Burien Pastor Object of Civil Suit as well -- Former Church Cites Stress, Unusual Loan

Seattle Times/March 15, 1988
By Julie Emery

The pastor of the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center, the Rev. Donald Lee Barnett, has been made a defendant in a civil suit accusing his Burien church of breach of contract and improper influence in persuading a quadriplegic woman to give the church a $100,000 gift and a $480,000 interest-free loan.

King County Superior Court Judge Edward Heavey yesterday approved amending a complaint filed in 1986 against the church to include Barnett and his estranged wife, Barbara.

The revised document also asks damages for emotional distress allegedly suffered by the woman, Maureen Jorgensen, because of the church's doctrine of "spiritual connections.''

Jorgensen contends that because of a requirement that parishioners establish "connections'' with members of the opposite sex other than their spouses, her husband fell in love with his connection. She said her marriage was destroyed and ended in divorce.

She also said that because the teaching was non-biblical, she severed ties with the church in December 1985.

Jorgensen was disabled in an Alaska car accident in the early 1970s, when she was 19, according to documents filed by attorneys Jane Faulkner, Robert Gunter and Susan Jones. Confined to a wheelchair and classified medically as a quadriplegic, she was awarded about $730,000 after winning a lawsuit against the state of Alaska.

Between the accident and receipt of the $730,000 judgment, Jorgensen began attending Community Chapel and its Bible college.

Both the church and the college taught that submission to church authority and complete obedience to church teachings were required of all church members, she alleges. The complaint charges that the Barnetts were aware of Jorgensen's "weak and vulnerable state and took advantage of her condition by manipulating, pressuring, coercing and influencing (Jorgensen) in every aspect of her life.''

The church's influence included dictating whom she dated, lived with and spent time with, Jorgensen said, adding that she was advised not to marry Dennis Pangburn and was later threatened with "disfellowship'' when she attempted to separate from Pangburn.

Jones said the defendants promised Jorgensen that all of her needs would be met and that she would be healed if she gave her money to the church.

Jones said Barnett persuaded Jorgensen to give $100,000 outright to the church and to lend it $480,000 at what she understood to be a 5 percent interest rate. But when the note was presented to her for her signature on Dec. 2, 1975, it bore no interest, Jones said.

The note provided that the church would furnish a mortgage on property to secure payment of the loan, but no security has been provided, Jones said.

As part of the gift-and-loan deal, Barnett assured Jorgensen that care and support would be provided her for life, including payment of medical expenses. But when Jorgensen requested money to complete the construction of her wheelchair-accessible home, she was rebuked and made to feel ashamed by Barnett, Jones alleged.

The church also refused to pay $10,000 in necessary medical expenses, and later Barnett made disparaging remarks and publicly rebuked Jorgensen in a church meeting, accusing her of "being selfish and evil, beset by demons and lacking faith in God and the church,'' according to the complaint.

Jorgensen is seeking restitution in the form of a reasonable return on the money held and invested since Dec. 1, 1975, plus return of the principal - about $180,000 - held by the defendants. She also is asking the court to impose a "constructive trust'' on the property still held by the church, together with interest on the principal already repaid her and prejudgment interest from Dec. 1, 1975.

Michael Bond, attorney for the church, has countered that state law forbids Jorgensen from rescinding the gift or receiving any damages from the alleged breach of contract.

Bond said that in 1975, Jorgensen's father sought to have her declared incompetent in a move to prevent the gift. At a trial, the court found that she did not suffer from any mental disorder, the attorney said, and the father's petition was dismissed.

Bond also argued that when Jorgensen sought to make her gift, she received advice from an attorney and an income-tax counselor.

In recent days, Barnett has faced other legal problems at the church. He was ousted as pastor and "disfellowshipped'' by Community Chapel elders, who accused him of sexual misconduct with several women in the congregation. A judge temporarily restored Barnett to power last Friday, and a court injunction was to be clarified in a hearing today.

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