GT’s Response: James & Cheryl Fortune Sued for Child Abuse

The May/June 2012 issue of Gospel Today features James and Cheryl Fortune as the cover subjects. Inside, they share a story of “Fortitude: Courage in pain or adversity.” A civil lawsuit filed on June 13, 2012 in the Fort Bend County Court, Texas against the couple will afford another opportunity for them to exhibit fortitude.

The plaintiff’s Petition alleges that James and Cheryl Fortune “failed to provide a safe and reasonable home environment.” The specific allegations are difficult to hear and include reports of James Fortune yelling at and berating his four-year old stepson, whipping the child while naked and then holding the child in scalding water causing second and third degree burns to 47% of the child’s body. The Petition states that the child was hospitalized for 63 days as he underwent “numerous skin graft operations.”

The Petition alleges that James Fortune was charged with 1st Degree injury to a child and pled guilty on or about June 2, 2003.

James and Cheryl reportedly issued the following statement to Fox 26’s Isiah Carey:

I recently became aware of a civil suit pending against my wife, Cheryl Fortune and I, for an incident that occurred in 2001 involving my stepson. There was a criminal investigation and all matters were resolved in 2003. Since that time, my family and I, including my stepson, have continued with family traditions and always have a loving family environment. We are shocked by this lawsuit but understand people are free to use the court system to pursue claims, whether they contain merit or baseless matters. We are confident through this process, if it proceeds to a judge or jury, the ultimate decision maker will render a decision that is favorable to the circumstances and timing surrounding this situation. We believe in our American justice system and know it will work for us as it has for millions of other Americans.

I love all my children, including my stepson, and I ask for your prayers as we deal with this matter privately. Thank you for your continued support for me, my family, and ministry.

News of the civil lawsuit and alleged criminal acts was made public by a June 25, 2012 news report on Houston’s Fox 26 affiliate. In the news report, the reporter cites that the Fortune’s have been “featured on a number of religious platforms such as this magazine, Gospel Today.”

Gospel Today Publisher, Roland Hairston shared the following comments:

“At the time of our interview with James and Cheryl Fortune, we did not know of the 2001 incident nor of the recent civil lawsuit. That withstanding, we do not regret sharing the story readers will find in the pages of Gospel Today. In the story, James and Cheryl speak of how they were at times homeless and embarrassed by the hard times they’ve come across. Cheryl talks about being committed to her husband and their marriage. James shares how his hit song, ‘I Trust You,’ was first and foremost a testimony to himself. None of that is less true because of the recently published reports.

“No one has a spotless past and those who judge most harshly are likely the biggest hypocrites of all. Gospel Today would have preferred to know this aspect of their story so that we could present a more radiant picture of how God can bring redemption and grace into the worst situations and so that James could share what measures he has taken to change. However, Gospel Today has never made a practice of seeking to dig up every skeleton from every closet and James and Cheryl were not explicitly asked about this incident.

“My prayer for James, Cheryl and their family is that this situation will become an occasion for God to shine. I pray and believe that James is a different man today who has learned from his past and repented—changed his way of thinking and behaving. My prayer for the plaintiff in the case is that he would make Godly decisions in the best interest of his son and not be led by any other motive.

“My prayer for every parent is that we would follow the mandates of Scripture in our parenting and never allow our tempers to cause us to sin against our children. My prayer for every onlooker is that we would consider our own lives and behaviors closely and walk in grace and humility toward others speaking the truth in love.

“To the young man who is the subject of these reports, I pray that no matter what happened, that you would find in Jesus Christ the freedom of forgiveness. I pray that you would know that you are precious and loved by your Heavenly Father. I pray that you would grow to be a Godly man and dad who does not provoke his children to wrath but lovingly serves them by correcting, training and teaching them.”

For a helpful commentary on parental discipline by Gospel Today contributor, Dr. Christina Edmondson, consider this recent article: “The TRUTH About Parental Discipline”