Lexington church members who have challenged the pastor and his wife received letters Friday demanding they don’t trespass and revoking their membership and access to communion and baptism among other penalties.
The notice follows ongoing turmoil over the past several months at Southern Acres Christian Church that already generated a lawsuit and involvement of police. It appears the letters are aimed at members who filed the now dismissed lawsuit over pastor Cameron McDonald and 54 who signed a resolution demanding a vote on whether McDonald stays or goes.
“The time for quarreling and fighting has come to an end,” said the letter signed by R. Austin Wilkerson, the church’s and McDonald’s attorney. “The scriptures make it abundantly clear that it is not to be tolerated in our Church.”
“This letter is to formally demand that you cease and desist trespassing on church properties, and stop harassing our pastors, staff, volunteers and visitors,” the letter states.
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One church member, Chance Staley, said the letter was received by several people Friday, but it could be more. Two other members confirmed they received the letter. Efforts to reach Wilkerson or the pastor were unsuccessful.
Effective Jan. 25, recipients of the letter cannot step foot on Southern Acres’ campus, the letter states. The letter threatens “criminal sanctions.”
“SoAcres Church remains open to grace and reintegrating you into the fellowship of the Church after repentance, reconciliation, and the satisfaction of any other requirements or regulations of the Board of Elders,” the letter says. The previously criticized board of elders was McDonald, his wife and a friend, according to court and church documents. The letter received by critics Friday mentioned a 5-0 vote of the board.
In the lawsuit that has since been dropped, critics accused the pastor of misusing church money and concentrating power. The church’s attorney had denied all allegations made toward McDonald and the church.
Sunday, the church used a paid off-duty police officer to bar entry to the church of some of the same critics sent the letter.
A resolution to remove McDonald from his position, elect a new board of elders and implement a new set of operating rules was signed by 54 members of the church and delivered to the entire church body last week. A vote was scheduled for 9:30 a.m. Feb. 4.. The group said it would accept the results if a majority of those who voted wanted McDonald to stay.
In the letter sent this week by Wilkerson, he called the meeting and resolution illegal and contentious.
“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 new letter states.
“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,” Wilkerson’s letter continued.
Jackie Powell and her husband, Bill Powell, have been members of the church since 2007 and each received the letter from Wilkerson. She said the reaction is “disheartening and just sad.”
“The things we are doing, we’re doing out of love,” she said. “Nothing we’re doing is out of punishment. It’s hard. No one wanted it to be this way. It’s just very, very difficult.”
Her husband said it’s especially tough considering their kids are friends with McDonald’s children.
Staley, who had not yet received the letter as of Friday afternoon, called it a tragedy that the church is revoking membership.
“Even if their allegations were true and we were in the wrong, barring us from hypothetically getting the help we need goes against our beliefs,” he said. “A church is for accepting people, and come as you are. It’s a misrepresentation of everything Jesus died for and everything our faith represents.”
There has been a mass exodus of the church since October, according to Jackie Powell. Only a fraction of the members remain.
“This is the fourth big exodus that has happened where the leadership left and their friends went with them,” she said. “It was all quiet the other times, but this time people aren’t going away as quietly.”
Staley said the group opposed to McDonald still intends to have the Feb. 4 vote.
“Everyone has been made aware of the vote and it is open to all members, agree or disagree,” he said. “We want people to be heard. Southern Acres better recognize that vote, or else they are doing an incredible disservice to the church, the people and the democracy as a whole.”