SPRINGFIELD, MO. -- National officials of the Assemblies of God, unable to agree with Louisiana church leaders on a punishment for evangelist Jimmy Swaggart, have passed the case to an appeals body that will have the final say.
A statement issued here yesterday by the headquarters of the Pentecostal denomination said the Executive Presbytery of the church's General Council has called a special meeting of the 250-member General Presbytery for March 28. The group is "to make decisions regarding matters relating to evangelist Jimmy Swaggart."
The decisions of the General Presbytery are final, the church said.
Meanwhile, in New Orleans, three state appeals court judges heard arguments on whether they should revive a $90 million lawsuit filed against Swaggart by a preacher he accused of adultery.
A lawyer for preacher Marvin Gorman said evidence gathered by private detectives who investigated Swaggart will be made public in court if the lawsuit is reinstated. If the judges refuse to revive the suit, attorney Thomas Frasier said, the evidence will be made public in some other manner.
Swaggart, a Baton Rouge, La., evangelist with a $150 million empire and a worldwide television following, confessed to undisclosed sins after reports linked him to prostitutes.
The Louisiana District Presbyters of the Assemblies of God recommended that Swaggart be suspended from the pulpit for three months and undergo counseling for two years. National church officials said such a short suspension for a minister who had confessed to moral misconduct would be unprecedented.
Church headquarters received hundreds of calls from members protesting that the Louisiana district, which has close ties to Swaggart's ministry, had been too lenient, according to church spokeswoman Juleen Turnage. Others called in support of Swaggart, she said.