The pastor of a Lexington church said changes to its operating rules and oversight board were done “in accordance with the Bible” in new court documents that dispute allegations of financial misconduct made by church members.
In a lawsuit filed last month, two members of Southern Acres Christian Church on Harvard Drive alleged that the church’s lead pastor, Cameron McDonald, has been concentrating power and financial authority among himself, his wife and another pastor.
The attorney for the church, Austin Wilkerson, denied the allegations in a response to the suit. The response was filed in court Monday.
The lawsuit claims that McDonald revised the church’s bylaws in 2016 and the congregation was no longer allowed to vote on board members. The board consists of McDonald, Erica McDonald and Tim Jones, according to the lawsuit. Jones is a paid member of the church’s staff, according to court documents.
Because of changes to the bylaws, McDonald cannot be removed from his position without a unanimous vote of the board, excluding himself and his or her immediate family, according to the lawsuit. Jones would be the only person who could remove McDonald.
Wilkerson’s response to the lawsuit said the bylaws of the non-denominational church were validly amended last year.
“All of the actions by SoAcres Church in regard to declarations of doctrine, revisions of rules and bylaws, nominations and election of the board of elders, and plaintiff’s complaints have been taken in accordance with the Bible and the theological doctrine, rules, ecclesiastical law, and internal governance of SoAcres Church, as informed by SoAcres Church’s interpretation of the Bible’s meaning and application regarding the church’s faith, doctrine, practice, polity and discipline,” according to the response.
The pastor has requested that the lawsuit be dropped.
At Sunday’s service, McDonald asked God and the congregation for forgiveness after placing blame on himself for all of the recent news stories and Facebook posts about the church.
“I believe it lands on my feet. I believe it is because of poor leadership,” he said.
Turmoil at the church erupted Nov. 19, when Lexington police were called to the Sunday service for a disturbance.
According to the case report released earlier this month, a complainant told Lexington police on Nov. 19 that a donation of $150,000 was made to the church to pay the church mortgage, records show. Of that money, the complaint said, $50,000 was allegedly placed into the mortgage account and the other $100,000 was placed into a general account, which wasn’t authorized, according to police records.
No charges were filed following the November incident, according to police spokeswoman Brenna Angel.
The following Sunday, some members of the church put fliers on cars in the church parking lot, outlining a series of financial allegations against McDonald during his 11-year tenure.
Wilkerson said last month the financial allegations were being investigated internally and “we expect the financial review will fully exonerate Pastor Cameron.”
The entire church staff aside from the McDonalds and Jones were either terminated or quit, according to church member Chance Staley. The Southern Acres website lists only Cameron and Erica McDonald as “The SoAcres Team.”