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Black Collar Crime: Evangelical Youth Pastor Brett Bymaster Accused of Child Sexual Abuse

brett bymaster

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.

Bret Bymaster, a former youth pastor at The River Church Community in San Jose, California, stands accused of six felony counts of child sexual abuse.

The San Jose Spolightlight reports:

A prominent Silicon Valley leader and former pastor has been arrested and charged with six felony counts of child sex abuse, after being under investigation this year for allegations that surfaced about his time as a youth ministry leader at a popular South Bay church.

Brett Bymaster faces time behind bars for alleged lewd acts with a child who was as young as eight during his time at The River Church, according to charges by county prosecutors. He was arrested and booked at the Elmwood Correctional Facility on Thursday. His bond was set at $400,000, but at a Friday arraignment hearing, Judge Hector Ramon revoked his eligibility for bail at least until the next scheduled hearing on April 19, according to prosecutors. San José Spotlight first reported Bymaster’s alleged abuse in January.

Ramon ordered Bymaster not to contact the victim documented in the charges. He was also ordered not to contact another unnamed individual, according to the case’s prosecutor, Deputy District Attorney Christopher Paynter.

Paynter said it’s too early to tell how much jail time Bymaster faces if found guilty of all charges. The trial date is a moving target.

“It’s an ongoing investigation,” Paynter told San José Spotlight.

Bymaster’s attorneys Renee Hessling and Dana Fite did not respond to requests for comment.

The arrest comes after a second investigation by The River Church in three years regarding Bymaster’s action, when five parishioner families say a 2021 probe led by church leaders failed to uncover the extent of his abuse and excluded one of the most serious claims — sexual abuse.

At the time, Bymaster denied the allegations in a statement to San José Spotlight.

“In recent months, we have discovered that there were profound flaws in the original pastoral inquiry process and in the denominational report (which was never released publicly but only summarized by senior leaders),” church families wrote in an open letter in January. “We now believe that the inquiry process and the senior leadership withheld crucial information about the nature and scope of the abuse.”

Bymaster, a recognizable figure in advocacy and political circles, was still listed as a founder and executive director of the Healing Grove Health Center, a clinic that serves low-income families, on its website as of Friday afternoon.


Bymaster served as a youth pastor and director at The River, nestled on Lincoln Avenue, for five years beginning in 2014. He quit after getting a critical job review in August 2019 based on complaints about his leadership from church families.

Yet two years later, youth from the congregation raised more significant concerns about Bymaster.

The church launched an internal inquiry in 2021 led by its own leader the Rev. Theresa Marks, according to an email sent in January from three top church leaders, including lead pastor Brad Wong.

Marks found that Bymaster was a “toxic leader who was spiritually abusive,” and encouraged church leaders to summarize her findings in a letter. The probe from Marks, which included interviews with 25 individuals, also questioned the church’s management of Bymaster.

“We take full responsibility for not doing the job of keeping our youth and youth volunteers safe in our youth ministry. We did not provide adequate oversight of the youth program or our former youth pastor,” church leaders wrote in an August 2021 letter.

But parents of the alleged victims say the letter swept damning details under the rug and questioned whether some of the incidents should’ve been categorized as sexual misconduct, harassment or abuse.

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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1 Comment

  1. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    I looked up this Bymaster,who is now on several sites. His main victim was 8 years old when he first began bothering her. Later on down the road the girl became suicidal. It turns out he and his doctor wife Angie have a Christian medical clinic, and he was in the board of directors for a refugee organization Nor Cal Refuge. Healing Grove is the clinic. So he’s a mover and shaker there in San Jose. He has three adopted Sudanese grown children, and one biological child attending elementary school,in the worst area there- as the parents proudly proclaim. Reddit columns there in SJ have lots to say about this. Some say they knew Brett, found him obnoxious and with a ” savior complex.” The wife, too. It’s things like this that make me glad I didn’t have a church- oriented childhood. The bail amount for Brett is or was, $400K. Given his status, it’s hard to say if he’ll be allowed out if he can post it. The irony here is, his defense attorneys say he was ” too conservative for River Church.” Huh ?? People have been complaining about him for years, but nothing was done. I hope a bunch of people will call and email that church and take them over the coals for that. I emailed them about all this. What poopheads for letting him stay as long as they did !

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