A woman says she didn’t realize an influential bishop sexually abused her for 20 years — until he called her 6-year-old daughter 'sexy'

Kimberly Pollard first met Bishop James L'Keith Jones, a pastor in the Church of God in Christ, in Clovis, New Mexico, 1994. Pollard was helping her godmother make phone calls for a June youth convention organized by the church, also known as COGIC, which describes itself as "the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States," with 6.5 million members across 63 countries.

Jones, then a 29-year-old youth group leader, was in charge of COGIC youth groups across New Mexico. During their first phone conversation, Pollard said, Jones didn't believe how young she was — 15 — and noted her maturity and confidence.

"He was just kind of like, 'Well, I'm gonna date you when you turn 18,'" she recently recalled. "Of course, it didn't happen like that." Instead, as Pollard claimed in a lawsuit she filed in 2016, the bishop pursued an on-again-off-again sexual relationship over the next decade, during which he groomed and sexually abused her.

Pollard said she waited more than 22 years to file the lawsuit because she didn't always recognize Jones' behavior as abusive or exploitative. Her recognition came three years ago, after she and Jones reconnected, when she witnessed him calling her six-year-old daughter 'sexy' in a video he sent to the child. The comment reminded her of the way he had treated her as a teen.

Pollard's subsequent attempts to hold Jones accountable — at first through the church's internal grievance process, and later through the federal courts — have dragged on for years. Those efforts left Pollard with a victory she considers an empty one: A $750,000 default judgment against Jones that she is still trying to collect, while the same court dismissed Pollard's claims against COGIC, Inc. and the church's Board of Bishops.

The allegations against Jones recall broader patterns of sexual abuse within major religious organizations, including the Catholic Churchand the Southern Baptist Convention. They also belong to a growing listof accusations against COGIC and its leadership.

This account of Pollard's experience in the Church of God in Christ is based on internal church documents; court filings from her federal lawsuit against the church; interviews with Pollard and one of her childhood friends; and correspondence between Pollard and Jones.

Pollard also provided the names of two individuals in whom she confided around the time of the alleged abuse. Pollard is no longer in touch either of them, and both appear to still be affiliated with COGIC. Neither acknowledged or responded to our attempts to contact them, which included emails, phone calls, and physical letters mailed to their last known addres...

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