Evangel Temple, a large Pentecostal church in Northeast Washington, has been ordered by a Superior Court judge to turn over copies of financial records to former members who have sued ministers there over the church's fund-raising practices.
D.C. Superior Court Judge Gladys Kessler ruled last week that church officials, led by Bishop John L. Meares, must give the former members records showing how much individual members of the congregation paid to the church building fund, and how much money remains in the fund. The church must also supply annual financial statements going back to 1970.
Nine former members of Evangel Temple allege in the suit that Meares and other church officials, including Meares' two sons, have used fraud, coercion and threats to get members of the congregation to make large donations to the building fund. They assert that ministers have pressured church members to sell their homes and encouraged them to obtain bank loans fraudulently to make large donations.
Ministers of the church, which is at Sixth Street and Rhode Island Avenue NE, have filed a libel and slander suit against several of the plaintiffs in the suit against them.
The suit filed by the former members is scheduled for trial next September. The plaintiffs are awaiting a ruling on their request to give class-action status to their suit. That would allow other dissatisfied former members to benefit from a judgment against the church.
Current and former members of the church have said that church membership dropped off markedly in the past year after the start of fund-raising efforts that were highly controversial within Evangel Temple. But a church official said recently that membership is thriving.
Church officials have purchased 462 acres in eastern Prince George's County and hope to move from the city and build a 3,200-seat church there. County officials and residents have objected to the plan, contending that it would create traffic problems on Central Avenue.
The county has refused to provide water and sewer hookups for the church property, but the church could decide to build its own well and septic system.