Sunday, March 05, 2006

Ex-Calvary Board Member Says He Was Forced Out for Challenging Direction

Friday, March 3, 2006

By Jeff Proctor

Copyright © 2006 Albuquerque Journal; Journal Staff Writer

A former Calvary Chapel board member says supporters of founder Skip
Heitzig forced him out more than a year ago because he raised questions
about Heitzig's plans to use the Albuquerque megachurch to build a
national ministry.

Greg Zanetti said he was asked to step down from the
board after sending a letter to church officials in November 2004,
complaining that Senior Pastor Pete Nelson was not allowed to exercise
the full duties of his position as promised.

In his letter, Zanetti wrote that the board was
controlled by non-Albuquerque members more loyal to Heitzig than the
church. He mentioned a generous severance package for Heitzig and
questioned the legality of Heitzig's attempts to transfer the church's
radio station's assets to a separate corporation.

Turmoil within the church came to a head Feb. 19
when Nelson stunned the congregation by announcing his resignation. In
a draft of his resignation letter, Nelson cited a struggle for control
of Calvary between himself and Heitzig. His letter echoed many of the
concerns raised in Zanetti's letter written more than a year earlier.

On Thursday, several church members met with
Calvary's board of directors in an attempt to reconcile a rift that has
been growing for more than two years, Zanetti said in an interview.
Neither side issued a statement after the meeting.

Zanetti said he did not attend the meeting but spoke
to others who did. One was John Ackerman, former president of PNM. He
could not be reached for comment.

Zanetti is an Albuquerque-based financial adviser, a
brigadier general in the N.M. National Guard and former chairman of the
Bernalillo County Republican Party.

Areas of concern

Zanetti's letter focused on three areas of concern:
"accountability, disclosure and local governance"— all issues Zanetti
said remain within the church and were raised at Thursday's meeting.

In his letter, Zanetti wrote:

  • The board gave Heitzig "a very generous tax-advantaged severance
    package to ensure he had a warm send off" when he left Albuquerque in
    early 2004 to lead Ocean Hills Community Church in California. He also
    received cars, office furniture and radio station equipment.

  • Heitzig appointed a board of directors comprised mostly of
    members who did not live in Albuquerque and did not attend church at
    Calvary. He contended those members remained loyal to Heitzig, not
    Calvary, after Heitzig left.

  • Nelson was not allowed to appoint his own board members, as
    spelled out in the church's bylaws. Further, he was not allowed to
    execute his duties as senior pastor, "as Skip had promised."

  • Heitzig and board member Paul Saber unsuccessfully tried to
    transfer Calvary's two multimillion-dollar radio stations to a
    corporation run by the two of them.
  • Over objections from Zanetti and others, Calvary continued to
    fund Connection Ministries— Heitzig's daily half-hour radio program—
    despite the venture having cost the church nearly $7 million between
    1994 and 2004.

    "The bottom line is if we continue to pursue the
    radical changes Skip and Paul are proposing, all board members will be
    exposed legally and financially," Zanetti wrote. "If word of these
    proposed changes gets out to the flock, it could be very damaging to
    Skip's reputation and could grievously harm the body. I know none of
    you wants that to happen. Nor do I."

    A Calvary spokesman
    commented on a couple points in Zanetti's letter earlier this week but
    did not return phone calls Thursday seeking comment on other points.

    Concerning the equipment Heitzig received, Associate Pastor Chip Lusko
    said the equipment was a gift from Calvary to Ocean Hills.

    Church leaders have praised Nelson's work as pastor
    and said they hoped to resolve any conflicts using biblical steps.

    Calvary leaders during the past week and a half have tried to ease
    concerns within the congregation. Heitzig, Saber and former board
    member Franklin Graham— son of evangelist Billy Graham— have said there
    has been no financial misconduct within the church.

    On Sunday, Graham expressed support for Heitzig and said perhaps God will lead the
    church founder back to Calvary Albuquerque.

    Big buyout

    In addition to his monetary severance, Heitzig received two cars and
    office furniture, as well as equipment used in the radio ministries
    worth about $166,000.

    And though he accepted the severance, Zanetti said,
    Heitzig maintained control over Calvary.

    "Skip's initial plan was to turn the whole church operation over to
    Pete and walk away ... (board members) Franklin Graham, Raul Ries, Greg
    Laurie and Paul Saber would stay on a year to help Pete, but then we
    would be on our own," he wrote.

    Those board members did not live in New Mexico.

    In his letter, Zanetti wrote that an "absentee" board of directors
    loyal to Heitzig rather than Calvary Albuquerque was not in the
    church's best interest.

    "I believe it is clear the absentee board members are more loyal to Skip as an individual than they are to
    Calvary Albuquerque as an organization," he wrote. "They do not attend
    church here. They do not tithe here. They only visit when asked by
    Skip."

    Lusko said "nobody can say whether they gave
    financially to the church in Albuquerque."

    Of that group, Ries and Saber remain on the board,
    and a majority of the board still resides outside New Mexico.

    Zanetti wrote that Saber's interests, in particular, lay with Heitzig.
    He wrote that Saber helped negotiate Heitzig's move to California—
    without the knowledge of Calvary's members.

    "According to my attorney, this was likely a breach of his fiduciary responsibility to
    Calvary Albuquerque," the letter said.

    Attempts to reach Saber were unsuccessful.

    Zanetti also rejected the idea that Heitzig could
    effectively run Calvary and Ocean Hills at the same time.

    "... the idea that Skip will always be part of Calvary Chapel
    Albuquerque is certainly accepted on a spiritual level," he wrote. "No
    one disputes the amazing work that God, Skip, and the congregation did
    during his tenure here. With that said, however, in a practical,
    day-to-day sense, Skip cannot reasonably be a part of Calvary
    Albuquerque's operation from 850 miles away."

    Calvary leaders' unwillingness to inform the congregation of their intentions or plans
    for the church's future was also problematic, Zanetti wrote.

    At a March 2004 meeting, "Skip and all of the absentee board members voted
    to transfer the radio station assets and operations to an entity that
    Skip and Paul would control," Zanetti wrote. "The absentee board
    members did not disclose in their voting that they were also members of
    the Ocean Hills board, a fact that was only later revealed.

    "... Franklin Graham even made a statement along the
    lines of, 'God told me He had given those radio stations to Skip.'

    "... The absentee board members voted to pursue the
    asset transfer."

    Zanetti said in an interview that the transfer never
    occurred.

    Also troubling, Zanetti wrote, was that Calvary Albuquerque members
    were funding Heitzig's daily radio program, "The Connection," though
    they did not know the show was hemorrhaging money.

    By the end of 2004, Calvary had pumped nearly $7
    million into funding the show.

    "I do not believe this is good stewardship of God's money," Zanetti
    wrote. "My understanding upon Skip's departure was, however, that once
    the transition period was over (again, one year) Skip's new church
    would decide whether to pick up the cost since he is their senior
    pastor.

    "... Furthermore, I believe that if the Calvary
    Albuquerque congregation knew that we continued to fund this ministry
    at this level for the senior pastor of Calvary Ocean Hills, it would
    not be received well."

  • 35 comments:

    Anonymous said...

    I have read most of the articles regarding this topic and find the one entitled “Christian Leader Supports Calvary” leaning more toward accuracy and relevance than the others. There are those who have no interest in seeing God's work succeed, and those who do. It is easy to tell who is who by what they say.

    What is the bottom line here? The struggle of personalities? The struggle of conflicting opinions both inside and outside of the church? Will any of these exist beyond the average 70 years of life each human possesses?

    Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. He is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. No man comes to the Father except through Him.

    Again I say, what is the bottom line? Jesus, and Him crucified! 1John 2:17 (NKJV) And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.

    Anonymous said...
    This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
    Eric Hoffman said...

    Hello, dear forum members.

    Eric Hoffman, member of Calvary Chapel, wants to do a podcast on the tough issues regarding CC doctrines, Chuck Smith, false prophecies, Calvary Satellite network, pastors' responsibility towards the congregation,etc.

    If you are familiar with the issues of Calvary Chapel and want to raise your concerns on such a public forum as a podcast, feel free to contact Mr. Hoffman.

    His ministry can be found at: http://1livingtruth.blogspot.com

    The main focus of the ministry is to convert members of the LDS church to Calvary Chapel. However, many people have raised their concerns about CC on the comment section of the blog, so Mr. Hoffman wants to discuss those issues, which he happened to ignore in the past.

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