Suit Claims Unwanted Sexual Advances by Pentecostal Church Leader

Associated Press/September 5, 2006

Salisbury, Maryland - Four past members of New Life Apostolic Church are suing the church's bishop, Richard Lawson, alleging he made sexual advances after telling them he needed a new companion because his wife was dying.

Two of the plaintiffs are 18 years old and succumbed to the advances, attorney Dale Adkins said. The other two women said they refused his alleged sexual advances. The women are each seeking $1 million in damages.

"He told her that his conduct was in accordance with God's will because spiritually they were already one and he wanted to connect with her physically until they could be married in a man's eyes," the lawsuit states.

"That is a bunch of junk," the 57-year-old bishop told The (Baltimore) Sun. He said the church members were asked to leave because they were making comments that were not conducive to a spiritual atmosphere. He said those comments including accusations against his son and against the church.

Joshua Lawson, 30, the church's current pastor, was acquitted on criminal charges about a month ago. He was indicted for allegedly having an inappropriate relationship with a then 16-year-old female member of the church.

Adkins said his clients believed their pastor and bishop communicate the will of God to them. "It was abuse of trust and position in order to achieve his objectives," Adkins said.

The United Pentecostal Church International Inc. and the Maryland-DC District of the United Pentecostal Church International are also named in the suit because they allegedly failed to properly investigate the claims.

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