Barnett Loses Bid to Escape Lawsuit -- Chapel Elders to Detail Their Sex Lives

Seattle Times/April 19, 1988
By Marsha King

Tacoma -- Donald Barnett, pastor of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center in Burien, has lost his bid to be released as a defendant in a civil suit alleging sexual assault and ministerial malpractice.

Pierce County Superior Court Judge Gary Steiner also ruled in a three-hour hearing yesterday that chapel elders must give pretrial testimony on their own sex lives and tell what they know about the sex life of Barnett.

Steiner said such testimony was necessary to determine if sexual misconduct on the part of church leaders was widespread.

The judge denied a request to seal the entire court file, citing the right of the press "to have material regarding the trial.''

But Barnett's pretrial testimony on his sex life will remain sealed, said Steiner. The judge also sealed other statements gathered from witnesses by lawyers in recent weeks.

With the attorneys' concurrence, Steiner did not reveal why he refused to dismiss Barnett from the case, saying his legal opinions would only fan media attention and indicate his own judicial leanings.

The judge also said Barnett could try for dismissal again after the pretrial discovery process is completed.

The suit was filed in 1986 by Carol and Ira Gabrielson against Barnett and Jack McDonald, the former pastor of the church's Tacoma satellite. The suit also names the two men's wives and the church corporation in Burien and Tacoma. Trial has been set for May 18.

Carol Gabrielson, a former church member, accuses McDonald of abusing his counselor's role to manipulate her into having sex with him. The suit says Barnett's teachings validated the relationship. The Gabrielsons are divorced, and blame their breakup on the defendants.

Barnett, through his teachings on "spiritual connections,'' encouraged improper sexual relationships among members of the congregation, said Daniel Hannula, attorney for the Gabrielsons.

Steiner suggested that preaching from the pulpit on spiritual connections is protected as freedom of religious expression under the Constitution, but certain behavior and conduct are not.

"The door to that church swings both ways,'' the judge told Hannula. "What you've got to find is unprotected behavior or conduct.''

In response, Hannula referred to the court-sealed affidavit of an unnamed woman who described her affair with one of the church's senior elders. Barnett formed a group with "special status'' in the church called "mega connections,'' said Hannula. Only mega connections were allowed entrance to room E250 in the church, the attorney said.

This woman had mega status, explained Hannula. In the affidavit, she described seeing another senior elder in room E250 with a woman not his wife, engaged in passionate kissing and fondling, the attorney said.

The judge also denied a request from Barnett's attorney, Rodney Hollenbeck, to strike from the court record an affidavit from Seattle psychiatrist Philip Lindsay.

Lindsay interviewed Carol Gabrielson and two other women - Kathy Butler and Sandy Brown - who have filed civil lawsuits in King County against Barnett and the chapel.

The affidavit alleges that McDonald's supposed seduction strategy against Gabrielson was remarkably similar to the sexual persuasion employed by Barnett against Butler and Brown.

The Lindsay affidavit states that both pastors used the concept of spiritual union to justify spending much time alone with the women and both played on the women's self-esteem by extolling their beauty in biblical terms, said Lindsay.

"Both progressed in measured pace from hugs and kisses in greeting, to closer, more intense physical contact . . .'' said Lindsay.

"If threatened with exposure, both used the power that they wielded as pastors to ensure silence, threatening disfellowshipment and broadcasting that the victim was possessed by any number of demons,'' Lindsay said.

Hollenbeck reiterated arguments made last week that Barnett cannot, by virtue of his pastor's role, be held responsible for the actions of his ministers or his flock.

The Burien pastor never counseled or instructed McDonald regarding the operation of the Tacoma church, said Hollenbeck.

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