Unaccountable at Calvary Chapel
Another church member, John Ackerman, and five other long-time members formed a second group to advocate for accountability within the church leadership. Ackerman, who has attended the church for 19 years, is an ethics professor at the University of New Mexico, and former chief executive of a public utility company.
"Fiscal accountability was virtually non-existent," he told CT. Ackerman, his group, and 1,000 members publicly met with the board and asked that the church's four non-local elders resign, a reconstituted board with new elders appoint an interim pastor, and the board put in place structures of accountability.
"We have observed a behavior pattern over an extended period of time that we concluded the [church's] bylaws and the conflict of interest policy mandated the resignation of the four out of state directors," Ackerman told CT.
Following the meeting, the board declined to implement those three changes.Â
At the same time, Greg Zanetti, a former elder, went public with his complaints about the church's lack of accountability. Zanetti had attended Calvary of Albuquerque for 16 years and is a financial advisor, a general in the New Mexico National Guard, and a former chair of the county Republican Party.
In November 2004, Zanetti wrote the board a letter opposing the mega-board that Heitzig and Paul Sabre, another board member, backed. In addition, Zanetti alleged:
- Heitzig removed $166,000 of Calvary-owned stage equipment and sent it to his new church in Ocean Hills, California.
- "Absentee board members are more loyal to Skip as an individual than they are to Calvary Albuquerque as an organization."
- Attempting to transfer control of the radio stations, which were collateral on church loans, away from Calvary of Albuquerque was a "breach of fiduciary responsibility to Calvary Chapel of Albuquerque."
- Calvary of Albuquerque's continued subsidy ($500,000 annually) of Heitzig's radio program was poor stewardship. "Financially, this has been a losing proposition for many years. Subsidies paid by Calvary of Albuquerque to support the Connection over its history total approximately $6 million."
Reform efforts stall
The Calvary of Albuquerque board has made a few changes recently. Two out-of-state elders have resigned, including Heitzig. Elders named an interim pastor and hired a public relations firm to quell the storm.
These are not enough for Ackerman, although he says they have decided not to force change through a lawsuit and reform efforts seem to have stalled. Heitzig recently sent a letter to church members thanking them for their support. Ackerman and other members are deeply concerned that the board will re-appoint Heitzig as senior pastor within the next year.
Critics inside and outside the Calvary Chapel movement hope the problems in Albuquerque encourage other Calvary Chapels to strengthen their own accountability procedures.
Michael Newnham runs a blog for Calvary Chapel critics. In his opinion, the Calvary network of churches would benefit from better means to hold pastors and elders accountable to church members.
Newnham told CT, "The feeling I get from the people that are involved in this, even though they're hurt, they want to see some responsibility. They want to see accountability. They love Calvary Chapel. But they can't stay in a place where it doesn't seem to be accountable and the leadership seems more involved in their own personal empires than in the sheep."