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CLEBURNE You could say that Sunday s sermon at the New Heart Family Worship Center in Cleburne was pretty unorthodox.

Me and my ex-wife were in porn, we were in the booze and the drugs, said New Heart s Senior Pastor Claude Gilliland III, who thought it appropriate to offer those very personal revelations to the congregation.

He did so after he was publicly outed as a convicted sex offender, which some in the flock said came as a nasty surprise.

The pain and heartache it brought to New Heart Church, I did not intend it to be this way, Gilliland said.

The 54-year-old pastor said he served four years in prison after being convicted in 1993 for the sexual assault of his ex-wife. He still denies he did it, but he acknowledges he was no angel back then, either, and that the fast life caught up with him.

The life I led was nothing but a juggle, and it was heartache after heartache after heartache," Gilliland said.

Critics complained they wish they had known the less-than-holy history of the clergyman before he was recently elected to his post in the church.

But on Sunday, supporters came to Gilliland s defense,

All of us have a past," said Rina Ramos. "If we believe in the redemptive work of Christ, then this man is a miracle. A man with a past makes a great pastor, because he has been there."

Ramos and others say the pastor s past shouldn t be cause for judgment, since he proudly proclaims that faith has turned his life around.

As friend Glenn Burlingham put it: He has paid his debt to society. He has asked God for forgiveness, and it s a stamp of approval from me."

E-mail jwheeler@wfaa.com

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