Pastor Plans Court Challenge of Ouster -- If that Fails, Barnett says He'll Start a New Church

Seattle Times/March 7, 1988
By Dick Lilly

The Rev. Donald Lee Barnett, ousted by church elders at Burien's Community Chapel and Bible Training Center because of allegations of sexual misconduct, says he will go to court to get his pulpit back.

If that fails, he says, he will start a new church.

Forbidden by a court order from entering church property, Barnett conducted services yesterday for about 300 followers in a rented room above a bowling alley on Pacific Highway South.

Afterward, he said his ouster was illegal because church bylaws required him to be present at the elders' meetings last week.

"We intend to get a court ruling this next week as to whether or not the board of directors has the opportunity legally to do what they've done,'' Barnett said. "We think they do not have'' because "the bylaws expressly forbid any meetings without the pastor's consent or without him being present.''

The church's board has filed new incorporation papers and amended bylaws with the state in order to remove Barnett. As founder of the church and Bible school in 1967, Barnett was guaranteed his position for life in the original incorporation documents.

With a favorable court ruling, "I'll be back in service again, hopefully, this weekend,'' Barnett said. Otherwise, he said, "we'll secure a property and continue on as a church with those that will follow me.''

Elders said that after allegations of sexual misconduct had surfaced, Barnett, 57, ignored their order last month to avoid private contact with women other than his wife. They said that forced them to go to the congregation with the evidence against Barnett, according to Jack Hicks, a senior elder and acting president of the church.

Barnett said yesterday that the allegations of sexual misconduct were "grossly exaggerated, misleading, based on a lot of emotional responses'' and founded only on "circumstantial evidence.''

After the announcement of Barnett's dismissal at a Friday chapel meeting, about one-fourth of the 1,000 people present walked out in protest, Hicks said.

Most of those who went to Barnett's three-hour service yesterday - held in a former discotheque at the Sports World bowling alley - would not comment afterward. But those who spoke, such as Darius Bentley, a 10-year church member, were adamant that Barnett was "still pastor of the church.'' Bentley said Barnett told them the elders were "rebelling against his (Barnett's) authority.''

The church also has been criticized by former members for a doctrine attributed to Barnett called "spiritual connecting.'' To make "connections,'' members of the congregation dance together, often tightly embraced and often with the wives and husbands of others. This has led to adultery and the breakup of families, critics charge.

Christine Bandieramonte hasn't seen her 25-year marriage break up, but she has been arguing with her husband, Guy, about Community Chapel for 10 years. She said he came here to work for The Boeing Co. and joined the church during the six months before the rest of his family came west from New York.

Mrs. Bandieramonte, who is not a chapel member, tried to attend Barnett's service yesterday but was thrown out.

Complaining of pain in her arm from being ejected, she yelled angrily at Barnett as he left the service.

She said her husband initially attended the chapel only on Sundays but now attends meetings four days a week for three hours or more each. "I can't see all this time spent in church when you have three beautiful kids.

"He doesn't want to leave the church. It's been a real brainwash job,'' she said. "I want him to come (to another church with us) so we can be a family.''

She has refused to let her daughters attend Community Chapel with their father, and wrested her son away from the congregation after six years.

Tim Brown, of the Colossean Fellowship, a Christian ministry dedicated to fighting the influence of cults, was outside the bowling alley yesterday. He said his group has been watching Community Chapel since 1984, when Barnett's claims that he visited heaven caught their attention. Brown considers the chapel a cult because of Barnett's power.

A new church led by Barnett would be "dangerous,'' Brown said, because "these people have followed him and have made a stronger commitment than before.''

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