Despite troubles, prof has backers


    Colleagues say Brite Divinity School professor Stephen Sprinkle has made strong contributions to the church community, despite the controversies that have also followed him.

    Sprinkle, Brite’s director of field education, has emerged as a controversial administrator who has accused Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) members of discrimination against homosexuals and has in turn been accused of sexual misconduct and attempting to “intimidate” the Southwest Region of the church through legal action. He resigned his standing in the Region in February, saying a church investigation into the allegations was not proceeding fairly.

    However, Sprinkle’s supporters point to a man who has been a caring mentor for students, outspoken advocate for social justice and as one who established a congregation that is inclusive of homosexuals.

    Heather Patriacca, a student of Sprinkle’s, said he is the “No. 1 go-to guy for students at Brite.”

    “He is the most loving, caring and nurturing person I know,” Patriacca said. “He is an amazing professor who challenges students to think outside their realm.”

    Brite has “actively supported” Sprinkle, also an associate professor of practical theology, through several allegations against him, said David Balch, professor of the New Testament and director of the doctorate program. Balch said he couldn’t comment on the number or nature of the allegations.

    Supporters say the allegations have come from a handful of disgruntled people.

    “Charges against Steve have never been sustained,” he said. “They have all been clearly false charges made in an attempt to move him out.”

    A Brite student’s allegation of sexual misconduct was revealed in documents filed by the Christian Church’s Southwest Region in response to a petition Sprinkle filed seeking depositions for potential claims of defamation by church members and students. The documents were filed in the 48th Judicial District Court, which denied the petition.

    Sprinkle, who declined to be interviewed for this story, has claimed that Ben Hubert, the Region’s chairman on the Committee on the Ministry, refused to allow Sprinkle to serve on a committee to interview ministerial candidates because he is gay. Hubert is declining comment until a meeting with Brite students next week. Other Region Church officials have also declined comment.

    Balch said Brite President D. Newell Williams has asked faculty not to comment on investigations surrounding Sprinkle.

    Some former colleagues and ministers stopped talking to Sprinkle after he revealed he was gay nearly a decade ago, Balch said. Sprinkle declared his homosexuality after one of his students filed sexual misconduct charges against a former pastor through the church’s regional office, Balch said.

    Sprinkle supported by the student and helped him through the tough time, Balch said. The student’s former pastor hurled accusations at the student’s supporters and said Sprinkle was gay, which he acknowledged, Balch said.

    Leo Purdue, a Hebrew Bible professor, said he hired Sprinkle 10 years ago because he is a talented and “ideal churchman.” He said he was aware Sprinkle was gay when he hired him.

    “He’s one of the best preachers I’ve heard,” Purdue said. “I hired Steve on a basis of merit, because of his talent and abilities.”

    Purdue said Sprinkle is strongly committed to social justice, particularly in the areas of racism, sexism and homophobia.

    Sprinkle established the Angel of Hope Christian Church in 1996. The congregation includes gays, lesbians and heterosexuals and still exists in Fort Worth, although Sprinkle is no longer the pastor because of time constraints.

    Balch says Sprinkle’s passionate preaching stems from his divinity school fieldwork at an African-American church in Connecticut. His passion and engaging personality have given him the opportunity to preach at hundreds of congregations of many denominations, Balch said.

    Before coming to Brite 10 years ago, Sprinkle, who received his doctorate from Duke University and his master’s degree from Yale Divinity School, was a pastor at three churches, two in his home state of North Carolina.

    Balch said Sprinkle has served on several national Disciples of Christ boards and was chosen by Brite students as “Teacher of the Year” several years ago.

    “We are proud to have him here,” Purdue said. “He is a tremendous asset to the school.”