Resignation of Nelson Just the First Salvo
The resignation of Pastor Pete Nelson from Calvary (Chapel) of Albuquerque was just the beginning of revelations. Usually these things are handled quietly and nobody knows much about what is going on. In Pete's case somebody leaked a draft copy of his resignation to the press. Not only that but it gives a lot of details into the secret workings of the Calvary Albuquerque (CA) board of directors. Then the press got ahold of a letter from a former board member outlining charges of impropriety.
Skip Held Onto Power at CA
Turns out that when Pete took over the Senior Pastor role at CA he didn't get what he was promised. Usually CC pastors get to control the board. Problem in this case was that the former pastor, Louis "Skip" Heitzig didn't want to give up control (we find out why later on). He was founding pastor and thought he should keep his hand in the pie.
A Clear Ethical Violation
This is highly unusual in other denominations. There are explicit prohibitions in the Ethical Standards of most other denominations which make it clear that pastors are not to involve themselves with the actions in their previous churches. It's considered an unethical practice. But Calvary Chapel has no written ethical standards and the unwritten standards don't seem to include such a prohibition.
The Scandal Grows
This scandal has wider lines than just the resignation of a pastor at a megachurch. Turns out that the board which was handpicked by Skip "gifted" Skip with a termination package (remember Skip quit, he wasn't removed) of almost a half a million in cash and door prizes. Allegations have been flying that some of these were stolen by Skip on the way out the door.
Skip's Defenders Line Up
The legions are lining up to defend Skip. He had Franklin Graham (a one-time CA board member it turns out) defending him at a recent service. Greg Laurie of Harvest Riverside (CC by another name) also served on the board and wrote a letter of character witness for his friend Skip.
How it broke
This story was unusual since it broke outside the traditional lines due to a series of articles published in the Albuquerque Journal. If you want to on-line subscribe it will cost you $8, but thanks to some folks the articles are available at other places.
What are the other charges?
Some of the charges include:
- Heitzig took a $300,000 severance check from his hand-picked board (considered self-dealing).
- Heitzig took equipment for the radio station, a laptop and a couple of cars worth a total of about $166,000 as severance. (Usually somebody gets severance when they are let go, not when they quit). (Again considered self-dealing).
- Skip tried to take the radio station away from CA and put it into his own hands at the same time that the radio station was being used for security of loans at CA.
- Skip fired people from the board who were not in agreement with Skip's actions (Greg Zanetti).
- The CA board was made up of people who did not attend CA. Some of them are CC pastors in other churches (again an ethical violation in most denominations).
- Most of the CA board was made up of people who don't even live in New Mexico including Franklin Graham, Raul Ries, Greg Laurie and Paul Saber.
- The absentee board members showed more loyalty to Skip as an individual than they did to CA. They had a fiducial duty to watch out for CA.
- Heitzig's daily half-hour radio program, "Connection Ministries" cost the church nearly $7 million between 1994 and 2004.
- CA had about $7 million in debt when Heitzig "left" for Ocean Hills in California, roughly equal to the losses from Connection Ministries.
- Calvary leaders were unwilling to inform the congregation of their intentions or plans for the church's future.
- Employees such as Chip Lusko were paid by CA but did work for Skip's "Connection".
Here's a list of the links to the stories.
- Albuquerque Journal - $8 registration charge to view articles. (search for Heitzig)
- Heitzig, Heitzig and Others Asked to Resign; Group Seeks Local Control of Calvary - March 5, 2006
- Nelson's Draft Resignation Letter - March 3, 2006
- Letter from former board member Greg Zanetti - November 8, 2004
- Ex-Board Member Says He Was Forced Out for Challenging Direction - March 3, 2006
- Heitzig Severance More Than $300,000 - March 4, 2006
- Website Calls for the Return of Pete Nelson - March 2, 2006
- Calvary Chapel Power Struggle - February 26, 2006
- Calvary Looks for Successor: Resignations Shock Church - February 21, 2006