Church Embroiled In Power Struggle As Pastors And Congregants Fight Over Leadership

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Joshua Gill Religion Reporter
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Parishioners of a Kentucky church banded together Sunday to protest and demand the resignation of their leadership after being banned from the congregation and campus.

Former members of Southern Acres Christian Church stood outside church property in groups of six to 10 people and protested during the morning service Sunday, according to the Lexington Herald Leader. The protesters demonstrated against the pastor, Cameron McDonald, and his wife for banning them from the congregation after two parishioners filed a lawsuit alleging that McDonald had consolidated church power and finances to him, his wife Erica, and another staff member and misused church funds for personal use.

One protester, Chad Martin, held a sign that read, “If you disagree with the leadership at SoAcres you will be disfellowshipped. Ask me how.”

“We want to elect a new leadership,” Martin, who had been a member of the church for four years and helped file the lawsuit, told LHL.

Church leadership sent letters to congregants who opposed McDonald, which they received Jan. 26, informing them that they were barred from “trespassing” on church property and banned from receiving communion or baptism. McDonald said the letters were, ostensibly, a move to preserve church unity and quash any remaining dissension. He asserted that such an action was biblically supported.

“The time for quarreling and fighting has come to an end,” read the letter, signed by McDonald’s attorney R. Austin Wilkerson. “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that it is not to be tolerated in our Church.”

The letter further stated that reconciliation was possible, provided that the allegedly errant members satisfied requirements given by the board of elders. That board of elders, which once consisted of nine people and was required by church bylaws to have no fewer than five, now has only three members — McDonald, his wife and Pastor Tim Jones — all of whom are on the church’s payroll and hold all authority over church finances and decisions. Church members initially decried McDonald’s changing of church bylaws, his dissolution of the church governing board, and his consolidation of power.

Martin and fellow congregant James Keogh filed a lawsuit against McDonald to try and prevent him and his wife from making church real estate transfers and from spending church money. Martin and Keogh filed the lawsuit in November 2017, but Chance Staley, another congregant, said the congregation tried to meet several times before the lawsuit was filed to discuss concerns about McDonald’s leadership, but McDonald would not accommodate such discussion. Tensions finally boiled over on the Sunday directly before Martin and Keogh filed the lawsuit.

“Therefore, members of the congregation attempted to inform the rest of the members, however, before anyone was able to speak, an undercover police officer threatened arrest,” Staley told LHL.

Several congregants demanded answers from McDonald when he began to deliver his sermon, but McDonald simply asked them to leave. The threat of arrest followed soon after as others began interrupting and demanding answers.

Congregants sent out a resolution the week of Jan. 15, signed by 54 church members, to expel McDonald from his position as pastor, reform the board of elders, affirm new bylaws and replace the ones McDonald implemented. The group scheduled a vote on the resolution for Feb. 4 at 9:30 a.m., but the current three person board of elders sent out a letter authored by Wilkerson denouncing the vote as illegal.

“It has come to the Elder Board’s attention that an illegal and contentious meeting has been set for February 4, 2018. James 4:2 warns that those who lust for what they don’t have (envy) will fight and wage war to take it from others,” the letter read, according to LHL. “Under the Church’s Bylaws, only the Elders have the doctrinal authority and governing authority to call a meeting, remove the Senior Pastor, or otherwise conduct the lawful business decisions or make the doctrinal decrees of SoAcres Church.”

Current church members said that the congregation did not vote on or approve of the new bylaws by which McDonald governs and justifies his decision and the bylaws are therefore invalid.

Those who planned the Feb. 4 vote on the resolution to remove McDonald still intend to go through with it, according to Staley, who told LHL that he and likely hundreds of others would take part in the vote.

“I’m not doing it out of bitterness or anything like that,” Martin told LHL. “It’s just what they’re doing is wrong and I’m standing for righteous. I’m standing for truth. I can’t call myself a Christian and allow somebody to steal from another person.”

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