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Charlotte’s Calvary Church pastor Munro put on paid leave pending investigation

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/14/43/7Q0g7.Em.138.jpeg|318
    MARK HAMES - mhames@charlotteobserver.com
    Cavalry Church senior pastor John Munro leads a special service July 30 to pray for the recovery of Nancy Writebol, the Charlotte missionary who became infected with the deadly Ebola virus in Liberia.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/08/24/14/43/7vYNt.Em.138.jpeg|206
    DIEDRA LAIRD - dlaird@charlotteobserver.com
    Calvary Church remains a soaring local landmark on Pineville-Matthews Road.

The senior pastor at Calvary Church, one of Charlotte’s largest and most prominent houses of worship, has been placed on paid leave pending an investigation of an allegation that he violated some part of the church’s employee handbook.

John Munro, a native of Scotland who has been the megachurch’s high-profile senior pastor since 2006, was absent from Sunday’s service. But elder Bill Bailey, representing Calvary’s lay leaders, stood before the 4,000-member congregation at the end of the 9:45 a.m. service to say that an “H.R. complaint” was filed against Munro on Aug. 15.

Bailey did not disclose the nature of the human resources complaint, presumably filed by a fellow church employee. But he did reveal that “Back to the Bible,” a worldwide radio ministry, contacted Calvary last week to say that that it was terminating its contract with Munro – one of its on-air Bible teachers – for misconduct after investigating a “similar complaint” against him.

Calvary, meanwhile, has hired an “outside investigator,” Bailey said, to independently look into the internal complaint against Munro, who is in his mid-60s.

“Because we, as elders, are charged with protecting our flock and seeking truth,” Bailey said, “we retained an outside investigator to assist us in gathering facts and information from all involved to ensure impartiality and neutrality.”

Munro did not respond to phone messages from the Observer.

Last Wednesday, a letter signed by Bailey, the church’s clerk of session, was emailed to members of the nondenominational evangelical church in south Charlotte. It disclosed that the senior pastor – Munro’s name was not mentioned – had been placed on paid leave.

The letter offered no details about the allegation against Munro, though it said that “the church takes these matters extremely seriously.” Bailey added in the letter that the church intended to protect the privacy of those involved.

“Situations such as these can bring tremendous stress and heartache to all concerned,” Bailey said in the letter. “Speculation and gossip can exacerbate these already difficult circumstances.”

On Sunday, Bailey called the investigator hired by the church “a neutral third party” with no ties to Calvary.

Bailey added that, in sending the letter, elders wanted “our church family” to know that, so far, the church has “not made any determination as to the merits of the complaint and has not, and would not, rush to judgment. … We remain committed to the pursuit of truth.”

After Sunday’s service, Bailey declined any further comment on the case.

The news about Munro comes just weeks after the church was thrust into an international news story: Charlotte missionary Nancy Writebol, a member of Calvary since 1994, contracted the Ebola virus in Liberia and was treated and then released last week from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta. Munro was quoted in the national media, extolling Writebol and her husband, David, also a missionary.

After Sunday’s service, members of Calvary who were asked about the news regarding Munro expressed a range of reactions, from shock to support for Munro to backing of the elders.

“We love the people involved, and we’re just going to wait and trust our elders,” said Bill Ogden of Fort Mill, who has attended Calvary off and on since 1975. “We have great trust that our elders will lead us appropriately.”

Natalie Stull, a resident of the Sun City retirement community in Indian Land, S.C., and a Calvary member for two years, said, “We’re praying real hard for our pastor (Munro). We love him. He’s a sound Bible teacher, and we pray that the truth will be known.”

One man who wouldn’t give his name said simply: “I’m still shocked. I don’t know anything and I’m still in shock.”

“Back to the Bible” – a 75-year-old ministry based in Lincoln, Neb. – rented and staffed a small studio where Munro recorded his Bible talks. Its daily and Sunday shows are carried on several Charlotte-area Christian radio stations, including WHVN (1240 AM and 104.3 FM) in Charlotte, WCGC (1270 AM) in Belmont-Gastonia, and WTIX (1410 AM) in Concord.

Tom Gentry, who’s an elder at Calvary and also general manager at Heaven Radio (WHVN), said “Back to the Bible” officials “shotgunned a release” to his and other radio stations last week saying that Munro was “no longer a speaker” for them and that they’d be using others to fill that time. Gentry said the radio ministry did not detail why they were dropping Munro.

As an elder at Calvary, Gentry would not comment on the allegation made against Munro at the church. “We’re asking people to pray for everyone involved,” he said.

Gentry did say there was no timetable for the investigation that’s being done for Calvary. “It’ll work through the process,” he said. “It’ll take whatever time it takes.”

Calvary has a storied history in Charlotte. Known for years as the pink cathedral, it is no longer pink, but at 10 stories high, it remains a soaring local landmark on Pineville-Matthews Road.

Calvary began in 1939 as a Presbyterian church at 1800 E. 4th St. Among its co-founders was evangelist Billy Graham’s father.

The Rev. Ross Rhoads became pastor in the 1970s, and the church eventually moved to the current 100-acre site, a former dairy farm.

Ambitious building plans left Calvary in deep debt for years. The jumbo bank loan was finally paid off, under Munro’s leadership, in 2008.

This new controversy surrounding Munro is only the latest for a church whose original contractor, affiliated with the then-scandalous PTL ministry, was fired after months and millions of dollars in delays.

Munro arrived from Kalamazoo, Mich., in February 2006. Nearly two years before, the Rev. Glenn Wagner had resigned as pastor after admitting he plagiarized sermons.

Attendance, which had been dipping during that period, increased under Munro.

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