrat & Chronicle, writes:

Paul Burress, a charismatic, in-your-face pastor who gained fame for operating a fight club in his Henrietta house of worship, has been accused of forcibly touching two women.

Burress was for years a pastor at Victory Church, a large nondenominational Christian church. The Victory website does not list Burress as being among its leadership team, and the telephone went unanswered there Monday morning.

Burress, 43, is a mixed-martial arts fighter as well as a minister, and received a great deal of publicity when he was featured in Fight Church, a 2014 documentary.

On Friday morning, however, he was arrested by Monroe County sheriff’s deputies on two counts of forcible touching, according to Sheriff’s Office spokesman Cpl. John Helfer. Helfer verified the person arrested was the minister noted for his “Fight Church” activities.

The charges arose from separate incidents in February, Helfer said. The complainants are adult females.

The offense in question, a misdemeanor punishable by up to 1 year in jail, is defined in the state penal law as forcibly touching “the sexual or other intimate parts of another person.”

….

The Henrietta pastor has been dogged by accusations of sexual misconduct for several years. Several blogs and news websites featured such claims three years ago, when Burress came to public attention because of his fighting-in-church approach.

But none of those accusations were proved and there is no record of any previous arrest.

Tina Wright, a former member of Victory Church who asserts she has a long personal history with Burress, said she had spoken to one of the women who filed charges.

Wright, who now lives in South Carolina, said she encouraged that woman and others who may have been harmed by the minister to come forward.

“I know beyond the shadow of a doubt there are more victims. There’s a lot of us here,” Wright said. “We need to end the silence so we can stop the cycle of abuse, especially in the church.”

Asked her reaction to reports of his arrest, Wright said, “I’m still in shock, to be honest. I’m relieved that the voices of the victims are finally being heard and they’ll have the opportunity to tell their stories.”

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In May 2014, Raw Story reported:

A former member claims “Fight Church” pastor Paul Burress abused his power and tried to entice others into the swinger lifestyle, the Christian Post reported Tuesday.

The pastor’s Victory Church was featured in a new documentary about the hundreds of American churches that attract new members and build their communities around mixed martial arts fights between “fight ministry” religious leaders.

Burress defended the fights, which he said were “not hateful or destructive,” but instead taught participants to “control our most violent impulses through strength, discipline and perseverance — none of which are at odds with Christianity.”

But the Bloody Elbow blog reported that an unidentified former member told the leadership team at Victory Church that Burress had tried to entice him into a sexual relationship with the pastor’s wife.

The man said Burress asked him to perform a sensual back rub on his wife, Jill Burress, who had removed her shirt and bra, while at the couple’s home twice in 2009.

“Paul made sure that my hand made contact with the side of a breast by moving it there with his own hand,” the man said. “Paul also made sure that I touched her bare bottom.”

The man, who said he was 21 years old and single at the time, said Burress also showed him nude photos of his wife and a video of the couple having sex.

“This weighed on me for years, until I couldn’t take it anymore and eventually left Victory because of it,” the man said. “A person should be able to trust his pastor. I could not. 1 Cor 4:2 says it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”

The man said Burress made sexual advances in 2012 to two female church members in their 20s at his home, where they were going to have their “backs worked on.”

He said the pastor later tried to seduce one of them at a coffee shop after confessing he had been a swinger while previously married to another woman.

“The girls were asked to remove their shirts and bras because the straps got in the way,” the man said. “They both left Victory, and won’t return, because they were frightened and disturbed by the sexual advances of the pastor.”

A former exchange student who was 16 years old when she stayed with Burress and his family in 2009 also sent a letter to church leadership last year, claiming the pastor had molested her.

Victory Church’s executive pastor sent church leaders an email the following day characterizing the woman’s claims as “the latest vindictive email attack against” Burress and the church.

“The timing is suspect as she hasn’t said a word for all these years until these other people started up,” said Al Ogden, who also serves as the church’s director of counseling. “And last year when she came to visit she came back to Victory. So it apparently didn’t bother her much then.”

Ogden also said in the email that her claims may have been coached because they so closely resembled other allegations against Burress, and the official questioned where the woman had gotten the deacon’s email list.

The man said he was concerned about the apparent pattern in the pastor’s life, noting that Burress had been a swinger while married in Missouri and then divorced after an affair with another woman at his Fusion church in Rochester.

….

Update:

USA Today reports that Burress has been charged with additional counts of forcible touching:

Two more forcible-touching charges were filed Friday against Paul Burress, the New York pastor known for running a fight club in his church.

The two new charges involve an adult female who said Burress touched her in a sexual way in one incident this year and another one in 2016, said Corporal John Helfer, spokesman for the Monroe County Sheriff’s Office.

Two other women made similar accusations against Burress last week.

….

You can read court documents related to Burress’ case here.

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10 Comments

  1. Jada

    Hmm, seems like Jesus and steroids don’t mix well, Pastor Dudebro.

    Reply
    1. Jay Rigowski

      be careful throwing stones my friend.

      Reply
      1. Zoe

        Or what Jay? Is that a threat?

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          Paul Burgess has been repeatedly accused of sexual misconduct. According to the infallible Word of God, Burgess should be at the front of the stoning line. I always finding it interesting that defenders of men such as Burress tend to focus on the critics of the offenders instead of focusing on the misconduct itself. It’s the age old dodge of focusing on the messenger instead of message.

          Reply
  2. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    Burress has been charged with two more counts of forcible touching. See story for link.

    Reply
  3. Rachel

    Any forced touching is sexual assault and should be prosecuted, no question. But I’m puzzled why trying to seduce an adult is being presented as a matter for the law. And the 21-year-old shown nude photos of the pastor’s wife, and told to touch her. . .where is the crime here? (The wife wasn’t being coerced.) Sure, this Paul Burgess comes over as a creep, someone with very poor boundaries, and I’d be the first person to say “Prosecute sex offenders with the full force of the law” but these instances of bad behavior don’t in themselves add up to crimes.

    Or have I misunderstood?

    Reply
    1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

      Here’s an explanation of the crime he is charged with:

      https://criminaldefense.1800nynylaw.com/new-york-forcible-touching-lawyer.html

      Burress has been accused of inappropriate sexual behavior several times over the years. If his behavior is just sexual acts between consenting adults, then I agree with you. What we may think is bad behavior is not necessarily criminal behavior. Burress is, however, a pastor who has a professional relationship with his congregants, people he counsels. I don’t know how New York law treats Burress’ professional relationship with congregants, but here in Ohio, having a sexual relationship with a congregant can be a crime — the same as it is for doctors, lawyers, and counselors.

      Reply
      1. Rachel

        Thanks, Bruce, that’s interesting about the laws in some states. Am not sure I agree about a law that “protects” an adult congregant from a pastor tho’: it seems to carry the implication that an adult congregant is somehow childlike and can’t be expected to be able to say “No.” (I am puzzled as to why the young man at the pastor’s house couldn’t just say “I find this sordid and I’m not interested.” In what sense was he “forced” to touch this woman’s breasts?) Actual assault, on the other hand, IS a crime because there is an absence of consent. The thing about doctors is covered by the Hippocratic oath and, of course, it is HUGELY important that minors and also adults deemed to be especially vulnerable (e.g. people with learning disability) have, in all kinds of settings and with all sorts of people, much greater protections in law against predatory behaviour.

        Reply
        1. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

          When pastors enter into professional relationships with people, they are often privy to intimate details about people. Pastors inclined to do so can manipulate people in ways that lead sexual involvement. Normal safeguards are lowered in such relationships, making it easy for predatory pastors to take advantage of people. Because of this, the laws in most states forbid people in authority positions taking advantage of those they have professional relationships with. Such laws forbid authority figures from engaging in sexual conduct of any kind with parishioners/clients/students/patirnts.

          Reply
  4. Bruce Gerencser (Post author)

    You can read the court documents related to Burress’ case here:

    http://13wham.com/news/local/former-pastor-accused-of-using-hot-tub-to-target-women

    Reply

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