Illustration by Elizabeth Brockway/The Daily Beast
When a married pastor going through a period of “deep anguish and despair” told a fellow clergyman he needed to confess a sin, he twice asked for, and says he received, an iron-clad guarantee of absolute confidence.
But after Rev. Anthony H.T. Stephens admitted to having had an inappropriate relationship with a former congregant, the revelation promptly made its way to the presiding bishop, who contacted Stephens’ wife (also a Lutheran minister) and told her everything. Stephens was later defrocked over the alleged impropriety, which interrupted his ongoing ascension within the church—and future earnings of at least $1.5 million.
That’s according to a tranche of court documents obtained by The Daily Beast, which includes a lawsuit Stephens filed against the Metropolitan New York Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (MNYS; ELCA) and four church officials, seeking six figures in damages and a return to the pulpit. In the self-filed suit, Stephens claims he had “occasional thoughts of suicide,” and had been suicidal earlier in the year, but says he made clear during the call that he would never go through with it because he has lost loved ones to suicide and “would be unwilling to inflict such pain on his daughter.”