Community Chapel and Bible Training Center officials expressed "deep embarrassment'' yesterday for the alleged sexual improprieties that led to the ouster of pastor Donald Lee Barnett and spawned an emotional controversy in the Pentecostal congregation.
Church senior elder Jack Hicks acknowledged that the decision Friday to strip Barnett of his position and drum him out of the church has sharpened divisions among members and could cause serious financial problems.
"We are personally embarrassed by these problems and give our deep apology to Christians everywhere that this stuff has to come out,'' said Hicks, general manager and acting president of the Burien-based church. "This has been exceedingly painful. You have no way of understanding.''
About 1,000 people were present Friday night when officials announced Barnett's dismissal. Church spokesman Loren Krenelka estimated about a quarter of those people walked out in support of Barnett, some of them shouting protests.
Hicks said the board is already drawing up plans for potential spending cuts in anticipation of a decline in membership, which the church says is about 2,500.
But he believes most members will eventually support the action against Barnett.
"Once they're willing to see the information we have, it's difficult for me to see how a person with integrity could support that kind of conduct in the name of Christ,'' Hicks said.
The church's three senior elders, who sit on the board of directors along with Barnett, unanimously voted to remove the pastor. Hicks said in order to take that action, the elders filed new incorporation papers with the state and amended by-laws that previously guaranteed Barnett his position for life.
Barnett, who could not be reached yesterday, claimed in an earlier interview that witnesses testifying against him were lying and that the elders' actions were illegal.
Barnett, 57, has filed a motion in King County Superior Court seeking to overturn an order banning him from being on church property. Krenelka said a court hearing on the motion is scheduled for Friday.
According to Hicks, elders have heard testimony in the past three weeks from several witnesses corroborating longstanding allegations of sexual misconduct by the pastor.
In a tape recording of a Feb. 26 Community Chapel meeting, elders were also heard saying that Barnett's actions had put the church in legal jeopardy. Three former members have filed civil lawsuits alleging Barnett sexually assaulted them under the guise of counseling.
There have also been several complaints about a widely publicized form of worship known as "connecting,'' in which Community Chapel members dance with and embrace partners other than their spouses.
In addition, two church members have been convicted of child abuse and three others, including one senior elder now critical of Barnett, were convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse.
Hicks said Barnett ignored orders issued last week to restrict his activities, including having no private contact with women other than his wife. That left the elders with little choice but to present the congregation with the evidence it had amassed against Barnett, Hicks said.
"We didn't want to defame the pastor any more than we had to,'' claimed Hicks. But Barnett's denials and lack of repentance, he said, ". . . escalated the problem and split the congregation. He forced us to reveal more than we wanted.''
One long-time Community Chapel member says she doesn't expect outsiders to understand how torn most members of the congregation are.
Debbie, who spoke on condition that her last name not be used, believes many members felt kicking Barnett out of the church was tantamount to deserting him. But she and others who support the elders' actions claim a period of "self-examination'' will ultimately help the pastor.
"We all had an accountability to God for what went on. That's what the elders were reacting to. We need a chance to get our focus back,'' she said. "We all still love the pastor and want him back, but it's a question of how we restore him.''
Gene Rezac, whose ex-wife is a Community Chapel member, has been an outspoken critic of the church for several years. He and other critics, including ex-members, charge that Barnett's teachings have led to the breakup of many families.
Rezac calls the dismissal of Barnett an "encouraging sign, absolutely. But he's still got a lot of followers. I don't think he's out of there forever.''