A prominent Southern Baptist Convention pastor being sued by parishioners who accuse him of misspending church money and withholding financial records kept his job Sunday in a confidence vote, the latest round in a publicized dispute dividing a high-profile Tennessee mega-church.
Members of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville voted 1,051-286 to keep 21-year pastor Jerry Sutton, The Tennessean reported Sunday night.
On Friday a judge refused to block the vote, opposed by 54 members who sued Sutton and other church leaders last month. Sutton’s opponents claimed Sunday’s vote was an attempt to quell growing concerns about Sutton’s leadership before financial records were disclosed.
Sutton, a former SBC first vice president, was defeated last year in a three-way race for the convention’s presidency won by current SBC president Frank Page.
Sutton’s church, attended by many of the denomination’s top officials, was site of an October 2006 “Values Voter” rally and a Justice Sunday II event in 2005 to mobilize religious votes for Republican candidates.
A lawsuit filed Sept. 14 alleges Sutton blocked access to information open to church members under Tennessee law governing non-profit organizations. The faction believes Sutton spent church funds on his daughter’s wedding and other extravagant expenses and punished those asking hard questions by removing them from positions of church leadership.
Other allegations reported by media included that Sutton viewed pornography on a church computer and had an affair with a staff member–charges church leaders said were investigated and unfounded.
Grievances on an anti-Sutton Web site included a decline in church membership, lack of financial accountability, authoritarian leadership, staff turnover, lavish lifestyle and communication issues.
Sutton is being represented in the lawsuit by the American Center for Law & Justice, started by Pat Robertson and led by Jay Sekulow. Baptist Press carried a story Sept. 18 quoting an ACLJ lawyer who said charges against Sutton were “completely unfounded.”
Sutton was a speaker at both the Justice Sunday II rally in 2005 and last year’s “Values Voters” gatherings, scheduled strategically in states with closely watched national elections.
“Our goal is to motivate every single believer, everyone who names the name of Jesus, to be involved in the political process,” Sutton said. “We have every intention of out-praying, out-thinking, out-working, out-serving and out-loving our opponents,” Sutton said. “And we will by the grace of God make this a Christian nation.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.