Pastor’s Conviction Tested; ‘Persecuted … not forsaken’

The Rev. T.D. “Donte” Byrdsong, left, with Craig Fitzhue in a file photo, is an executive pastor at Grace United Missionary Baptist Church located in Columbia and Nashville. Photo by Clint Confehr

By Clint Confehr

COLUMBIA, TN — “Cast down, but not destroyed,” 2nd Corinthians, comforted the Rev. T.D. “Donte” Byrdsong a few hours after his faith was tested in Maury County.

Byrdsong is an executive pastor at Grace United Missionary Baptist Church here and in Nashville. He’d been in circuit court Dec. 9 when he pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor.

Months ago, Byrdsong explained he was protecting a child from a “bully.” It’s developed into a dilemma; plead guilty of simple assault, or go to trial on three felony charges.

He reflects a feeling of being “cast down, but not destroyed” in his in ministerial work, and on his quest for full-time employment in law enforcement. With an American Baptist College degree in theology, Byrdsong is studying for a master’s degree in criminal justice from Bethel University, McKenzie.

In 2018, he was: a school resource officer; a police academy graduate certified by the Tennessee Peace Officers Standards and Training Commission; president of the NAACP Branch here; and a pastor at Grace United on East 8th Street.

The 29-year-old pastor has sought employment with a bonding agency, he says, by obtaining a certificate from the Tennessee Association of Professional Bail Agents. TAPBA provides continuing education for people in that occupation, and certifies bond school attendance. Association Attorney Joel Moseley said state judges authorize applicants to be bail agents. Without addressing Byrdsong’s situation, Moseley said, anybody applying for approval to be a bail bondsman would be disqualified if they were convicted of two or more misdemeanors in the last five years.

As Byrdsong appears qualified under state law, three law enforcement officers said that employers decide who they’ll hire. Ironically, such court experience might make a better bail agent.

“I have to hire someone who can handle themselves,” Farrar Bail Bonding Owner-Operator Michael Farrar said. “Our job is not for the weak or weary” when working with people “at their most vulnerable.” And a bail agency employee “needs kindness” when writing bonds, Farrar said.

The business is in Shelbyville, Lewisburg and Fayetteville. It owns Tims Ford Marina, Resort and Hard Dock Cafe.

Bond agency field work “is not typical for college grads,” Farrar said. People with “a rough history, a thug life,” may be suited for part of the work. Another part, Farrar said, includes donating to charities and hosting benefits.

The preacher denies using excessive force at a middle school in 2018. He said: a sixth-grader assaulted another boy three times; and, in a fourth incident, he was between the two when one ran from a teacher to the other boy and himself, an SRO then. Byrdsong said he “grabbed him and took him to the floor.”

Newspaper and TV reports quote Sheriff Bucky Rowland as saying Byrdsong lifted the student above his shoulder and slammed him to the ground. Rowland indicated handcuffs might have been used. The boy’s mother said first aid wasn’t administered and her son had a concussion. While the sheriff and preacher interpret what happened differently, they’ve had kind words for each other. 

District Attorney Brent Cooper presented the grand jury charges of: aggravated- child abuse; -assault; and official misconduct. They were dropped. Judge Stella Hargrove ruled for terms in the state agreement including: a $50 fine; $902.50 in costs and fees (paid Dec. 10); and a year of probation. Attorneys Doak Patton and Julie Riggs represented Byrdsong.

Grace United M.B. Church Head Pastor Kerry DeWayne James Sr. emphasized his: advocacy of nonviolence; sadness for Byrdsong; opposition to violence; belief that Byrdsong is a peaceful man and that there’s more to be told.

About Clint Confehr 253 Articles
Clint Confehr — an American journalist since 1972 — first wrote for The Tennessee Tribune in 1999. His news writing and photography in South Central Tennessee and the Nashville Metropolitan Statistical Area began in the summer of 1980. Clint's covered news in several Southern states at newspapers, radio stations and one TV station. Married since 1982, he's a grandfather and is semi-retired from daily news work.