A prominent Alabama youth pastor who founded his own ministry and who has ties to several high-profile figures in the evangelical community has been accused of molesting a teen boy, police say. Few details about the case and the victim have been released to protect the boy’s privacy, but he is between the ages of 13 to 16, and is a family acquaintance of the suspect, according to police.
Acton Bowen, 37, was arrested Tuesday on charges of second-degree sodomy, enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes, and second-degree sex abuse, AL.com reports. Bowen, a married author, public speaker, minister and founder of Acton Bowen Outreach, lives in Southside, Alabama, in Etowah County. He was arrested by the Hoover Police Department and the case is being prosecuted by the Jefferson County District Attorney’s office.
Bowen issued a statement to AL.com on Wednesday denying the allegations and saying that he is hurt confused and heartbroken about the accusations made against him. He also said in the statement that he wants to say “thank you” to those who have prayed for him.
“I have not done what I am accused of and have not acted inappropriately in any way,” Bowen said in the statement. “My family and I trust the legal system and the people who are entrusted with the duty of protection each of our rights. I believe the truth will stand and I will be vindicated of this false accusation. We ask that each of you keep everyone involved in this process in your prayers.”
He added, “My wife, Ashley, and I along with our incredible family are so grateful for your prayers. I’m also thankful for the countless calls of support from those who have walked a lot of life with me and know me best. Your steadfast, unshakable support gives me strength. For almost 20 years (since I was 18) my life has been committed to serving Jesus by serving people. When this accusation was made known to me I was hurt, confused, and heartbroken. Prior to the arrest only one side of the story was heard.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. Police Say Bowen, Who Faces Up to 31 Years in Prison Was ‘Trusted by Many’ & ‘Betrayed That Trust in the Worst Kind of Way,’ While the Boy Was ‘Brave’ to Come Forward
Police say that Bowen, whose full name is Paul Edward Acton Bowen, was arrested on April 10 after an investigation that began three weeks ago, according to AL.com. Warrants for Bowen’s arrest were issued on Monday, April 9, in Jefferson County, police told the newspaper.
“This is certainly one of the more disturbing cases that we’ve investigated in quite some time,” Hoover Police Captain Greg Rector told AL.com. “Mr. Bowen is in a highly-respected position of influence and he is trusted by many. We believe he betrayed that trust in the worst kind of way.”
Hoover Police Chief Nick Derzis told the newspaper, “When we first learned of these accusations we wanted to make sure we investigated thoroughly in order to get the truth. The victim in this case is a brave young man and he should be commended for coming forward. He and his family deserve our best effort and we believe that we’ve accomplished that. We will continue to work on their behalf as this troubling case progresses.”
Rector said the victim, who is a family acquaintance of Bowen, “is currently doing well and has been in a safe environment since police were first notified.”
Bowen faces up to 31 years in prison if convicted of the three charges against him. The second-degree sodomy is a felony that carries between 2 to 20 years in prison. Enticing a child to enter a vehicle or house for immoral purposes is also a felony with a potential penalty of 1 to 10 years in prison, while second-degree sexual abuse is a misdemeanor carrying a potential year in jail.
According to state law, a person commits sodomy in the second degree if, “He, being 16 years old or older, engages in deviate sexual intercourse with another person less than 16 and more than 12 years old,” or “He engages in deviate sexual intercourse with a person who is incapable of consent by reason of being mentally defective.”
The enticement law states, “It shall be unlawful for any person with lascivious intent to entice, allure, persuade, or invite, or attempt to entice, allure, persuade, or invite, any child under 16 years of age to enter any vehicle, room, house, office, or other place for the purpose of proposing to such child the performance of an act of sexual intercourse or an act which constitutes the offense of sodomy or for the purpose of proposing the fondling or feeling of the sexual or genital parts of such child or the breast of such child, or for the purpose of committing an aggravated assault on such child, or for the purpose of proposing that such child fondle or feel the sexual or genital parts of such person.”
Second-degree sexual abuse occurs, when if a person, “being 19 years old or older, subjects another person to sexual contact who is less than 16 years old, but more than 12 years old.”
Bowen was booked into the Hoover City Jail on those charges and later transferred to the Jefferson County Jail. He was released Wednesday morning after posting $90,300 bail. It is not clear when he is scheduled to appear in court and it is also not known if he has hired an attorney. Bowen could not be reached for comment by Heavy about the accusations.
Police said the investigation is ongoing. Anyone with information about the case or Bowen is asked to call the Hoover Police Special Victim’s Unit Detective Brandon Harris at 205-444-7742. It is not clear if police believe there could be other victims in the case.
2. Bowen Founded Acton Bowen Outreach in 2011 & Often Preaches to Youth Groups, Summer Camps, Along & at Several Evangelical Churches Around the Country
Acton Bowen is an Alabama native and has been involved in preaching and youth ministry since he was a teenager. He founded Acton Bowen Outreach in 2011 and often preaches to youth groups, summer camps and at evangelical churches around the country. Videos on YouTube show Bowen speaking at many different events over the past several years.
After his arrest, Bowen took down his website for Acton Bowen Outreach, leaving a message stating, “This site has been temporarily removed.” Previously, the “about Acton” section of the website stated:
Speaker, Best-selling author, visionary. Many words are used to describe him, but Acton Bowen’s only passion has been to connect people with the one, true God. Once recognized as one of the nation’s leading student pastors, God has clearly blessed Acton with the ability to reach today’s high tech, attention-lacking culture.
For 12 years Acton served in the local church, led a city-wide student Bible study in Gadsden, AL, and was also was the host of x|roads TV, a worldwide broadcast viewed weekly by millions of teens and adults in every city in America and over 170 countries around the world on network television. Acton is now co-host of Top3 on the JuceTV Network and a regular contributor on Fox News in NYC where he serves as a correspondent on Faith and Religion.
In his travels, he speaks up to 20 times a month at churches, disciple-now weekends, city-wide crusades, camps, conferences, school assemblies and leadership seminars- giving him a live platform before over 350,000 people every year. Acton uses these opportunities and his unique blend of boldness and humor to communicate leadership skills and the life-giving message of the gospel to students and adults alike. Acton and his wife Ashley live in Alabama where Acton and his team daily lean into the vision of ABO.
You can watch videos of Bowen speaking below:
Bowen is also the author of multiple books, including “Moment,” which was released in 2014, and is described as, “best-selling author Acton Bowen takes you on a 21 day journey. You will look at people in scripture who’s lives were changed by a moment, as well as practical ways to surrender every moment to the One who holds time in His hands!”
In 2007, he published, “Escape the Noise: A Thirty Day Devotional Journey for Students.” The book’s description states:
The day-by-day format is easy to use and follow, beginning with a brief essay using true stories and realistic examples to illustrate the theme. Bowen then introduces a four-step challenge: Read It-a scripture passage that reinforces the day’s message.Think It-a guided thinking exercise that challenges you to be still and let the devotional passage “sink in.”Do It-an action step that encourages you to put God’s word into practice.Pray It-a sample prayer that is offered to “jump-start” your conversation time with God. Escape the Noise offers direction for Christian believers who want to strengthen their spiritual development and make more time in their day for prayer and reflection.
That book reached the New York Times’ Best Sellers List and the Amazon Top 100 list, according to the Gadsden Times. He left his local ministry and began to preach nationwide after that book.
“I had no idea the book would experience that kind of success,” Bowen told the newspaper in 2012. “That started a whole new world for me. I had to decide whether to stay or expand my ministry to a national level.”
Bowen has ties to many prominent evangelical pastors. A now-deleted “advisors” section of his website listed several pastors, student preachers and other ministers as being part of his Acton Bowen Outreach ministry.
Bowen was previously on the staff of CrossPoint Community Church in Gadsden from 2003 to 2010. He told the Gadsden Messenger in 2014, “Many of the people from CrossPoint continue to be part of my ministry by getting involved with the board, through financial contributions and by praying with me and supporting me.”
He has also been on the staff Christ City Church in Birmingham, though it is not clear if he still has any formal role with that church. His ministry is a non-profit, and he solicits donations on his Facebook page.
“Acton Bowen Outreach is a 501(c)3 Non-Profit Organization. Message us for an address to send your taxable donations,” the website states. “A lot of the day in, day out details of the ministry of ABO could not be accomplished without the efforts of the incredible ministry team that pour their heart, soul and gifts into the vision of this ministry.”
3. He Is a Gadsden Native & Has Been Married Since 2015
Acton Bowen is a native of Gadsden, Alabama, according to his now-deleted Facebook profile and news reports about him. He graduated from Coosa Christian High School. He recently moved to Southside, Alabama, with his wife, Ashley Nabors Bowen. They have been married since 2015, according to his Facebook profile. They talked to the Gadsden Times in 2015 about their relationship and wedding.
They were married in Hawaii by Bowen’s fellow pastor and friend, Jay Haizlip, one of the stars of the now-cancelled “Preachers of LA” TV show on the Oxygen network. Bowen has often spoken at Haizlip’s California megachurch, The Sanctuary Church.
Bowen’s mother-in-law told WVTM-TV reporter Marlei Martinez, “we are devastated, we are devastated,” after his arrest. She asked them if he is innocent, and she responded, “I hope so.”
Bowen, who has deleted his Facebook profile, was preaching at local churches and at other events up until the days before his arrest. Late last month he wrote on Facebook, “Youth Pastor- stop spending time explaining yourself to people who are committed to misunderstanding you! Too many students need to hear the Gospel and experience Jesus to waste time doing that! Know your calling and PRESS ON!!”
4. Bowen Has Appeared on Fox News, Where He Criticized a TLC Show About Muslims & He Lists Roy Moore’s Attorney, Trent Garmon, as a Member of His Outreach Ministry’s Board
Bowen claimed on his website that he is a “regular contributor on Fox News,” but the news network said in a statement, “Paul Edward Acton Brown is not, and has never been, an employee, correspondent or contributor at FOX News.”
He posted a video of one of his appearances on his website, in which he blasts TLC for its 2011 show, “All-American Muslim,” saying he was “a little bothered,” that the network would air a show about the daily lives of American Muslims. The home improvement store Lowe’s created controversy in 2011 by pulling its advertising from the show.
“I really am shocked that TLC is doing this,” he said. “It seemed to be so controversial. I do believe in freedom of speech, I believe in freedom of religion, I believe that TLC has every right, and the beautiful thing about being in America and having that freedom is we also have the freedom to make dumb decisions. … I also have the freedom to choose whether I watch it and I choose not to. I can understand their standpoint, saying, ‘we’re not all hijacking planes and flying them into buildings,’ and things of that nature.” You can watch his appearance below:
Another media company also distanced itself from Bowen on Wednesday. JuceTV said in a statement, “Everyone associated with JuceTV was shocked and disheartened to hear of the egregious allegations made against Acton Brown this week. Our prayers go out to those who may have been hurt and victimized. Mr. Brown made four appearances on JuceTV, an affiliate of TBN, the most recent last summer, but there are no on-going ties.”
Bowen said on social media that he rarely strays into politics, but he does have ties to prominent Alabama politicians and has posted about President Donald Trump, including a picture of a signed photo that Trump apparently sent him, and a criticism of the women’s march:
Bowen also posted a photo on Instagram of a book titled, “The President’s Devotional: The Daily Readings That Inspired President Obama,” along with the Qur’an, and a message stating, “anybody got a match?”
Bowen listed Trent Garmon, the attorney for former Republican Alabama Senate candidate and state Supreme Court Chief Justice Roy Moore, as one of the members of the Acton Bowen Outreach board of directors. He also appeared at an event, Awake America, with Moore in 2015, according to the Gadsden Times. Moore and Bowen are both from Gadsden. Bowen’s father-in-law, Joe Nabors, an Etowah County District Judge, also spoke at the event. Garmon and Nabors did not immediately respond to requests for comment about Bowen.
“It’s a time committed to being a time of celebrating the good in our nation and honoring God together. We believe that Jesus Christ is the hope of the world, and so we’re going together to celebrate,” Garmon said about the event. “With all the negativity, we believe it’s time to celebrate the good and let the love and truth of Jesus Christ shine through.”
Bowen also has ties to evangelist Scott Dawson, who is running for the Republican nomination for governor in Alabama. Dawson is listed as an advisor on Bowen’s website, and on Instagram, Bowen endorsed his candidacy.
A quote from Dawson about Bowen is on Bowen’s website, “Our lives are drowning in an ocean of static. But from this clatter Acton’s voice rings out with a clarion call for each of us. As a gifted author and powerful speaker Acton clearly communicates what God’s Word says about life and puropse [sic]. Experiencing his ministry on stage or in print will impact your life in a profound and irreversible way.” Dawson could not be reached for comment about Bowen.
He told AL.com he knows Bowen and had him speak at one of his events in 2014, “I never noticed anything that caused concern – but I was not on his board.”
In a message to his his campaign team, Dawson said, according to AL.com, “It is heartbreaking. When I got the news it surprised me – then I had to decide how to respond. Preacher? Politician? Neither. We respond as a follower of Christ. When I heard that I was listed as an adviser to him, it was a total surprise, but again, I am the least impacted. Let’s pray for Acton and his wife. Pray for the family. We don’t know what has happened or the result that will take place. All we know is that every time this happens it causes the world to doubt. Let’s commit ourselves to be found faithful.”
5. He Was a Chaplain at the Summer Olympics in 2012 & Says Justin Bieber Invited Him to the Grammys That Same Year After He Became His ‘Personal Friend & Spiritual Mentor’
Bowen drew local attention in 2012 after he attended the Summer Olympics with an evangelical group as a chaplain. He told the Gadsden Times he was invited by Dr. Sam Ming to serve as student evangelism director at the Olympics as part of Lay Witnesses for Christ International. The role had previously been filled by Reverend Billy Graham’s son, Franklin Graham. Bowen recalled the conversation with Ming.
“He said, ‘You may not know me, but I know you.’ He said his team had been scouting for someone for the position, and he knew God had given me a large level of influence over the next generation. He said, ‘I want you to pray about this role and get back to me.’” He eventually accepted the role. “All the doors opened have been so diverse. How many people get to travel and speak and do what I do? I do understand I am very, very blessed. At the end of the day, the best thing is to see people initiate a relationship with Christ. It fuels me just to think of all the lives changed.”
Bowen also told the Gadsden Times that he had become pop icon Justin Bieber’s “personal friend” and “spiritual mentor,” after meeting him through other entertainers and prominent evangelicals he has met during his time touring the country. He said Bieber invited him to the Grammy Awards in 2012.
“God always gave me a gift of relationships and communicating. I think I can communicate on a level people can understand. My heart is in reaching the next generation,” Bowen told the Gadsden Times in 2012. “Everything so far has exceeded my wildest imagination. It really excites me to see what the future holds.”