A servant of God or a 'sick man'?

Seattle Post-Intelligencer/March 7, 1988
By Mary Rothschild

The deposed pastor of the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center is a "sick man who needs help from God and man," say the church leaders who expelled him for sexual misconduct.

But Donald Lee Barnett, the self-ordained founder of the Burien-based sect, yesterday blasted the elders' Friday night action as illegal and vowed to overturn the court order barring him from church property.

In defiance of the elders' dismissal and their warning to the congregation not to associate with him, Barnett yesterday held a meeting with about 300 church members in a rented hall above a bowling alley near Federal Way.

Meeting afterward with reporters, Barnett claimed that the elders may not have the legal authority to oust him.

"If they don't," he said, "I'll be back in service hopefully this weekend. And if they do, we'll secure another property and continue on as a church with those who will follow me.

"I am doing this because I believe that God has called me to the ministry and I believe that He wants to leave Community Chapel to the pastor and those that believe that will follow…"

In letters written to Barnett Friday and distributed or mailed to all Chapel members, the elders admitted they have known for more than two years that Barnett was involved in numerous adulterous relationships with women in the church.

"For well over two years now, you have steadfastly rebuffed and refused to cooperate with the many who have sought to work with you to help solve your habitual sexual immorality problems. Your continuing sinful attitude toward this whole issue is, in fact, worse yet than your sexual sins," one letter stated.

The elders also claimed in another letter that Barnett, 57, has a drug dependency.

In a telephone interview Saturday, Barnett denied the elders' charges of habitual sexual immorality, saying he had repented his sins. He acknowledged that he uses a variety of prescription drugs, and pain medications for stress and other ailments, but he said he uses no illegal drugs.

And he insisted the elders' actions represent a power play for control of the church, accusing them of the "same sexual sins they accuse me of - only they have not repented as I have."

Said Barnett, "Senior elders, you are in the same boat. I am in a higher position…but hey, it is the same for all of us. You're in the same jeopardy I am, but you have made no attempt not to be alone with women as you have told me to do."

Furthermore, Barnett said he would continue to preach his controversial teaching of "spiritual connections," an extramarital dance ritual that many allege has figured in numerous incidents of sexual involvement of adults and children.

About 1,500 people still belong to the independent, non-denominational sect, which practices faith healing and speaking in tongues but is not an orthodox Pentecostal or charismatic church.

Located on 36 acres, in a southern suburb of Seattle, the $10 million church once had 3,000 members. It has its own security police; church ushers are armed. Members are expected to give 10 percent of their income plus an additional offering to the church.

For several years the congregation has been beset by difficulties, including criminal convictions for child abuse, pending civil lawsuits alleging sexual assault, the breakups of marriages, suicides and the murder of a child by her mother.

Last fall, the church announced substantial budget cuts.

Than last Friday, elders of the sect announced during a church service that they had unanimously voted to remove their pastor. They said that they had obtained a court order to ban him from church property, except for his residence.

In order to take that step, they said they had filed new incorporation papers with the state and had amended bylaws that previously gave Barnett a lifetime position, with veto power over the board of directors.

About 100-150 of the 1,200 members present at the service walked out in support of Barnett, but church spokesman Loren Krenelka said he believed an "overwhelming majority" of the church backed the elders and their statements.

Krenelka said church leaders felt they had no choice but to expel Barnett after he refused to comply with their earlier attempt to restrict his associations with women in Chapel, barring him from being alone with any woman not his wife.

He said there was "no truth" to Barnett's accusations that other church leaders have been guilty of sexual misconduct. He could not explain why the Chapel elders had not revealed their allegations of Barnett's sexual misconduct before now.

In three letters written to Barnett Friday and distributed to all Chapel members, the church leaders spelled out the reasons for their unanimous decision to put Barnett out of the congregation, accusing him of, among other things:

  • Coercing women and threatening to banish them from the church unless they lied about their sexual involvement with him to church counselors, elders and the courts.
  • Lying in the past and present to church counselors, the elders and the congregation about the number of women he has been involved with and the extent of the involvements.
  • Teaching false doctrines and heresies.
  • Causing division within the church.
  • mental abuse of his estranged wife, Barbara Jean Barnett.

The letter referring to Barnett's "habitual sexual immorality problems" was signed by the Chapel's three senior elders, Jack DuBois, Jack Hicks and E. Scott Hartley. Along with Barnett, the three men have been Chapel's board of directors.

"By your own statements you have placed yourself above accountability to anyone for anything," the senior elders wrote. "We affirm that this is contrary to scripture and that it is an exceedingly dangerous precept, both for you and our flock. Before God, we cannot submit to such an unholy, self-serving and frightening demand.

"You have consistently lied in the past and are currently lying about your sexual misconduct to counselors, the entire eldership, and the congregation…

"You are currently lying about the number of women you have been involved in immorality with the extent of it…

"There have been many repeated and flagrant abuses of pastoral authority. You have coerced women and even threatened to disfellowship unless they lied about your sexual misconduct to counselors, elders and the courts. For over a year you have used your pulpit to blame and accuse your wife and others," they wrote.

In another letter, Barnett was admonished about what the church leaders believe will happen to dismissal and seek treatment.

Among other things, they warned that unless checked, the pastor's "problems of fear and unreality will grow worse" and he "will lead a religious group characterized by heavy idolatrously be followers, refuse to be accountable to anyone, and function contrary to the Christian Church."

Wrote the leaders, "Don, this letter constitutes a warning from God about the seriousness of your problems. You are a sick man who needs help from God and man. We hope you will avail yourself of both."

A chronology of the elders' attempts to counsel Barnett about his "personal sexual sins" is revealed in the letter. The synopsis indicates the elders have known since at least April 1986 that women in the church were trying to seek help because of Barnett's sexual advances.

On one occasion in February 1987, the letter stated, elder Lanny Peterson warned Barnett, his former father-in-law, that women had come into the church counseling center for help after becoming sexually involved with the pastor.

"That very evening in the Friday night service Don gave a pastoral order forbidding people who had been wronged from going to any counselor or elder about these matters…This was a cover-up attempt to prevent his own sins from being exposed and to stop those…hurt by his own excesses from obtaining the help they needed," the statement read.

In yet another letter, the elders claimed that Barnett responded to their Feb. 15 order to stay away from women in the church by leaving Feb 16. With a woman for a vacation.

Barnett's estranged wife, Barbara Jean, moved out of the church parsonage "because of Don's adulteries," the statement claimed.

The letter was signed by 16 men, all described as elders or "ministers."

Hartley and David Motherwell, who is described in the letters as Barnett's personal "counselor" were two of the three Chapel leaders convicted last year of failing to report child abuse, a gross misdemeanor.

Ralph Alskog, another who signed the letter, is a defendant along with Barnett in a civil lawsuit pending in King County Superior Court.

The suit, on behalf of a former Chapel member, alleges that under the guise of being her "spiritual connection" and providing ministerial services and counseling, Alskog sexually assaulted the plaintiff "by fondling her private parts, undressing her, kissing her with his tongue, masturbating on her stomach and embracing her against her will."

Alskog has denied the charges. In a tape recording of a Feb 28 Chapel meeting, Barnett insisted his sexual involvement with women in the Chapel was not illegal. He was heard saying, "there's no laws against people getting into sex…uh, that's taught and bragged about by liberals you know, in coed dorms. Ms. Magazine, they brag that all the time….I mean they blatantly blaze that and if that's illegal, hey, we're all in trouble.

"I'm not saying it isn't illegal before God. It is. It is wrong. But it's not illegal….There's no justified lawsuit when there's no law against it."

Professing that they may reconsider Barnett's application for membership at some later date, the elders said they still love him and want him to return. They promised to "show fairness" and "be benevolent" with regard to his continued use of the church parsonage, his church-provided automobile and severance pay.

At church services in Community Chapel yesterday, sources said that by midday the sanctuary appeared to have returned to normal. Elder Mark Yorkers preached a sermon that made only peripheral reference to Barnett or the difficulties.

Although some people were teary-eyed and somber, the exuberant dancing and embracing that has characterized Chapel services was under way again.

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