Pastors, Pedigree, and Prostitutes: Eddie Hilburn, Member of Powerful Texas Baptist Family, Arrested For Buying Sex

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Eddie Hilburn, Associate Pastor at The Woodlands First Baptist Church, was arrested Wednesday night after agreeing to pay an undercover Harris County Sherrif’s deputy for sex.

Documents allege Hilburn, 52, paid the deputy $80 for sexual intercourse.

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Hilburn is married with three adult children. The Woodlands FBC has removed every trace of Hilburn from the church website. When a local reporter attempted to contact Hilburn at his residence, she was greeted with a slammed door from one of Hilburn’s sons and shouts of “Get out!”

Update: The church posted the following statement on its Facebook page Friday afternoon:

In regard to the recent arrest of Dr. Eddie Hilburn, The Woodlands First Baptist Church has received and accepted his resignation and has taken steps to notify the congregation. This is a difficult time for Eddie, his family and our church. We continue to seek God’s will with grace and truth, providing love and support to all those affected, while reaffirming our commitment to the highest expectations for our Church and its leadership.

The accused is from a prominent Texas Baptist family. His son Joshua is Pastor of West End Church, a River Pointe Church franchise. Brother-in-law Ed Seay has pastored FBC Magnolia for some three decades. Nephew Chris Seay, a published author, is the Founding Pastor of the trendy megachurch Ecclesia Houston in the heart of the Montrose community. His late father-in-law Robert Baldwin was also a longtime pastor in the Houston area at the now-defunct Mangum Oaks Baptist Church. Another nephew, Robbie Seay, is a Sparrow recording artist and front man for an eponymously-titled worship band.

This isn’t the sort of story I usually cover on Ponder Anew, but I’m choosing to do so this time because it’s close to home. I work in the same neighborhood, and I know people involved in each of these congregations.

After tweeting about the family connections, I was contacted by another Seay brother, Brian, scolding me for sharing this information.

“Why is this an important part of the story,” he challenged.

It’s an important part of the story because pastoral abuse is deeply entrenched in Baptist culture.

It’s an important part of the story because there is a good ol’ boy network also entrenched in Baptist culture that will attempt to shame truth-sayers into silence and apathy.

It’s an important part of the story because the north Houston area is known as as hub for sex trafficking, and a prominent pastor has been caught paying up instead of reaching out.

It’s an important part of the story because even a prominent, well-connected, powerful family in evangelical culture is not immune to call of the ugliness around them.

It’s an important part of the story because free church congregations are often slow to hold themselves accountable.

An it’s an important part of the story because bringing information into the light could prevent further victims and help previous victims out of the shadows.

We know that pastors are human, and are prone to stumble and fall as anyone else. We believe God offers forgiveness, and that the finished work of Christ reaches to the innermost depths of our being.

But when such moral failures occur in the form of violence, they must be brought out into the light whenever possible. The plight of the marginalized in society should be more important to us than our own family or denominational privacy.

And yes, it may only be a misdemeanor, but paying for sex is always a violent offense. It exploits an imbalance of power, even when supposedly “consensual.” Of course, we know that often these transactions are not consensual. After a five-year pastorate, Hilburn must have known the area’s reputation, and that he might well have been paying for the opportunity to rape a trafficking victim.

Pastoral care for offenders and their families are undoubtedly important, but we must passionately and tirelessly call ourselves, our colleagues, and our congregations out. This is not a victimless crime. Though the legal consequences amount to little more than embarrassment, patronizing the sex trade is an ultimate act of injustice, hatred, and oppression.

In this case, one of the best words of warning comes from the offender himself.

In a September 2016 sermon on integrity, Hilburn drew an illustration by comparing a piece of wood flooring with a piece of laminate:

If you take the solid wood, and you have it in your house and it sorta gets beat around. You know what I mean? It just takes a beating over the years. And you drop furniture on it, and you scrape the table across it, and you know it just takes a beating over the years? You know what I mean? What do you call that, when it’s worn and beaten and banged and bruised over the years? A lot of people call it ‘character.’

Say you have some laminate flooring in your house, and over the years it takes a beating, too. And it wears, and everything drops on it and scrapes across it. And then the picture on the front starts to go away or peel off? What do you call that? Trash, that’s what you call it. You take it up, and you replace it with something else, and you throw it away. You throw it away.

Now listen, in your life, when it beats you for a while, what’s underneath is eventually gonna show through. It eventually shows through. What’s gonna show up? When what’s underneath shows up, what’s it gonna be? When what’s underneath shows up it’s either going to demonstrate that you’re solid all the way through, or it’s going to demonstrate that the character on the outside was just a picture glued on.

My, how our words come back to haunt us.

May we all consider ourselves duly warned.

Our worst deeds will be brought into the light, one way or another.

The sermon was deleted from the church’s website, but it is still available on this podcast hosting site.

Photo:
Harris County Sheriff

Flickr, creative commons 2.0

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