WELLS, Texas - Members of a controversial East Texas church face mounting legal troubles following a series of arrests over the last six months.
The arrests come as several members of the Church of Wells await trial on trespassing charges stemming from an incident at Lakewood Church in June 2015.
Church elder Jacob Gardner, 27, was one of six men charged over the Lakewood incident and he agreed to speak with Channel 2 Investigates about the more recent arrests.
“All throughout the centuries Christianity was persecuted,” said Gardner. “All I need to do is step outside and be a Christian and I’ll be persecuted.”
Gardner said he believes church members based in the town of Wells are practicing a true form of Christianity. Gardner said he believes God compels the members of the church to warn people of a coming judgment and urges them to repent their sins. In many instances this belief manifests itself in the form of impromptu sermons inside other churches, on street corners and on college campuses.
“I truly believe we are confronting the powers of darkness that are hovering over this land,” said Gardner.
Last month, two of the men charged over the Lakewood incident were arrested twice in the New York town of Saranac Lake. Sgt. Peter Gladd told KPRC 2 News that Richard Trudeau and Mark DeRouville were arrested after disrupting services at a Baptist church. The men were arrested a second time for disorderly conduct at a town park, and DeRouville was also charged with resisting arrest.
Gardner defended the men by saying they were simply preaching about God’s love and “lifting up their voices,” not screaming.
In December, DeRouville and another church member, James MacPherson, were charged with trespassing after an encounter with a pregnant employee of an auto parts store in the neighboring town of Alto.
A police report obtained by KPRC 2 News reads when the men learned the woman was unmarried they “started telling her that she was living in sin and would burn in the pits of hell if she did not repent.” Police wrote the men were arrested when they refused to leave the store.
Cherokee County attorney Dana Young said that case has yet to go to trial.
“Why do you feel it's OK to talk to people that way?” asked Channel 2 Investigator Robert Arnold.
“We don't, that's a false report,” said Gardner. “The members of our church have never spoken like that and will never speak like that.”
Before the incident in Alto, church member Taylor Clifton was arrested for disrupting the city of Lufkin’s annual Christmas parade.
“I lifted up my Bible, just kind of lifted it up to the sky and started quoting some scripture and already there was just like this violent reaction from this woman,” said Clifton.
Lufkin police wrote Clifton “ignored officers’ requests and continued yelling at parade attendees.” Police also wrote they arrested Clifton as much for his own safety as the safety of others.
Police said parade-goers were angry Clifton’s continued rants frightened young children. Police said another church member accompanying Clifton was assaulted but that person declined to press charges.
“The Lord told me it wasn’t His will to stop preaching and they were threatening to arrest me if I continued preaching the Gospel,” said Clifton. “So I chose to obey God rather than man, by God’s grace.”
Clifton argues he waited until the parade was over before he started preaching, was only quoting scripture and believes his First Amendment rights were violated. Clifton acted as his own attorney during the trial.
“The jury found me guilty,” said Clifton. “They gave me the highest penalty that they could.”
Lufkin Municipal Court records show Clifton was fined close to $1,300 on charges of “interference with events” and “disorderly conduct-language.”
“By God's grace I was willing to suffer that affliction,” said Clifton.
Clifton and Gardner, who was not present at the parade, spoke of their displeasure of the inclusion of Santa Claus in Christmas festivities.
“We’re not ashamed to speak against this, that it’s superstition, you know?" Gardner said. "All these Christians celebrating Santa Claus on Jesus’ birthday..."
“Why do the members of the Church of Wells continue to get arrested?” Arnold asked.
“We're up against a heap of slander. Public opinion is interpreting the slander. The police and law enforcement are interpreting the slander,” said Gardner.
“Do you want to go to jail?” asked Arnold.
“The reason these officers arrest us, the reason why these judges judge us, is because they can,” said Gardner. “We’re just sheep to the slaughter.”
Gardner said he “has no fear about jail,” and believes it is the inevitable persecution Christians must face.
“If the devil can't pick us off through discouragement, personal discouragement, then he will finally resort to invading the very infrastructure of the justice system,” Gardner said.
Gardner and the five other church members charged over the Lakewood incident are due back in court later this month.
2016 Click2Houston.com/KPRC 2