In Va., a Powerful and Polarizing Pastor
Sunday, November 16, 2008
Rob Foster was 16 when his family unraveled.
He had told his parents that he wanted to leave Calvary Temple, the Pentecostal church in Sterling the family had attended for decades. But church leaders were blunt with his parents: Throw your son out of the house, or you will be excommunicated. And so that December two years ago, Gary and Marsha Foster told Rob that he had to leave. They would not see him or talk to him.
"I was devastated," he said.
For more than three decades, hundreds of families have been coming to Calvary Temple, a sprawling, beige stucco complex that sits unobtrusively behind the suburban strip malls and subdivisions of Leesburg Pike. As conservative Christianity flourished in Loudoun County and across the country in the 1980s, Calvary thrived.
Under the leadership of longtime pastor Star R. Scott, Calvary opened a school, television and radio ministries, and satellite churches around the globe. The local congregation at one point numbered 2,000.
Scott's followers see him as an inspiring interpreter of God's word. Members pack the church most nights, united in their desire to live as the Bible intended and reject what they view as society's moral ambivalence.
"Church isn't for everyone who wants to just show up," Scott said in an interview. "It's not a community club. We're not looking to build moral, successful children. We're looking to build Christians."
But for hundreds of members who have left the church during the past decade, Calvary is a place of spiritual warfare, where ministers urged them to divorce spouses and shun children who resisted the teachings. Scott is twisting the Bible's message, they say, and members who challenged the theology were accused of hating God.
They had joined eagerly, drawn to Scott's energy as a new religious broadcaster and his commitment to living by the literal word of the Bible. He defined the church. But just as he built Calvary, they say, Scott transformed it, taking it from a vibrant, open church to a rigidly insular community over which he has almost total control.
In 2002, three weeks after the death of his wife, Scott, who was then 55, stood before the congregation and announced that the Bible instructed him as a high priest to take a virgin bride from the faithful. A week later, he did -- a pretty 20-year-old who a couple of years earlier had been a star basketball player on the church high school team.
Scott said he has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars of church funds on a fleet of race cars and until last year devoted many weekends touring the circuit for his "racing ministry." The church Web site shows Scott and his wife, Greer, 26, posing in racing suits, helmets in hand, beside a red dragster.
Scott is Calvary's "apostle" and presiding elder, and in 1996, he named himself the sole trustee, putting him in charge of virtually all of the church's operations, its theology and finances.