Suit Against Church and its Ex-Pastor is Settled

Seattle Times/March 16, 1988
By Vince Stricherz

One of three King County lawsuits against the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center and its former pastor has been settled out of court, but attorneys say the settlement precludes disclosing details.

Three former members of the Burien church filed the lawsuit in 1986 in Superior Court, alleging the Rev. Donald Lee Barnett sexually assaulted them under the guise of ministerial counseling.

The suit said Barnett coerced them into having sexual contact with him, maintaining that the contact was sanctioned by God.

The women's attorney, Jeff Campeche, left Seattle yesterday but issued a statement that his firm had "successfully settled the claims against pastor Barnett and the Community Chapel.''

The statement said: "The underlying events have been acknowledged. Both our clients and our firm feel good about the settlement. We are not free to disclose the dollar amount.''

The lawsuit, brought by Kathy Lee Butler, Sandi Lee Brown and Christine Hall, asked for damages, medical expenses, payment for lost wages, and other financial awards, but did not specify any amounts.

Barnett refused to comment on the case as did attorney Robert Rohan, who represents the church and its elders.

Rod Hollenbeck, attorney for Barnett, confirmed Campeche's statement but added, "I'd say there were differences of opinion as to the nature and scope of the underlying events.''

Hollenbeck said two other lawsuits against Barnett remain intact.

The women's suit contended Barnett encouraged followers to make spiritual connections with each other, including dancing, embracing and other expressions of affection. Barnett has maintained that such connections are necessary to help congregation members be open to spiritual love and to become one with God.

In the lawsuit, Butler and Hall accused Barnett of attempting to coerce them into having sexual intercourse with him after he became aware of their vulnerability through counseling them. Brown said she confronted Barnett, telling him she did not believe his conduct was sanctioned by God, and he threatened to throw her out of the church if she revealed their contact.

Because of Barnett's conduct, the suit alleges, both Butler's and Hall's marriages and family relationships were destroyed, and Brown's family relationship was harmed. Brown was officially barred from the church after she told elders about Barnett's actions, the suit said, and Butler and Hall felt forced to leave to avoid further mental and physical abuse.

Barnett won an earlier court victory when he was dismissed as a defendant in a similar lawsuit in Pierce County.

But he lost a court battle in December when a judge placed control of church property, valued at about $11 million, with church elders who had been feuding with Barnett. He since has started another church in Renton.

The Burien church, which once claimed 2,500 members, now has decreased attendance and faces heavy debts, Rohan has said. As a result, about $100,000 worth of equipment is being auctioned this week.

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