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Gospel artist’s guilty plea on charge of assaulting his wife highlights a hidden problem

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James Fortune, who has recorded popular gospel songs about God’s love but has also been in  legal trouble for allegedly scalding his 4-year-old stepson, just pleaded guilty to assaulting his wife.

A pastor who specializes in domestic violence held up Fortune’s guilty plea Tuesday as an important reminder to Christians: that even the people who seem the most committed to their faith can be perpetrators or victims of domestic abuse.

“This brings awareness that things like this happen among Christians,” the Rev. Unnia L. Pettus said. “We have to hold in the body of faith to the same standards that we hold with sports and entertainment celebrities like Ray Rice or Chris Brown.”

Fortune, 37, has recorded a string of gospel hits played on Christian radio stations nationwide. His most successful songs, including “I Trust You,” “Live Through It” and “You Survived,” speak about enduring hardship with the help of God.

He and his wife, Cheryl, who sang as one of his backup singers, once appeared on the cover of Gospel Today under the headline, “Portraits of Love.”

But Cheryl Fortune painted a darker picture in the victim impact statement that she submitted to the court in Fort Bend County, Tex., where her husband pleaded guilty to third-degree felony assault. He was sentenced to  five days in jail, along with five years of probation, 175 hours of community service and a mandatory “batterer’s intervention” program.

Cheryl Fortune spoke about the night her husband allegedly assaulted her in October 2014. According to a police report, Fortune struck her with a wooden vanity stool, kicked her and threw her against a wall in their home south of Houston.

“I hope in all of this you get help. Serious help,” Cheryl Fortune said in her statement. “Although this probation might be like a slap on the wrist, I hope you look at it as a moment to better yourself and change something within you for your future.”

According to Assistant District Attorney Alex Foley, who prosecuted the more recent case, Fortune also pleaded guilty in a 2002 case involving his stepson, who was four years old at the time. Foley said that Fortune was accused of submerging the child in a bathtub of scalding water. That time, he was sentenced to six years’ probation.

Pettus, the D.C. pastor who started a ministry for victims of domestic violence, said the case reminded her of her own experience. She was married to a pastor for six years who cheated on her and physically abused her.

“I love James Fortune’s music, but I am glad he was able to plead guilty. Now he can get help,” she said. “I am a living witness of how you can be standing with your husband in ministry, smiling in public and suffering in silence.”

This post has been updated.