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Black Collar Crime: Former Evangelical Pastor’s Wife Elizabeth Bryson Charged with Child Abuse


The Black Collar Crime Series relies on public news stories and publicly available information for its content. If any incorrect information is found, please contact Bruce Gerencser. Nothing in this post should be construed as an accusation of guilt. Those accused of crimes are innocent until proven guilty.

Elizabeth Bryson, the wife of John Bryson, a prominent Evangelical pastor in Memphis and Acts 29 board member before he resigned and returned with his family to Harlan, Kentucky, has been charged with fourth-degree assault (child abuse) and second-degree strangulation.

The Roys Report had this to say:

The wife of a former, prominent Memphis, Tenn., pastor and former Acts 29 board member has been arrested and booked on charges of 4th degree assault (child abuse) and 2nd degree strangulation.

Elizabeth Bryson, 52, was arrested on April 11 by police in Harlan, Ky., according to a police report obtained by The Roys Report (TRR). The Bryson family had moved to Harlan from Memphis several months ago. The child abuse charge is a Class A misdemeanor, carrying a sentence of up to one year in prison. The strangulation charge is a Class D felony, carrying a potential penalty of one to five years in prison.

Bryson is the wife of John Bryson, who founded and for more than 20 years, pastored Fellowship Memphis, a prominent, ethnically diverse church in Memphis. Pastor Bryson resigned from the church last August, stating that he wanted to return to Harlan, where his extended family lives, for the sake of his kids.

Bryson also served on the board of the church planting organization Acts 29 but rolled off the board in 2016. Until last year, he also chaired the board of City Leadership, a nonprofit that seeks to recruit and develop talented leaders in Memphis.

According to the Harlan police report concerning Elizabeth Bryson, an officer received a call of a possible “domestic where the accused was intoxicated” at 1:30 a.m. last Tuesday. When police arrived at the Bryson home, they were met by two children, aged 14 and 15.

The children reportedly stated that their mother was drunk and had “attacked the 15 year (old), throwing and busting at TV, throwed an iPAD, and blueberries that the child was or had been eating.”

The children said the mother grabbed the 15-year-old “and began choking him in a headlock, pulling his hair and hitting him in multiple places including arms and back,” the report stated. It added that the 14-year-old helped get his mother off the 15-year-old.

The report added that when officers arrived, the mother was “upstairs in her bedroom with the door locked.” Officers knocked on the door multiple times with no answer “even after we announced police,” the report said.

One of the children gave police a door key, which officers used to enter the bedroom, the statement continued. At that point, Elizabeth Bryson responded to police, the statement said.

“She was ex-streamly (sic) intoxicated, had slurred speech, and staggering with a strong odor of alcoholic beverage,” the statement said. Bryson “denied hitting the child and kept saying they stole my car keys,” the statement added. It also noted that the latest incident “makes several times officers has been called to the residence over disturbances or domestics.”

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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Bruce Gerencser