Those in leadership at a Lexington church that is being sued over allegations of misconduct by its pastor said in a Facebook post Friday that the discord in the church is being led by a small group of “agitators” who are trying to “cloud minds and breed dissension.”
Two members of Southern Acres Christian Church on Harvard Drive filed a lawsuit against the church last month, alleging that the lead pastor, Cameron McDonald, has been concentrating power and financial authority among himself, his wife and another pastor.
“Pastor Cameron’s every word, every action, every decision over the last 11 years is being scrutinized to see if it can be used to intimidate him, to shame him, or to hurt him. This very post will be picked apart,” Southern Acres said in a post on its Facebook page late Friday afternoon.
“It’s not everybody. We believe there is a small group of people (maybe a handful, and not the plaintiffs) that are seizing on any and all opportunities to cloud minds and breed dissension. Even as we are writing this, we believe there are agitators compiling their lists, complaints, and ultimatums against Pastor Cameron. Please be patient and let the church’s side of this be shared. Our intercessors have encouraged us to not react in fear but to respond with love, strength, and with careful deliberation.”
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In a reply, Ross Mann, the attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said that he had reached out Friday “to see if leadership was open to a resolution of a fair election of elders per the 2013 bylaws which are still in effect” but had not received a reply.
Mann wrote that more than 75 people “could have been captioned on the complaint. It is far more than a ‘handful’ that are heartbroken and crushed by the position they’ve been put in.”
A number of people followed that up by posting that they wanted to be counted among that group.
The lawsuit, filed by James Keogh and Chad Martin, says that the church’s bylaws were rewritten in 2016 so that McDonald — not the congregation — nominates new board members, and the board — not the church — approves them.
The church board, which consisted of nine people in May 2016, currently consists of just three: Cameron McDonald, his wife Erica McDonald and another pastor, Tim Jones.
Because of the bylaws changes, Cameron McDonald cannot be removed without a unanimous vote of the board, excluding the senior pastor and his or her immediate family, the lawsuit states. So Jones would be the only person who could remove him.
The lawsuit asks the court to enjoin the McDonalds and Jones from spending church funds or making any real estate transactions, toss the current board and bylaws and order the election of a new board in accordance with the 2013 bylaws.
Police were called to the church after a disorder during services on Nov. 19. A complainant told police that a donation of $150,000 was made to the church to pay down the mortgage, but that $50,000 was placed into the mortgage account and $100,000 in the general account.
Last Sunday, fliers written by the church’s financial team were placed on cars in the parking lot alleging overspending from McDonald’s church credit card, excessive cell phone bills and a misuse of the funds meant for a “mortgage pay-down” initiative.
“The money given to the church is the hard-earned work of every donor in this congregation,” the document stated. “We can no longer stand by while the money is allowed to be spent at one man’s discretion with no accountability or transparency. Money is not the most important thing, but is a symptom of a larger issue.”
A second Facebook post by the church Friday echoed a statement issued last week by the church’s attorney, Austin Wilkerson, in which he said that the church hoped to resolve the issue “through Christian mediation.”
The church’s finances are being independently reviewed, and Wilkerson said he expects that it will exonerate McDonald.
The statement posted on Facebook says “the lawsuit contains several inaccuracies and unproven generalizations” and urges church members to “patiently let the process play out.”
The church also offered an apology “to the greater community of Christians,” saying, “We acknowledge that a public dispute of this sort damages more than just our church. It invites criticism of all of our churches and ministries.”
Both posts quoted Proverbs 18:17, which reads “In a lawsuit the first to speak seems right, until someone comes forward and cross-examines.”
McDonald has been the lead pastor of the church since 2011. He and his wife, Erica, earn a combined income of $103,000 a year from the church, according to minutes from a September meeting of the church’s elder board.