Suspended Calvary Church pastor John Munro will return to his flock next week after an investigation determined a complaint that he violated the employee handbook “was not supported,” a church elder announced at a service Sunday. Munro was at the service and received a standing ovation after the announcement.
“Although we’re not at liberty to share specific details, we feel one of our obligations as elders is to be as transparent as possible,” said elder Bill Bailey, representing Calvary’s lay leaders, at the end of the 9:45 a.m. service. “I wanted to let you know that after extensive analysis in the investigation report, multiple session meetings and extensive prayer, the session determined that the specific handbook violation alleged was not supported.”
Bailey continued that the third-party investigation did reveal, however, that Munro used judgment that did not align with the high expectations to which church leaders are held.
Moments later, Munro, a native of Scotland who has been the megachurch’s senior pastor since 2006, addressed the congregation. He took the podium and first let out a long exhale as the congregation gave him a standing ovation. “Thank you,” he said. “It’s good to be back.”
He then acknowledged that he had committed “an innocent error of judgment that while was neither unlawful nor sinful, failed to demonstrate the judgment the church expects of me.”
He also asked for the congregation’s forgiveness for his “shortcomings.” Munro said that while the last couple of weeks had caused pain and suffering to him and the congregation, he encouraged members to help him move the church forward.
“I thank God for my Godly wife who stood with me,” Munro said. “We will testify that this ordeal has deepened our faith in Christ. We’re not bitter against God, we’re not bitter against people. ... Our love for each other as husband and wife has been deepened.”
Munro said he will resume his role as senior pastor Sept. 15 and would resume preaching Sept. 21. He said Sunday afternoon that he had been asked to return this week, but that he already had plans to be out of town.
‘Similar complaint’ made
On Aug. 24, Bailey stood before the 4,000-member congregation at the end of a service to say that an “H.R. complaint” was filed against Munro on Aug. 15 and that he had been placed on paid leave.
Bailey did not disclose the nature of the human resources complaint, presumably filed by a fellow church employee. But he did reveal in late August that “Back to the Bible,” a worldwide radio ministry, contacted Calvary to say that it was terminating its contract with Munro – one of its on-air Bible teachers – for misconduct after investigating a “similar complaint” against him.
“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.
The news about Munro came 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. She was treated and then released in August from Emory University Hospital in Atlanta.
Calvary hired an “outside investigator,” Bailey said, to independently look into the internal complaint against Munro, who is in his mid-60s.
‘Suffering, anxiety and heartache’
On Sunday, Bailey said the elders tried to abide by both God’s word and legal requirements when deciding Munro’s fate in the church.
Bailey apologized on behalf of the church’s lay leaders for any pain that the investigation caused to Munro and the congregation, noting that their “intent was never to harm anyone but to protect the church and bring the truth to light. ... We did what we thought was right to protect our flock.”
Bailey discouraged the congregation from speaking ill of whoever made the complaint. He also discouraged any speculation or gossip.
“All involved in this process have experienced tremendous suffering, anxiety and heartache,” he said, noting that the church leaders will work hard to regain the congregation’s trust.
Munro, for his part, also told the congregation: “I ask that every one of us puts this matter behind us.”
He also acknowledged that the elders had received many critical emails and that some people, including himself, had found themselves frustrated and “saying unkind things about the elders.”
“For any of you who has ill will toward the elders or anyone else ..., I ask as your pastor that you seek the help of the spirit of God to forgive them, to pray for them, to encourage them so that we all move forward with love and healing,” he said.
Reconciliation and healing
Speaking from his home Sunday afternoon, Munro told the Observer that he was “very thankful for the enthusiastic endorsement of the congregation.”
He recalled how the turbulent trial began when he was on a cruise in the Mediterranean a few weeks ago, celebrating his 40th anniversary with his wife, Gudny.
He said he was grateful for the support of the congregation. But he added, in reference to the elders’ decision to launch an investigation, that “there’s nothing to be gained by second-guessing what was done.”
Instead, he wants to “look forward to Calvary serving with a sense of renewed zeal and consecration to Christ. That’s very important. We believe in reconciliation and spiritual healing.”
In that vein, Munro said he is “free of bitterness” and expects to stay with the church for the foreseeable future. In fact, he said, his faith was deepened during these recent trials.
“We know from the word of God and from human nature that we are people in need of redemption,” he said. “We believe in God’s grace and of salvation through Christ.”
As for his terminated contract with the Back to the Bible radio program, he said he believes that “certainly for the time being, that has ended.”
He added that his priority is as pastor of Calvary Church, noting “that’s where I’ll devote my energy.”
Church at a crossroads
Earlier in Sunday’s service, pastor Jim Cashwell delivered a sermon that also touched on love and forgiveness.
“When we love one another, pride and self-centeredness is removed,” he said. “The church needs to be a place where we recognize we’re all imperfect and struggling.”
He also told the congregation: “When God is doing great things, the enemy is on the doorstep. Satan is sitting on the doorstep wanting to tear things apart.”
He said the church is at a crossroads: Let Satan win or keep the focus on Jesus.
Several church members said they were thrilled at the news of their pastor’s return and expressed optimism about the church’s future.
“I’m very thankful the truth came out, and I think the pastor did a very good job,” Carol Martin said. “To get up and speak to the congregation was not an easy thing to do.”
Margaret Dunbar said she was also impressed by how Munro responded to the investigation.
“He accepted responsibility for what happened without being at fault,” she said.
Added her husband, Jim Dunbar: “He (Munro) said, ‘I could have done things differently,’ but we all can. ... We’re just glad he’s back, and we’re moving forward.” Tim Funk contributed.