A Georgia man who grew up in Indianapolis has accused Rev. Stephen Clay, an Indianapolis minister and politician, of sexually abusing him as a minor.
Jonathan Bryant, 30, says Clay touched him inappropriately when he was 14 years old. Bryant made the claim public in interviews with the Recorder, radio station WIBC 93.1 FM and on blog Indy Politics.
“It was wrong,” Bryant said while explaining to the Recorder why he has chosen to reveal the alleged incident. “I knew that what he did was wrong.”
Bryant and his mother were members of Clay’s church when Bryant accepted his call to ministry at age 13 and delivered his first sermon at Messiah. Bryant said his mother — Dr. Maxine Bryant — and Clay were close friends, so he trusted Clay as a pastor, mentor and family friend.
“I’ve known him for a significant amount of time,” said Bryant. “He worked with me to develop as a preacher.”
Point of no return
Bryant said Clay contacted his mother on a Saturday morning to offer her an opportunity to preach at Messiah the following day. Knowing that she would need time to prepare the sermon, Clay told Bryant’s mother that she could bring the teenager over to his house so that he could watch him.
“Once I got to his house, there was a game of charades played, and he would have me acting out these different scenarios,” Bryant said.
Bryant said the game was followed by a conversation where Clay offered Bryant money, or an allowance, without explaining its purpose.
“I told him I couldn’t accept money without knowing what I had to do to earn it. That’s like signing a contract without reading it,” Bryant said. “At that point he dropped the subject, and it was getting late so I knew we were gonna be going upstairs to go to sleep. All of his bedrooms were upstairs.”
Bryant said he and Clay were upstairs watching television when Clay started to rub Bryant’s penis.
“I froze up and didn’t know what to do or how to react to that,” Bryant said. “Eventually he stopped, and I left the room and went to sleep in a room across the hall.”
Bryant said Clay attempted to apologize to him the next morning. However, Bryant was not ready to talk about it and waved him off.
“That’s the only time that he’s ever acknowledged that it happened,” said Bryant, who did not report the incident to anyone at the time because he was not ready to discuss it. “I tried to lead as normal of life as I could after that.”
the miry Clay
The Recorder made calls seeking comment from Clay to his church and to a number that he uses for Council business.
Clay sent a statement to the Recorder, however it was written only to defend his campaign for the presidency of the City-County Council and to oppose a column written by Recorder President Shannon Williams. It did not address Bryant’s allegations.
However,during a news conference with television media, including station WRTV-6, Clay denied that he ever touched Bryant and said the teenager was never in his bed.
“(Bryant’s) assertions with respect to me inappropriately touching him are profoundly inaccurate and untrue,” Clay said.
Clay, who graduated with a degree in religion and philosophy from Bishop College, has been senior pastor of Messiah Missionary Baptist Church since 1982. He has emerged as a prominent figure in the local African-American community, becoming well known for efforts to reduce violent crime and stop acts of excessive force by police.
Clay’s advocacy and activism led civil rights leader Rev. Al Sharpton to appoint him as the first president of the Indianapolis branch of Sharpton’s National Action Network (NAN) in 2011.
“In addition to what is taking place in the Legislature, we are also very concerned about education, public safety and working with the new City-County Council majority to ensure that all people are served in the best way possible,” Clay told the Recorder then.
He ended up being appointed to the Council by local Democrats in 2014 to succeed outgoing Councilor Steve Talley, who resigned to become Lawrence Township trustee. Clay was elected to a full term in 2015.
Recently, Clay has come under scrutiny for waging a divisive campaign for the Council presidency against incumbent President Maggie Lewis. According to blog Indy Politics, Clay attempted to win the Democratic nomination for the Council presidency last month but lost in a 9–3 vote.
He has pledged to still be a candidate when the full Council votes to select a president during its Jan. 8 session.
Indy Politics says Clay has accused Lewis, the blog and political rivals of trying to use Bryant’s allegations to assassinate Clay’s character. The blog has stood firm in saying that it consulted an attorney before covering the race for Council leadership and sharing Bryant’s story, and that its coverage is backed by countless hours of research and conversations based on allegations that have gone back years.
“Any statement by Clay or anyone else, that Council President Maggie Lewis had a role in ‘fanning these allegations’ is an outright lie,” Abdul-Hakim Shabazz of Indy Politics wrote in a statement. “Clay challenged Lewis for the Presidency of the Council in a caucus and lost 9–3 so she did not need Indy Politics to ‘preserve her seat’ as Council President.”
In her statement, Lewis said she learned of the allegations at the same time as the rest of the community. She described the situation as “unfortunate” for all parties involved.
“The honor and the integrity of all Council members is of the utmost importance to me,” Lewis said. “Politically, my hope is that we can move forward in the spirit of unity to address the vast needs of our community.”
Although Bryant did not report his alleged abuse by Clay at the time it happened, he did reveal it later in 2004 to his mother and a friend who leads another church. His mother enrolled him in counseling, and they left Messiah Missionary Baptist Church.
“That was probably the biggest change in my life,” Bryant said.
He added that getting away from Clay and the church helped him to heal over time and find closure.
Maxine Bryant, her son said, also contacted the Department of Child Services.
“They said there was enough evidence to file a police report,” Jonathan Bryant stated. “Once they did, the police said that there was not enough physical evidence to prosecute.”
In his interview with WRTV-6, Clay asserted that the decision by police to not press charges after hearing Bryant’s claims is evidence that they are not true.
“It is not factual, because as it was investigated by those who are charged and tasked with such assignments, it was not substantiated,” Clay said.
Bryant stated that he has no reason to make false accusations.
When asked by the Recorder why he chose to speak publicly about the allegations now, at a time when Clay is running for the Council presidency, Bryant replied that the national conversation around sexual assault has prompted him to take another look at his own experience.
“With the #MeToo movement, I had to process that again as an adult,” Bryant said. “Looking at it from the view of someone who is 30 years old and has lived some life, it is now even more obvious to me that what (Clay) did was predatory and premeditated.”
Bryant added that people can make whatever decisions they choose with the information he has provided, but he wanted to make sure it is at least out there.
“That’s my thing. I want people to know who he is and what he did to me,” Bryant stated. “You can’t have someone serve in office, in an elected position, who has done something like that without the public knowing.”
Bryant, who graduated with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Ball State University, continued in ministry for a few years and now works as a care professional with a mental health agency, where he works with at-risk youth.
He advises parents to believe children when they come to them with claims of abuse and assault.
“You have to take their word, because some kids may make things up, but most kids have nothing to gain from telling a lie about an adult, especially when it comes to molestation and sexual assault,” Bryant said. “I was fortunate enough that my mother believed me, even though Stephen Clay was her best friend.”