Members of the Calvary Church of the Nazarene in Arlington voted at a closed two-hour meeting last night to sell their church property to the government of Libya.
The sale -- believed to be for nearly $1.5 million -- was quietly arranged by the church's governing board and had been the cause of much controversy among the congregation's 400 members and 1,000 parishioners in light of the ongoing Billy Carter-Libya affair.
Few of the 150 chruch members who attended yesterday's meeting would comment afterward, but one characterized the session as a carefully orchestrated performance by the board, in which several persons who wished to speak against the deal were ruled out of order.
The member said that he and other opponents of the deal were told to "take their protest outside."
One parishioner, who was not at the meeting, expressed the view of several others interviewed when she said: "I don't mind if they sell the church, as long as it's to the right party. But I don't want it sold to the Libyans."
The 22-member church board has been trying to sell the three-acre property on Wilson Boulevard in order to build a new church on a 23-acre plot it bought in Fairfax County. The Rev. James Bearden, the church's former pastor, said last week that the new location would be more convenient for most of the congregation.
A previous effort to sell the property ran aground last year when church members rejected an offer from Charles Colson's non-profit Prison Fellowship.
The Libyans plan to convert the church into an Islamic study center for approximately 100 Moselm children, mostly sons and daughters of Libyan diplomatic personnel based here.
Richard Shadyac, the attorney representing the Libyan government in the sale negotiations, said yesterday the Libyans wanted the site because many of the embassy staff live in Northern Virginia. The children now attend a small Islamic school on Massachuetts Avenue NW.
"If it's kept in its proper perspective, there shouldn't be any trouble at all," said Shadyac. "In fact, this deal will be better for the neighbors because there will be less traffic."
The sale could still be held up if the Libyans fail to obtain a use permit that would allow them to operate a school on the property. The site is zoned for residential use only, but churches have been allowed as exceptions to that rule. Shadyac said he would apply for a use permit this week.