SPENCERVILLE -- Members of a Baptist congregation whose pastor demanded that parishioners prove they give 10 percent of their income to the church packed a meeting last night to vote on whether the minister should be fired.
The meeting at Round Oak Missionary Baptist Church ended with the congregation bitterly divided.
The Rev. Lionel P. Pointer Jr. won a vote of confidence from his supporters, but dozens of other members were not allowed to vote and called the result a sham.
Three Montgomery County police were called to maintain order at the highly emotional meeting, but no incidents were reported. Mr. Pointer would not comment on the meeting, and Round Oak officials ordered a reporter to leave church property.
The split in the Round Oak congregation reached a breaking point in May. A group of dissident parishioners known as Members of Round Oak for Meaningful and Positive Change filed suit against Mr. Pointer and other church officials in Circuit Court, demanding a full accounting of parish finances.
No matter who controls the church, Round Oak could face foreclosure on its property because the church is more than $153,000 in arrears on its debt payments.
The First National Bank of Amarillo, the Texas trustee for holders of nearly $1 million in church bonds issued in the late 1980s, warned in an Aug. 11 letter that foreclosure may be necessary "if some resolution is not reached very soon."
"If the church does not come together to solve this financial problem, that means foreclosure, which means everybody loses," Ronald Gary, a dissident member said while taking a break from the meeting. "There's nothing spiritual about a mortgage company."
Church members voted twice this summer to oust Mr. Pointer, but the pastor said the votes did not reflect the will of the whole congregation and refused to abide by the results. He sent letters of "corrective discipline" to dissident members, prohibiting them from ushering, singing in the choir and other church activities, and urging them to "repent."
The question at hand: Who is eligible to vote at Round Oak? The pastor and his loyal board of directors approved a change in church by-laws stipulating that only those who tithed, or gave 10 percent of personal income, were members in good standing and entitled to vote.
Then Mr. Pointer called last night's meeting and instructed those who were unsure of their membership standing to bring W-2 forms or other proof of income with them.
The anti-Pointer group refused last night to produce the documents. Some of them stopped donating.
"I felt if God's going to work it out, let him work it out without my money," said member Everett Proctor.
The National Baptist Convention U.S.A., Round Oak's parent denomination, says it is unusual for a church to demand proof of income, but the convention grants its 35,000 churches considerable autonomy and will not intervene unless asked.