Pastor Plans to Fire Staff, says Chapel Spokesman

Seattle Times/March 14, 1988
By Dick Lilly

Embattled Community Chapel Pastor Donald Lee Barnett plans to fire employees of the Burien church, including the elders who form its board of directors, if they do not pledge personal loyalty to him, a church spokesman said.

Barnett planned to dismiss the staff members at a meeting today, spokesman Chuck Kerr said yesterday.

Ousted by the elders March 4 amid allegations of sexual misconduct, Barnett was restored to power in the controversial church Friday when a King County judge granted him a temporary injunction because his removal may have violated the church's bylaws.

That order apparently "gave the pastor the right to fire any and all that disagree with him,'' said Kerr.

James Leach, attorney for the church's elders, said Judge Jim Bates will hold a hearing tomorrow morning in King County Superior Court to clarify what he meant to happen while the temporary restraining order is in place.

"We're going to ask him to make sure both sides are restrained from taking action which will destroy the church, until there can be a hearing on the merits of the case,'' said Leach.

The attorney also said he thinks the church's bylaws technically would allow Barnett to fire many people. "The bylaws give him a great deal of power, but I don't believe that was the spirit of what the judge intended to have happen,'' Leach said.

None of the elders - there are about 18 altogether - could be reached for comment yesterday.

Kerr said that at a Friday evening service, Barnett asked members of the congregation to bring in their resumes - presumably so he could find replacements for those he planned to fire.

Bates' decision Friday overruled, at least for now, the elders' order barring Barnett from the pulpit at the independent, Pentecostal church south of Burien. Pleased with the judgment, Barnett returned to preach the Friday night service at the organization's main chapel while the elders conducted services in an older sanctuary adjoining Community Chapel's Bible school.

Yesterday the congregation - roughly split with about 400 at each location - had the same choice of a service led by Barnett or the elders. On the door of the school chapel, worshippers found a notice that read, "Anyone who walks in this building will be `disfellowshipped' and staff will be fired,'' said Kerr. The note was from Barnett, Kerr said, but when the pastor heard that a "majority'' of the congregation was at the school chapel, he sent a messenger "rescinding'' the order.

Last week, while barred from church property other than his home, Barnett, 57, preached to about 300 of his followers in a meeting room at a Federal Way bowling alley. The church has approximately 1,750 members, according to its current roster.

Barnett was removed after he refused to submit to the elders' discipline, which, among other things, ordered him to avoid private contact with women other than his wife, from whom he is separated. The elders then brought to the congregation evidence of Barnett's alleged adultery with several church members.

The elders contend Barnett's alleged sexual misconduct has exposed the church to legal liability. Three lawsuits have been filed by women who claim Barnett sexually assaulted them under the guise of spiritual counseling. As a result, church attorney Leach argued in court Friday, Barnett has "breached his fiduciary responsibility as a board member of the church and therefore is subject to removal.''

In letters to the congregation last week, Barnett called the elders' action "an illegal coup.'' The elders have sins, too, Barnett, wrote, "at least one is guilty of much more than I, and yet he is one of the front men to condemn me.''

Controversy has surrounded the Community Chapel for years. Besides the lawsuits against Barnett, two church members have been convicted of child abuse and three others of failing to report child abuse.

Former members of the church have claimed its doctrine of "spiritual connections,'' which includes intimate dancing with partners other than spouses, has broken up families.

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