17 Dec 2010

Accusations of vicious child beatings by pastor reveal abusive authoritarian nature of Calvary Chapel

OC Weekly - California August 3, 2010

Is Calvary Chapel Head Chuck Smith Covering for a Child Beater?

By Gustavo Arellano

One of these days, I'm going to get around to investigate Calvary Chapel and the many allegations sent my way that it protects abusers within their ranks. It's one of American Christianity's great open secrets, and only Christianity Today has truly tried to tackle the subject. [see article below] But maybe others will get there before me--I hope not, but if that means bringing people to justice or exposing Calvary Chapel's far-from-God leadership, so be it.

Consider a scandal brewing in Visalia. There, Calvary Chapel's pastor Bob Grenier has had to fend off allegations from his own sons [see article below] that he savagely beat them as children during the 1980s and 1990s. The brothers have gone to police and even Calvary Chapel head Chuck Smith with their story--no dice. Their story involves bowdlerized police reports, an uninterested district attorney's office, disbelieving faithful and an apathetic leadership--wait, are we talking about Calvary Chapel, or the Catholic Church sex-abuse scandal in Orange?

The story began earlier this year, when brothers Paul and Alex Grenier filed a criminal complaint with the Visalia police department alleging abuse decades ago at the hands of their father. But the story remained under wraps for months until the brothers went to the Bee [see article below] alleging the police and prosecutors were lagging on the case, probably because Pa Grenier is a chaplain with the black-and-blue.

Police laughed off the code of silence claims, but it took a court order [see article below] for Paul and Alex to get a copy of the police report regarding their case--and when they got it, the abuse was glossed over. You can find the watered-down report and many abuse stories at the Grenier brothers' website, appropriately called Calvary Chapel Abuse. The report mentions that another Grenier brother, Geoff, lives in Newport Beach and also suffered abuse (although he's not talking). Prosecutors have declined to press charges against Pastor Grenier, citing statute of limitations.

What does Chuck Smith know? The founder of Calvary Chapel visited Visalia in early July, [see article below] just a couple of weeks before the Grenier matter hit the proverbial fan. Calvary Church leaders told the Bee that the Grenier brothers came to them with the allegations, but they refuse to disclose whether they plan to investigate. But Alex Grenier alleges Smith knows more about what happens in his church than the popular image of the Hawaiian shirt-wearing, ever-grinning fogie has crafted.

"This blog is about accountability and justice," Alex writes. "Since Big Calvary likes to be a non-denomination denomination so Chuck Smith doesn't have to pay for the misdeeds of corrupt jerks like [another Calvary Chapel pastor]...then there needs to be a place where victims of other corrupt jerks like Bob Grenier can go to get help, blow the whistle on the abuse and corruption, and spread the word to warn the church per 1 Timothy 5."
Tell me more...

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The Fresno Bee - July 2, 2010

The Rev. Chuck Smith to speak in Visalia

By Ron Orozco / The Fresno Bee

One of the leading figures in the Jesus movement in the late 1960s and early '70s is coming to Visalia to speak about spiritual renewal.

The Rev. Chuck Smith, pastor of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, will visit Calvary Chapel Visalia, 11720 Avenue 264, Visalia, at 7 p.m. Thursday.

The Jesus movement was a period in Christianity that began on the West Coast and was marked by a major hippie element within some Protestantism.

The movement resulted in the formation of various denominations. Smith was founder of the Calvary Chapel movement, which has grown to more than 800 churches nationwide.

Calvary Chapel Visalia's pastor, the Rev. Bob Grenier, says Smith's visit isn't tied to any special occasion.

"The Lord has put on Pastor Chuck's heart to go and encourage those pastors and those churches that have sprung out of the Jesus movement, and have been used by God over the years, and to encourage those who may attend the meeting, to come back to Jesus if they have drifted away," Grenier says.

Smith will be joined by Christian rock band Love Song, whose 1972 debut album "Love Song" is considered one of the greatest Christian music albums.

"God has used Pastor Chuck in the past in a historic way for the glory of God, and I'm sure will use him here in Visalia, to affect many lives for eternity to come," Grenier says.

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The Fresno Bee - July 17, 2010

Sons of Visalia preacher allege abuse

They say police are not taking matter seriously.

By Lewis Griswold | The Fresno Bee

Adult sons of a prominent Visalia preacher say they filed a criminal complaint earlier this year alleging their father physically abused them as boys.

But they say pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia has so much clout that police won't properly investigate -- and won't even give them copies of their own complaint.

Paul and Alex Grenier, two of the sons alleging the abuse, say they're worried that Visalia police don't want to offend their father, who is a volunteer chaplain with the department.

Bob Grenier did not return phone calls about the charges of abuse. Church leaders contacted by The Bee declined to comment, calling it a private family matter. But the allegations -- highlighted on a website created by Alex -- are causing a stir.

The elder Grenier's connections to law enforcement run deep in Visalia. The introduction of his self-published book "A Common Miracle," telling his life story, includes praise from former Visalia Police Chief Bob Carden, Sheriff Bill Wittman and District Attorney Phil Cline. And the staff at Calvary Church includes a retired sheriff's lieutenant.

Son Alex Grenier says police told him the case was too old to prosecute. But Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas said the sons can't have a copy of the report that police took from them in February because the matter still is under investigation.

Because of Bob Grenier's connection to the Police Department as a chaplain, police gave the report to the Tulare County District Attorney's Office to review, the police chief said.

The sons are wrong to suggest that police haven't taken the claims of abuse seriously, Mestas said.

"We always are being second-guessed on how we handle complaints involving people who work in this building," she said. As a police chaplain, Grenier can go into areas reserved for police employees.
Family torn

Grenier, 62, and his wife Gayle, 58, moved to Visalia in the late 1970s and started Calvary Chapel Visalia.

They have four sons: Alex and younger brother Geoff, 37, took the last name of Grenier when their mother married Bob Grenier. The couple's other sons are Paul, 28, and Robert, 27. Grenier's biography on The Calvary Church Visalia website mentions only Robert, who remains on good terms with his parents.

According to Alex Grenier, who started a website to post details of the alleged abuse, the mistreatment was constant throughout their childhoods. He contends his father beat the boys so badly that the punishment went beyond what is legally acceptable.

"We aren't talking gray area here," reads one post at calvarychapelabuse.com. "Clear cut state-defined abuse including, but not limited to: hitting with objects causing deep purple bruises on the lower back, backs of legs and buttocks. Drawing blood."

Alex has been the most active of the three brothers in speaking out against their father, who they've had little or no contact with for five years.

The gulf between the parents and Alex widened on Father's Day this year.

Amy Grenier, Alex's wife, was in Visalia with their two children, ages 6 and 4. The 4-year-old had never seen his grandparents, she said, so she showed up unannounced at the church cafe with the children.

When Gayle Grenier spied Amy Grenier, she became very upset and had ushers remove them from the church property, she said.

Alex said he started confronting his father privately about the time he held his newborn daughter six years ago and thought, "You can't treat a child that way. He needs to be held accountable."

But Alex said his father refused to sit down with a church board and elders and admit how he used to beat the children.

Starting a website and going to the police is "the way I choose to deal with it," he said. "Yeah, I get upset about it. I'm human."
Legal difficulties

Those who know Bob Grenier say the abuse allegations seem overblown, said Andy Mangano, a developer based in Visalia who said he has known Bob Grenier for 30 years and attended the church for years.

Mangano calls Grenier "a man of extreme character and honesty" and faults Alex Grenier for starting "this so-called website to air his dirty laundry."

"It's character assassination," Mangano said. "It's inappropriate to resolve issues with your family and your dad this way. For whatever reason, he's trying to put him out of business. It's kind of weird."

But the Grenier sons say their goal is justice, not character assassination. And they say they can't seem to get a straight answer from police on the status of the case.

Alex said he was initially told by a Visalia detective that the DA's office would not consider prosecution because the statute of limitations had expired. And, he was told, receiving a copy of the complaint was "not going to happen."

Paul Grenier said that last week he followed the Police Department's advice to seek a court order to have the complaint released and was initially told by both the Tulare County Superior Court and the District Attorney's Office that the report was a public record that he was entitled to have.

On Friday, Sgt. Steve Phillips told The Bee that the complaint could not be released without a court order because the allegations involved juveniles. Chief Mestas said later that that was not a factor, but that the report was not releasable because it is part of an ongoing investigation.

Later Friday, however, Paul Grenier said police told him that a judge will hold a hearing on whether the complaint report can be provided to him.

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The Fresno Bee - July 24, 2010

Visalia pastor moves past sons' accusations

Criminal complaint had been filed by two sons

By Lewis Griswold / The Fresno Bee

It was business as usual last week at Calvary Chapel Visalia, where pastor Bob Grenier continued to lead the evangelical church with his usual ease.

It's the custom at Calvary Chapel to read the Bible from beginning to end and then start over; at Wednesday night's service, Grenier read from the Book of Psalms.

The verses in Psalms 25 through 31, with themes of triumph over personal adversity, may have had personal significance for Grenier. He has been accused by three of his four sons of physically abusing them when they were growing up.

"Let not my enemies triumph over me," Grenier read from Psalm 25. "Let those be ashamed who deal treacherously without cause."

Grenier's family troubles surfaced in a website started by one of his sons, Alex, 38, that details accusations of the beatings Alex says he and brothers Geoff, 37, and Paul, 28, suffered at their father's hand.

In February, Alex and Paul filed a criminal complaint with the Visalia Police Department, where their father is a volunteer chaplain. However, the Tulare County District Attorney said it wouldn't investigate the complaint because it was too old. Meanwhile, Paul is asking a juvenile court judge at a hearing Tuesday to release the police report to him.

Despite the allegations, the Calvary congregation is standing by Grenier and his wife, Gayle.

"I believe everything that's been said is a lie," said church member Elizabeth Amend.

Bob Grenier has declined to be interviewed about the allegations, and church leaders said the issue is a "private family matter." Church leaders either wouldn't return phone calls or declined to be interviewed.

His defenders include Tulare County Sheriff Bill Wittman, who describes Bob and Gayle Grenier as close friends.

"I think the world of him," Wittman said.

Pastor Darrin Cantrell of Crossroads Community Church called the allegations against Grenier "a viral campaign."

"I have a great amount of respect for Bob," Cantrell said. "He's a fine pastor, and it's a fine church."

For Calvary Chapel leaders, the sons' allegations are old news. They say Alex Grenier has been complaining to whoever would listen -- including to the main Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, where founder Chuck Smith is based -- for at least a year.

Calvary Chapel's main office did not return phone calls seeking comment.

Alex Grenier said last week his goal has been and remains "a church resolution" in which church leaders and his father listen to the allegations and "bring church discipline if they find Bob is guilty of lying, abuse or corruption."

But the structure of the Calvary Church system makes such an outcome unlikely, said Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals in Wheaton, Ill.

Not only is each Calvary Chapel financially and structurally independent of the main church, the church government is "top down" -- the pastor and the board wield power, not the congregation, Eskridge said

There's something in America's cultural atmosphere that accounts for the success of Calvary and other evangelical churches, he said.

The churches have a style of worship -- common-sense interpretation of the Bible, upbeat music and typically modern facilities -- that "feels comfortable to the suburban middle class," he said.

That style is reflected at Calvary Chapel, where Grenier wore shorts and a Hawaiian shirt at Wednesday night's service as he read the Bible aloud to about 100 faithful.

A scandal can shake a church, but church members usually stay if they believe the pastor is still doing a good job, Eskridge said. It could not be determined whether Calvary Chapel's membership has fluctuated over the years.

"If it's bad enough, people go elsewhere, come away with a major case of burnout, or drop off the team completely," he said.

While Grenier has many supporters, he also has his share of critics, who believe his style of ministry doesn't always correspond to Christian ideals.

Cynthia Dixon, 54, of Visalia started attending Calvary in the early 1980s. After a few years, she said, she was brought into a meeting where Grenier and a handful of men grilled her about her beliefs. "Bob was saying to me I was 'contentious.' "

She walked out in tears, but not before telling Grenier, "I don't think you care about us."

Dixon said she started attending a Bible study group at her neighbor's house, and was soon told by the neighbor, "Bob said you can't come to our Bible study anymore."

Later, after she had a chance to tell the story to Calvary Church founder Chuck Smith, Grenier apologized and said, "Let bygones be bygones and let's start anew." Since then, relations have been cordial, she said. But she found a new church in the 1990s.

For the faithful at Calvary Chapel Visalia, the Bible is a lifelong subject of study. And Bob Grenier uses it to show his congregation how it can guide their lives, just as he says it's guiding his.

On Wednesday night, after reading Psalm 31 that includes the phrase "for I hear the slander of many," Grenier commented, "It never hurts to be gracious. It's always the best road to go on."

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The Fresno Bee - July 27, 2010

Abuse allegations on Visalia pastor released

By Paula Lloyd / The Fresno Bee

It took a court order for two brothers to finally see the report they gave the Visalia Police Department about allegations that their father, a Visalia pastor, savagely and repeatedly beat them as boys. But the brothers say the report "watered down" the details they gave investigators.

"I felt victimized all over again," Paul Grenier, 29, of Visalia said after reading the two-page narrative.

Grenier and his brother Alex Grenier, 38, of Idaho filed a criminal complaint with Visalia police on Feb. 19 alleging that their father, Bob Grenier, 62, pastor of Calvary Chapel Visalia, beat them hard enough to cause bruises and draw blood.

The brothers spoke with investigators for more than an hour, but were disheartened that the finished report left out what they say is crucial information.

"The report did not include the brutal nature of the many beatings," Alex Grenier wrote in an e-mail. "It was a seriously watered-down version of what we reported and left out the most serious allegations of abuse."

Alex Grenier said some of the most serious allegations left out of the report include that Bob Grenier hit his sons in the face with his fist, hit the boys until they bled, beat one son repeatedly with a tree branch, kicked the boys, pushed them into walls and locked them in closets.

Visalia Police Chief Colleen Mestas defended the report, saying police reports are summarized to get cases started in the court process. "You don't put in every detail," she said.

The time lapse between the beatings -- in the 1980s and 1990s -- and when the charges were made affected how the report was written, Mestas said.

The statute of limitations expires after three years for felony physical abuse and after one year for misdemeanors. "If the statute of limitations has passed, it doesn't matter how much you say," Mestas said.

However, Mestas, who met with Paul Grenier on Tuesday after the report was released, said she will talk to the investigator and will review tapes of the interviews with the brothers.

The report includes a statement from the brothers' aunt, Kathy Martin of Claremont, about an incident involving another brother, Geoff, 37, of Newport Beach. Martin said Bob Grenier "struck Geoff [Grenier] on the side of the head with an open hand" at her home. The incident happened when Geoff was a teenager.

The brothers' disappointment over the police report is compounded by the difficulty they had in obtaining it, Paul Grenier said.

When they first asked for a copy of the report right after the interviews, Visalia police and the Tulare County District Attorney's Office declined, saying the allegations were part of an ongoing investigation. Last week, the District Attorney's office said it will not investigate the charges because the statute of limitations has passed.

Mestas said the court had to decide whether the report could be released. Paul Grenier filed a petition with Tulare County's juvenile court on July 15.

At a court hearing Tuesday, Tulare County Superior Court Judge Juliet Boccone issued a court order for the report to be released.

In her court order, Boccone said she found "no legal reason why" the report given by Grenier shouldn't be released to him because "he is the reporting party and was an adult at the time of the report."

Bob Grenier, who has declined to be interviewed about his sons' allegations, did not return a call to comment on the court hearing.

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Calvary Chapel Abuse - August 4, 2010

Smoking Gun: Is Bob’s inner-circle doing his dirty work?

by Alex Grenier

A major prediction I and my brother made many months ago is proving true. Smoking gun true.

From our experience as eyewitnesses over the years from “behind the scenes”…we postulated that Bob’s inner-circle would come out blasting with all sorts of lies and vicious attacks to smear those who attempted to confront Pastor Bob Grenier of Calvary Chapel Visalia’s abuse and corruption.

We’ve seen the scenario play out MANY times before. Someone blows the whistle on Bob’s bad behavior…then they are systematically ostracized, marginalized and then removed from Calvary Chapel Visalia…then the smear campaign goes into full force in an attempt to discredit those who have been dispatched by Bob. The tactic has been extremely successful over the decades.

It does two things…it poisons the well with regards to those who have challenged Bob…so others shun them and the people lose credibility in the community and doubt is cast on the veracity of the people’s allegations of abuse or corruption against Bob.

The second thing this tactic does is it intimidates others from speaking out. Others see how those who have come against Bob have been shunned and smeared…and they don’t want it to happen to them…so they stay silent.

Effective tactic. Wrong, but effective. That’s partly how a bad guy like Bob “gets away” with abuse and corruption for over 30 years…that and a lot of “help” from “friends” in the “community”.

I’ve been told by close confidantes of Bob…guys like Greg Silva…that there was no way Robert or anyone close to Bob has commented on public forums and made defamatory statements…personally knowing full well that was untrue due to my history with Bob and how he operates.

Bob has said “he” doesn’t participate in the discussions. Robert has claimed “he” hasn’t participated in the discussions either. OK, we can take that at face value. What about other very close “family”? How about them? There have been many defamatory untrue statements made on this forum and another forum…with false allegations that I have only heard directly from my brother Robert (in the past)…and now new defamatory remarks on this site about two people who are ex-Calvary Chapel Visalia attenders and a former staff member who have spoken out publicly and taken a stand against Bob’s abuse and corruption.

I have a file of the statements that have been made. I have the statements that have been made on this site. I have proof of where these statements have originated. I have the proverbial “smoking gun”…

Defamatory posts have originated from an internet account in the Visalia area with the name “Dehaan”.

Bob Grenier’s in-laws are the Dehaan’s. My brother Robert is married to DiDi Dehaan.

It does not take a genius to connect those dots…and the odds are STAGGERING that the Dehaan connected to that internet account would be a completely unrelated Dehaan to this situation…why would someone who has no bearing in this situation make such defamatory and malicious statements and take such a risk?

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Christianity Today - February 16, 2007

Day of Reckoning

Chuck Smith and Calvary Chapel face an uncertain future.

by Rob Moll

Talk to Calvary Chapel pastors about their theology, and they appear the epitome of evangelical balance and moderation: neither Calvinist nor Arminian, neither Pentecostal nor cessationist.

Talk to Calvary Chapel pastors about their vibrant network of 1,300 churches across the U.S., however, and they'll offer two radically different views. Most will call Calvary Chapel a mighty and ongoing work of a faithful God—and they will be right. But the other view expresses deep worry that lax moral standards among some key leaders will sink Calvary's ship. As one pastor said to Christianity Today, "The Titanic has hit the iceberg. But the music is still playing."

Calvary Chapel continues to thrive, nationally and internationally, as it has for five decades. But alongside the growth lie the network's deep-rooted problems, which threaten to undo the association. The visible tip of the iceberg is contentious litigation. Chuck Smith, the founder of the movement, and his son are battling in court with a former Calvary Chapel pastor for control of the Calvary Satellite Network's extremely valuable 400 radio stations. The litigation involves competing allegations of financial mismanagement of the ministry's assets, valued at hundreds of millions of dollars, as well as the alleged personal use of ministry resources by insiders.

Below the waterline, the iceberg looks even more threatening. Leading pastors told CT that Calvary Chapel, and specifically Chuck Smith, are dangerously lax in maintaining standards for sexual morality among leaders.

"These men cannot call sin sin," says one 20-year veteran pastor. Easy forgiveness, insiders say, has created an atmosphere of sexual license, where some unethical pastors sense that there are few consequences for sexual misconduct.

Additionally, former members and some pastors say Calvary Chapel fosters an authoritarian culture, where pastors believe they are accountable only to God. It has enticed some leaders to become power hungry, avoid financial oversight, and, at times, become spiritually abusive, according to Calvary insiders.

For nearly a year, CT has spoken with Calvary Chapel pastors, former pastors, and others, some of whom sought out CT unsolicited to tell their stories. Many, fearing retribution, asked to remain anonymous. Other leaders whose names are well known within the Calvary Chapel network either declined to speak to CT or denied the existence of significant problems.

Pastors, former board members, and attendees who spoke with CT say the wellspring of Calvary Chapel's problems are in the Costa Mesa mother church. But those close to Chuck Smith would rather wait until his tenure has closed before addressing any problems.

At 79, there is no telling how much longer Smith will remain in control. Some leaders told CT that they worry the network can't wait for Smith to retire before addressing its problems and that changes should be initiated now.

The Calvary network is an affiliation of independent churches. Behavior in one church may not describe an affiliate ten miles away. While the incidents described in this article are limited to a few churches and ministries, they suggest that the movement as a whole has some crucial decisions to make as it transitions to the next generation of leaders.

Reinventing Church

Calvary Chapel began as a Bible study for shut-ins at a trailer park in Costa Mesa, California. The group struggled until 1965, when it hired Chuck Smith, a dynamic Bible teacher with a rousing tenor voice who pastored an independent church in Corona, some 30 miles away. For 17 years, Smith pastored churches in the charismatic Foursquare denomination, before becoming fed up with denominational politics and bureaucratic control.

In Costa Mesa, Smith continued his signature practice of teaching through the Bible from beginning to end. Hal Fischer, a former police officer who was on the board of Calvary Chapel when it hired Smith, told CT, "We had never heard teaching like that in all our years of attending churches." The church grew, but Fischer says he could never have imagined what happened next.

Smith began ministering to hippies—a radical thing for a pastor to do at the time, says Larry Eskridge, associate director of the Institute for the Study of American Evangelicals. (Eskridge is author of a forthcoming Oxford University Press book on the Jesus movement.)

Through cutting-edge outreach, Smith and his disciples sowed seeds that in time helped transform evangelical worship and churches nationwide. Eskridge says Calvary Chapel's influence on mainstream evangelicalism has been massive. It was among the first proponents of contemporary worship and early on developed a seeker-sensitive church atmosphere. It influenced everything from intentional communities to Willow Creek, and it also birthed the Vineyard, which eventually formed its own association.

Fueled by the changed lives of hippie converts, Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa exploded in size. Smith's new disciples started Bible studies, which grew into churches.

"Chuck Smith was able to respond to cultural events in a very creative way," says Donald E. Miller, a University of Southern California sociologist of religion and author of Reinventing American Protestantism, a history of Calvary Chapel, the Vineyard, and Hope Chapel. Smith's sermons traveled around the country by cassette tape; his Word for Today radio ministry broadcasted Calvary Chapel Bible teaching; and Maranatha! Music, started by Smith, recorded the hippies' Jesus-inspired folk songs.

"While Smith may not have been an innovator on a personal level, he allowed young converts around him who were extremely culturally savvy to do the innovation," says Miller.

Smith's followers, including Greg Laurie, Raul Ries, Mike Macintosh, and Skip Heitzig, started more than 50 megachurches, Bible schools around the world, camps and retreat centers, and a radio network.

Throughout Calvary Chapel's growth, Smith has remained opposed to forming a denomination. He says it promotes the power hungry instead of the spiritual. But Calvary has not been exempt from the temptations of power.

How Accountable was Moses?

Chuck Smith's experiences in local churches led him to place great authority in the office of senior pastor. Smith believes denominations stifle ministry growth. He also rejects control of local church affairs by a governing board of elders.

Early in his ministry, Smith left an independent church he founded in order to pastor Calvary Chapel. The issue was micromanagement by elders, who confronted him when he arranged chairs in a circle before opening Bible study.

The elders told him not to do it again. Smith told CT he recalls thinking, "I've got to establish a church on a little different basis. I really felt that was probably the finest Sunday night service that we had." It was then he accepted the offer from Calvary Chapel.

Though Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa had (and still has) an independent board of elders, Smith's book Calvary Chapel Distinctives teaches that senior pastors should be answerable to God, not to a denominational hierarchy or board of elders.

"We take the model from the work that God established in the nation of Israel," Smith says. "Moses was the leader appointed by God. He took 70 men, and they assisted Moses in overseeing the mundane types of issues that developed within the nation. There was the priesthood under Aaron." Similarly, he says, "we have assistant pastors, and they look to me as the senior pastor. I'm responsible to the Lord. We have a board of elders. We go over the budget. The people recognize that God has called me to be the leader of this fellowship. We are not led by a board of elders. I feel my primary responsibility is to the Lord. And one day I'm going to answer to him, not to a board of elders."

Critics say this "Moses model" produces pastors who refuse to let their authority be challenged. Such pastors often resist accountability measures such as financial audits and providing detailed financial statements. Some curious Calvary Chapel attendees, who have sought financial information from their churches, say they were ostracized.

Other churchgoers say Calvary Chapel pastors also don't like to be questioned. During the investigation for this article, Smith cautioned CT's reporter: "The Lord warns, 'Don't touch my anointed. Do my prophet no harm.' I think that you are trying to do harm to the work of God. I surely wouldn't want to be in your shoes."

One Calvary Chapel member, Andrew Holt, received a humiliating lesson in church power politics at his congregation in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Holt claims the pastor of his former church tried to commandeer the prison ministry he ran by reportedly telling the ministry's board members and supporters that Holt was unfaithful to his wife. Holt denies the allegation.

Roger Ulman is pastor of Calvary Chapel of Kalamazoo and a former board member of Living Stone Counseling and Consulting Center, a prison ministry run by Holt. Holt and his wife attended Calvary Chapel for several years. When the couple went through marital difficulties, they went to Pastor Ulman for counseling. But, Holt told CT, "Ulman took that as an opportunity to divide my wife and me and to try to subsequently take charge of this ministry. He went behind our backs and started to talk to all the board members."

Holt says Ulman told his wife to leave the marriage. He says Ulman told board members, financial supporters, and ministry clients to quit associating with Holt, because Holt wasn't faithful to his wife.

It wasn't long before donations dropped from an average of $2,500 per month to $1,000. "You couldn't attack us any worse than what they did," Holt says. He believes Ulman wanted to take control of the ministry and bring it under the auspices of the church. (Ulman declined to be interviewed by CT, saying he wanted to move on from the incident.) Holt was rebuffed when he tried to resolve the situation through Calvary Chapel's oversight process.

Accountability for network pastors is provided by Calvary Chapel Outreach Fellowships, a ministry of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa. Senior pastors are asked to oversee regions assigned to them. The ministry is currently run by Paul Smith, Chuck's brother. Bill Ritchie, pastor of Crossroads Community Church in Vancouver, Washington, watches over Calvary Chapel pastors in churches in the Pacific Northwest. A veteran church leader, Ritchie pastored Methodist churches and worked with the World Council of Churches before joining the Calvary Chapel system.

Ritchie says the accountability system has limits. It is voluntary for both the overseer and the pastors. Then again, he says, there is no foolproof system of accountability. "I've seen travesty in every form of governance that exists."

"Frankly," he says, "you will be accountable for what you will be accountable for."

Though its system of accountability may have weaknesses, Calvary Chapel pastors have been asked to step down and occasionally have been removed from the association.

But one 20-year veteran pastor says that while leaders are willing to enforce standards on a host of issues, sexual immorality is treated differently. This pastor, who has been senior pastor at several Calvary Chapels as well as an associate pastor at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, says pastors have been removed from ministry for dancing or for abusing drugs, yet while he was on staff at Costa Mesa, he saw a pastor talked out of stepping down after admitting to an addiction to pornography. The pastor says follow-up counseling was done only occasionally.

Sexual License

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa sometimes hires pastors who have recently been removed from their churches for misconduct and immorality.

In 1992, the board of Calvary Church, Santa Ana (which is not affiliated with Calvary Chapel), removed its then-prominent pastor, David Hocking, for having an affair. Within three months, Chuck Smith had hired him. At the time, Smith told CT, "This man is a gifted Bible teacher. And if he doesn't resume his teaching, I'm afraid he'll be literally and totally destroyed." Hocking's church complained that Smith had interrupted the restoration process they had established.

In 2005, Calvary Chapel of Laguna Beach, California, fired pastor Joe Sabolick, accusing him of embezzlement and adultery. He denied the charges and sued the church and its board. Smith then hired Sabolick to lead worship in Costa Mesa. Sabolick later dropped the suit.

Former pastors and board members say Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa doesn't only prematurely restore pastors to ministry; it also covers up the sexual sins of its own pastoral staff. In 2003, John Flores, then a Costa Mesa pastor, was arrested and later convicted of having sex with a 15-year-old girl, the daughter of another pastor at the church.

Knowledgeable church insiders say Flores had been fired previously from a Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa ministry for having sex with an adult woman on church grounds. Other sources familiar with the situation confirmed that Flores had, in fact, been fired twice previously from Calvary ministries, both times for alleged sexual misconduct. "They all knew that this man had been fired," a former church member says of Costa Mesa's church leadership, "and no one said, 'Stay away from him.' " Two former board members independently confirmed these details to CT.

During a lengthy interview, Smith told CT that Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa had never had problems with sexual sin among staff members. But when asked about Flores, he admitted the incident had occurred and said the church had cooperated with the police investigation. Smith denied that Flores had been fired previously for sexual immorality, however. He said Flores had been fired from the radio ministry, The Word for Today, simply for failing to do his work. "It wasn't anything sexual," he said.

Last year, another episode occurred, about which the facts remain in dispute. Jeff Scheller, a former Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa pastor, says a 12-year-old churchgoer asked his wife for advice in dealing with inappropriate touching by a pastor. As required by law, Scheller reported the incident to the police. But Scheller's boss denied that the pastor in question had misbehaved, even though he had previously been accused of inappropriate behavior toward minors.

Scheller says he paid a price for sounding the alarm. "They started to make changes without talking to me," he says. "It was obvious to me that I was being cut out." Scheller, who was talked out of resigning when Smith hired Sabolick, resigned for good after this incident.

Scheller's boss, Brian Broderson, did not respond to requests for an interview. When asked about the incident, Smith told CT he couldn't remember it. Later, when asked again, Smith said Scheller was disgruntled. He said the church cooperated with a police investigation that cleared the pastor, who remains on staff. Santa Ana police told CT that interviews with girls at the church could not verify that anything illegal had occurred.

Smith says he practices restoration and that pastors who have been restored to ministry after sexual sin have gone on to run successful ministries. "If they repent, we do seek to restore in a spirit of meekness, considering ourselves lest we be tempted," Smith says. "We feel that we have a biblical basis [for doing so]."

If pastors repent and enter counseling, Smith says, they should not be forced to leave the pulpit permanently. "I can tell you of many ministers, great ministers, whom we've been in the process of helping restore, and fortunately the problems never became public and so people are not even aware of them. I feel that that's an honor to God."

Smith's approach is at one extreme of typical evangelical views on the restoration of sexually immoral pastors, says Dave Edling, senior ministry consultant of Peacemaker Ministries. He believes restoration should always include a public rebuke for the benefit of the pastor and the congregation. He says that while situations vary, it's best for a pastor to step down for at least three or four months.

"As a leader of God's people, a pastor needs to reflect a deep heart change," he says.

Control of Assets

Former board members say Smith's practice of keeping pastors in the pulpit after sexual sin is at the heart of the lawsuit and a battle for control over the Calvary Satellite Network (CSN) with its 400 stations.

Mike Kestler is pastor of Calvary Chapel Twin Falls in Idaho and president of CSN. Kestler, who is married, is also embroiled in accusations of sexual harassment and womanizing.

In 1994, the church's board wanted Kestler to take a leave of absence after women in the church claimed he had pursued relationships with them. Chuck Smith intervened to keep Kestler in the pulpit. Smith says he did not believe the accusations.

Kevin Newbry, a former Twin Falls board member, says there was "more at stake" than whether Kestler should pastor the church. He says Smith didn't want to jeopardize plans for CSN, which was being created.

In 1996, CSN and Calvary Chapel Twin Falls established the radio network. Together, Calvary Chapel Twin Falls and Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa grew it to 47 full-power stations and 352 translator stations. Costa Mesa funded the expansion, while Twin Falls provided the radio expertise. Jeff Smith (a son of Chuck Smith) and Mike Kestler are the only board members of CSN. Chuck Smith resigned from the board in 2003, he says, because of business disagreements.

But Smith is still involved. In December 2005, Lori Pollitt, a former CSN employee, filed a lawsuit accusing Kestler of sexual harassment. She told CT that Smith offered to help fund the suit.

Smith says he now believes the allegations against Kestler. "We've had complaints come to us from numerous women," Smith says. "When I became convinced that the stories were true, we dropped him from the fellowship of Calvary Chapel."

The Smiths and Kestler are waging a battle in court, though Smith says he hopes to settle. In February 2006, Kestler and Jeff Smith sued one another. Kestler accused Smith of depositing listener donations in non-CSN accounts, loaning himself money from CSN, and mismanaging CSN's finances. Kestler also accused Jeff Smith of mingling funds from CSN and The Word for Today, Chuck Smith's radio ministry.

In response, The Word for Today (TWFT) and Jeff Smith sued Kestler for not paying back $976,975 in loans made by TWFT to Kestler's church between 1999 and 2001. The Smiths accused Kestler of using his radio program to pursue sexual affairs, "pilfering . . . CSN corporate assets, income, revenues," and using CSN credit cards for personal purchases.

According to complaints by Jeff Smith, CSN and Calvary Chapel Twin Falls "became inextricably entangled at some broadcast locations," and CSN is insolvent.

Former board members at Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa, who funded CSN's expansion, say the problems at CSN began in Costa Mesa. "Chuck Smith should have disciplined [Kestler] long ago," says a former board member. "If he had, Pollitt wouldn't have been victimized."

Board members are especially concerned about CSN because for years the Costa Mesa church provided $100,000 per month to the radio network. Smith says the church gave a total of $11 million. Smith says his accounting department is impeccable, but board members say money from Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa is regularly used to fund ministries, like CSN, from Brazil to Moscow. They complain their gifts and loans are not accompanied by adequate financial oversight.

Learning the Hard Way

One fed-up Calvary Chapel pastor told CT that his congregation and others are considering changing their names. "I believe in the Calvary distinctives," he says. "But people are losing respect."

He says loyalty to Chuck Smith is all that holds the association together. Some say after Smith's passing, Calvary Chapel will break up. Others say it will form a denomination.

Chuck Smith Jr., who was recently expelled from the association for theological reasons, says he is not aware of many of the details spelled out in this article. Still, he believes that Calvary Chapel holds a lesson for evangelicals. Entrepreneurial men with little training start Bible studies, grow churches, or head to the mission field. Their ministries become multimillion-dollar organizations. Most of the time, these churches and ministries are successful. But failures loom large.

Michael Newnham, a former Calvary Chapel pastor, says his experience suggests the association has systemic problems. "There was adultery in the leadership. There were alcohol and drug problems in the leadership, and none of them were being dealt with. If you did say anything about them, you ended up being ostracized." Newnham now runs a blog where he reports on scandals and gives a voice to Calvary Chapel members who have been victims of other scandals.

But Ritchie, the pastor of a Calvary Chapel-affiliated church in Vancouver, Washington, and overseer of pastors in the Pacific Northwest, joined Calvary Chapel after starting an independent church precisely because he wanted accountability.

The problem, Ritchie says, is a problem with the American church at large. "More and more large, independent churches are starting up with no relationship or accountability to anybody. They have nobody at any juncture to call them into question." At the same time, most insiders agree that the network's loose association and pastor-centered structure is subject to abuse.

"We're a fast-moving movement," says Mark Foreman, pastor of North Coast Calvary Chapel in Carlsbad, California. "There is little decision-making red tape." That's what makes Calvary Chapel so dynamic, he says. And, he adds, "That's our Achilles' heel."

Foreman has resisted the strong senior pastor model. Since being hired as senior pastor, Foreman has tried to share power with his board and other pastors. He jokes that he has less authority now than when he started.

He also says he's been impressed with Chuck Smith's leadership. Smith could have put himself at the head of a national organization. Instead, he gave his mentees freedom to innovate and minister as they saw fit. "Chuck Smith wielded power well," he says.

Still, he says, the typical Calvary Chapel model may be "an old wineskin that is cracking." What made Calvary Chapel dynamic was its ability to reach the unchurched in culturally relevant ways. It's still Calvary Chapel's strength, he says.

But the association is now at a crossroads, Foreman says. "Will Calvary Chapel go on to the next generation, or will we defeat ourselves?" Its current problems are a test of the network's ability to institutionalize in a way that corrects problems yet still maintains the dynamism it had during the Jesus movement.

Rob Moll is an associate editor of CT.

Related Elsewhere:

Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa's website has a short bio of Chuck Smith and a basic history of Calvary Chapel.

Former Calvary Chapel pastor Michael Newnham runs Phoenix Preacher, a blog that is "seeking the restoration of integrity in ministry."

Get Religion discussed a 2005 L.A. Times article about the Calvary Satellite Network.

The Rick Ross Institute has a collection of news stories and visitor comments on Calvary Chapel.

Rob Moll has also written two other Christianity Today articles on Calvary Chapel:
Calvary Reunion | New Mexico megachurch pastor returns after leadership conflict. (September 28, 2006)
Unaccountable at Calvary Chapel | Former pastor still pulled strings years after his departure, Calvary of Albuquerque members claim. (May 8, 2006)

Other Christianity Today articles on Calvary Chapel include:

Weblog: The Sin of Talking to a Reporter | Church fires pastor for being sick, elder for being quoted. (April 13, 2006)

Admissions: Rejected | Christian school sues University of California over requirements. (November 2005)

The Peoples are Here | Record immigration pushes Christians out of their comfort zone (February 1, 2003)

Churches Accused of Electioneering (February 8, 1999)

Leadership Journal published Getting Back to Nurture by Chuck Smith Sr. in 1988.

Leadership reviewed Reinventing American Protestantism, which focuses on Hope Chapel, Calvary Chapel, and the Vineyard

Christian History & Biography discussed Calvary Chapel's role in the Jesus Movement.

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1 comment:

  1. The Calvary Chapel movement has an incredibly destructive style of leadership. It is one-person rule. Who would think this is the way to go? It creates all of the problems this movement is dealing with. It makes no sense to adopt Moses' style of leadership in the Old Testament and apply it to the church. It makes no sense on any level. It is not even original. The only way to correct the movement's problems is to return to a New Testament elder-led approach. It is the only safe and balanced way for a church to operate. In that way a better chance exists for everyone to be protected.