Thursday, March 2, 2006
The controversy over who should lead one of New Mexico's largest
evangelical churches has entered cyberspace.
A Web site has popped up in support of Calvary
Chapel senior pastor Pete Nelson, who resigned suddenly last month
citing a struggle with founder Skip Heitzig.
The site— www.bringbackpete.com— asks members of the
congregation to sign a petition "to have Pete return as Pastor in good
standing, having control over all areas previously controlled by Skip."
The petition also calls for a new board of directors
made up of church members who live in New Mexico. Currently, four of
the six board members live out of state.
The Web site does not indicate who posted it on the
Internet, but said in an e-mail response to the Journal they are
"people who have attended Calvary for several to tens of years and have
an interest in restoring it from the turmoil it is currently in."
Others have expressed support for Heitzig and
confidence in church leadership— even if they also like Nelson as
"God hasn't resigned. He is still on his throne,"
said Linda McClanahan, who, with her husband, has attended Calvary for
14 years. "We won't know every single detail of what's going on, but I
have faith that everything that will come from it will be good."
A draft copy of Nelson's resignation letter obtained
by the Journal outlined a struggle for control of the 14,000-member
Heitzig served as Calvary's senior pastor for 22
years before choosing Nelson to replace him in early 2004. Heitzig left
to lead Ocean Hills Community Church in California.
Nelson wrote that Heitzig never allowed him to
totally exercise the duties of senior pastor and that he wasn't able to
appoint his own board members, as he said was promised when he was
The letter also contended that Heitzig was using
Calvary Albuquerque's assets to finance his national ministry.
During the past week, Calvary leaders— including
Heitzig and former board member Franklin Graham, son of evangelist
Billy Graham— have sought to reassure the congregation there has been
no financial impropriety. They have said Nelson was not ready to assume
all the duties Heitzig had carried out.
On Sunday, Graham expressed support for Heitzig and
said perhaps God would lead the former pastor back to Calvary.
Associate Pastor Chip Lusko, the church's spokesman,
said Wednesday, "We hope that any conflicts that exist can be resolved
using Biblical steps."
Bringbackpete.com questions whether board members
appointed by Heitzig who do not live in New Mexico should be allowed to
remain on the board. Of the six board members, one lives in Albuquerque
and another in Santa Fe. The others are from out of state.
Heitzig, who lives in California, is still board
"In his last service, Pete said that this church
belongs to Jesus," one page on the site says. "However, the board
maintains its tight grip of control. Do you have any connection to
those who control your church?"
The site also asks five "poll questions." Two are
"yes or no" questions: "Are you satisfied with the board's response to
the events of the last week?" and "Do you want Pete back as pastor?"
Other questions ask members' "opinion of Calvary,"
what they hope for the church's future and their preference for board
McClanahan said she was "really sorry to see Pete
go. He's a great teacher, as is Skip."
She said she and her husband accept the church's
"In 14 years we could've found out more about the
board and how our money was being spent, but we didn't," McClanahan
said. "We trusted in what was going on. So it's not fair now to go back
"There are all different kinds of churches— some
that are more transparent— and we could have chosen one of those."
She said Heitzig's vision for a national ministry
that uses Calvary's radio stations lines up with her worldview.
"What's important to me is how many people you touch
with the Gospel," McClanahan said. "The radio programs have touched I
don't even know how many lives."
Nelson had expressed concern in his letter over
Heitzig's proposal to turn Calvary Chapel's radio assets over to a new
company Heitzig owned.
The next step for Calvary is still unclear.
Board member Paul Saber has said he expects the
board to meet during the next few weeks and that naming a new senior
pastor is the top priority.