Elders of the Community Chapel Bible and Training Center near Burien have rebuked their pastor for what they describe as sexual misconduct with several women in the congregation.
The elders revealed their allegations against the Rev. Donald Lee Barnett at a closed meeting with the congregation Friday night, according to a church spokesman and a tape recording of the meeting. Barnett was not present at that meeting.
The church routinely records its meetings, and a copy of the tape made at Friday's meeting was given to The Seattle Times.
To restrict Barnett, Community Chapel's three senior elders - Jack Du Bois, Jack Hicks and Scott Hartley - wrote a letter to him Feb. 15, the tape reveals. The letter expressed deep love for the pastor, but forbade him from associating in private alone with any woman other than his wife. Barnett and his wife have been separated since June.
According to the tape, the entire church eldership and some other church leaders - about 15 in all - supported the restriction.
"The problem is simply this,'' elder Lanny Peterson said on the tape. "Our pastor has been in sexual sin of substantial magnitude, and it is such a great threat to his ministry and this church - putting the board of senior elders in legal-lawsuit jeopardy personally and putting our whole church on the line.
"We are already in lawsuits over this matter,'' Peterson continued. "We foresee within two months the entire matter becoming completely public worldwide.''
Yesterday, Barnett said he "rebutted the allegations'' in a closed meeting Sunday with the congregation. When he finished his remarks, the congregation was totally behind him, he said.
The pastor also said the allegations have not been verified, the discussions between himself and the elders are not finished and nothing has been resolved.
"I just feel the elders overreacted and took advantage when I was gone to give their viewpoint to the church,'' the pastor said.
Barnett did reveal that "under heavy duress I made a mistake, but it's not a problem at this time.'' The minister said he has not been involved in any sexual misconduct in the past six months and has repented for past deeds.
The elders' action is only the latest crisis to hit the independent Pentecostal church, which started as a small fundamentalist group in the 1960s and now claims 2,500 members.
Three former members have filed civil lawsuits against Barnett accusing him of sexually assaulting them under the guise of ministerial counseling.
Other former members have bitterly criticized Barnett's teaching that members can find holiness by making "spiritual connections,'' often through dancing that sometimes involves intimate contact with each other. Critics say the teaching has led church members to scores of divorces and separations as well as suicides and the murder of a young girl by her mother.
In addition, two church members have been convicted of child abuse. Three others have been convicted of failing to report child abuse, including Hartley and member David Motherwell. They now are among those seeking to restrict Barnett.
The eldership decided to act after spending 15 hours a week for the past five weeks in committee hearings about and with the pastor, according to the tape.
Jack Du Bois reads on the tape from the senior elders' letter to Barnett: "Based solely upon your admissions before the hearing as to the frequency and the relatively large number of women with which you have participated in various degrees of sexual misconduct, we firmly believe that senior-elder board intervention is necessary for the future protection of the women in our church.''
Church elders are heard on the tape saying that Barnett's word can no longer be trusted and that his actions have put the elders and the church in legal jeopardy.
Loren Krenelka, a church spokesman, confirmed the details of the elders' actions as recorded on the tape. Despite repeated efforts by The Times to contact church elders, most either have been unavailable or have refused to comment.
On the tape, the elders emphasized repeatedly and with great emotion that their restrictions on Barnett were made with love.
"Loving and accepting Don is never contradictory with condemning his sins,'' said one church member on the tape. "True love reproves sin.''
In reaching their decision to discipline Barnett, the elders claimed on the tape to have authority from God, the Bible and Washington state law.
Du Bois quoted a letter from an unnamed church attorney advising the elders that they could be held personally liable if they took no action against a member of the pastoral staff who had used his or her role in the church to take sexual advantage of people.
On the tape, Du Bois also said the elders were particularly concerned about Barnett's uncooperative verbal response to their letter - made "before us, to all of us gathered together.''
Du Bois quoted Barnett as saying to the elders: "The anger and hopelessness at these restrictions will increase temptation. I won't follow restraint. The laws of God won't stop me. The laws of man won't stop me. The number of women and times makes no difference at all.
"To think it does shows the depths of legalism. I am not under the elders' charge either by Scripture or the bylaws. This is an extreme penalty without reason.''
Yesterday, Barnett said Du Bois misquoted him. Barnett said his actual words to the elders were: "If the laws of God won't stop me, the laws of man won't stop me.''
Barnett said he meant to say the elders may try - by their restrictions - to keep him "walking upright.'' But, he said, "It is God's laws that are going to keep me walking right. The elders do not have a legal responsibility to put restrictions on my private life. But God does. And I'm duty-bound to follow the laws of God.''
Spokesman Krenelka said the pastor, church and elders are unified and are working out their misunderstandings.
Barnett is not about to step down, but he and the elders are scheduling more meetings over the terms of the "special status'' under which they have placed him, Krenelka said.
The pastor said yesterday he hasn't decided if he will follow the elders' restrictions, because discussions about the matter are not over.
After Barnett talked to the congregation Sunday, church members quietly returned to their cars but refused to comment on the elders' actions against Barnett or their pastor's rebuttal.
Elder Mark Yokers said, "It's an in-house difficulty. We're seeking to do what's right before the Lord.''
As for what may happen next, he said, "I don't know. There's a lot yet to be done.''