A nationally known evangelist is campaigning against the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center, saying he believes the Burien-area church is teaching a doctrine that threatens the health of the entire charismatic movement.
The Rev. David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade,'' said he has learned of Community Chapel's practices through more than 50 sworn statements and phone calls and visits from members and former members in recent months.
"I think it's the most grievous thing I've ever heard in my 30 years of ministry. I think it's the worst error that's ever come into the charismatic movement,'' said Wilkerson, who is an ordained minister in the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal group.
Those leaving the church, including some high-level Bible-school teachers and church counselors, have claimed that the pastor, Donald Lee Barnett, encourages church members to find "spiritual connections'' through one-to-one dancing, a practice they say has led to a number of divorces. They also claim the practice played a part in the recent suicides of two church members and the murder of a young girl by her mother, also a church member, who told investigators she was trying to save the girl from demons.
Barnett and other church officials have refused to comment.
Wilkerson, whose book about his experiences with street gangs in New York was later made into a film, is the founder of Teen Challenge, a drug-and-alcohol program that operates 400 centers around the world.
"The thing that bothers me is that this doctrine is going to move like a poison through the entire charismatic movement unless it's stopped right away, because it appeals to adultery and anyone who has had an adulterous thought,'' said Wilkerson from the Texas headquarters of World Challenge, the umbrella organization for his ministry.
"This is an absolute doctrine of demons. I am so shocked by it - and that it's going out to satellite churches.''
Community Chapel has a number of satellite churches in this state and in others, generally small congregations that are regularly visited by Barnett and leaders of the church here.
Wilkerson said he fears that a doctrine espousing dancing and establishing relationships across marital lines would appeal to many people - some naive, and some not so naive.
"We have too many adulterous ministers in the pulpit today that will find it so attractive as a coverup,'' he said. "They won't have to leave their churches for adultery, they'll be able to do it right there. This is not an indictment of the charismatic movement, but there is a growing splinter group,'' he said.
Pentecostal churches and those involved in the charismatic movement generally worship in an emotional manner, singing and sometimes speaking in tongues. Wilkerson said that dancing has begun to occur in some charismatic churches around the country.
"It's appealing to the sensual spirit that's in the land,'' he says. In two other cities, he said, he has received reports of dancing in churches - always dancing with mates, however.
"That's the way it started with Barnett's church. The next step is to move into spiritual connections,'' he said. "I'm not against spontaneous dancing out of a sense of exhuberance and joy, but the dancing with others' mates, the longing looks into each others' eyes . . . the giving up of your mate to any other . . . I've heard a lot in 30 years, but I'll tell you, this is the No. 1 delusion I've heard.''
In church services, Barnett has defended the practice of spiritual connections, saying such connections were a "move of God'' bringing church members closer to a pure, spiritual love and to complete unity with God. And in letters to church members, he has condemned adultery, saying such relationships should remain purely spiritual.
"All the words are there,'' Wilkerson retorted. "But by the fruits you shall know them. And the fruits of this thing are a spiritual holocaust. . . . ''
Community Chapel's practices, Wilkerson said, are not accepted in other Pentecostal churches. But independent churches, he said, are much more isolated because they have no direction from a denominational headquarters. Barnett, who is not ordained in any denomination, built the $9-plus million church complex from small basement Bible-studies classes.
Wilkerson said he was bringing the Burien-area church to the attention of several friends who are television evangelists.
He also said he was concerned that Barnett has refused to talk to the press. "If the man has nothing to hide, then let him come out and talk to you. If he can prove that these things people are saying are not true, then he deserves a public apology.''
Barnett, Wilkerson said, appears to be isolating himself not only from public scrutiny but also from other ministers.
Wilkerson called on local Pentecostal ministers, some of whom have been counseling former members and talking about Community Chapel from the pulpit, to take a stand against the church's practices.
"Here I am, a man more than 1,500 miles away, willing to risk his whole pulpit. Tell them that I said if they don't do that, they're going to have the spiritual blood of those people on their hands.''
Local ministers are well aware of Community Chapel, said the Rev. George Page, associate pastor at Des Moines Assembly of God.
"Pastors in the past have spoken out. They've been speaking out against it for some time,'' Page said. "But speaking out against it and doing something about it are two different things. We can share our views, but we can't put any force on anybody. In my position, I've just said I want to be open. . . . People have to make their own decisions about what they can do.''
Wilkerson said he has returned a donation to his ministry from the church, and will write about Community Chapel in an upcoming issue of his newsletter, which reaches 400,000 people.
"This is rare for me,'' he said. "I don't usually join in crusades. I don't get involved in local issues like this. But this is one thing I feel is the most dangerous thing facing the charismatic movement today. It has the seeds of destroying the true move of God.''