Community Chapel and Bible Training Center

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Community Chapel and Bible Training Center
TypeIndependent Pentecostal Christian
Official language
Donald Lee Barnett

Community Chapel and Bible Training Center was a controversial independent church created in 1967 and pastored by Donald Lee Barnett in which he taught his version of Oneness Pentecostalism. The church eventually grew to an attendance of over 3,000 before splitting and losing significant numbers in 1988 because of numerous lawsuits brought against Barnett and others in the church leadership for sexual improprieties. Community Chapel became infamous for a practice its leaders advocated known as "spiritual connections." This practice involved seeking intense emotional experiences of love with another person, usually not one's spouse, while dancing together in worship. It was taught at the Chapel that through this experience, Jesus, specially known to the participants as "the glorified Son of Man" because of the teaching of Barnett, was connecting the members of his church together in love as he had always meant them to be.[1][2][3][4][5][6]


Early history[edit]

The original grounds, or "east campus," of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center.

Community Chapel originated in a home Bible study led by Barnett. According to her book The Truth Shall Set You Free, Barnett’s wife Barbara worked as a representative of Burien Welcome Wagon, a committee for welcoming new members to the community, in the 1960s. In the course of this work, she met Keith and Joanne Gunn, recent arrivals from Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin, and, though they were Lutheran, Mrs. Barnett invited them to a Pentecostal meeting at the church she and her husband attended. Keith Gunn became interested in the Pentecostal experience of being "filled with the Holy Spirit," and invited Mr. Barnett, who had two years of education at a Pentecostal Bible college in Boise, Idaho, to start a Bible study in the Gunn's home for others similarly interested. This Bible study grew and was soon incorporated as the church of Community Chapel.[2]

In 1969, some members of this group sold many of their possessions, and some put second mortgages on their homes, to finance construction of a Bible school on 5 acres (20,000 m2) of rural land which Barbara had found in Burien, Washington. As membership grew the group purchased 36 acres (150,000 m2) more of nearby land. The Chapel then constructed elementary and secondary schools on its newly acquired land, erected a large sanctuary, a printing press, a recording studio, employed a security force to monitor the property, and began holding church services.[citation needed]

Early services at the chapel were fairly typical of Pentecostal services, including "speaking in tongues," spontaneous prophecies and "words of knowledge" from God. The meetings were also characterized by persons spontaneously leading out in singing the usually simple chorus-like melodies of praise, a style of ministering music typical of a very few churches that were involved in a Pentecostal movement of the late 40s and early 50s (most of the rest having died out since), which would often erupt in massive expressions of praise and worship, usually overwhelming the feelings and emotions of those present in ways to which most adherents of traditional Christianity were not accustomed. The group continued to grow, soon listing roughly 150 outreach ministries in its publications, including hospital and prison ministries.[1][6]

On September 14, 1979 the Church Articles of Incorporation were rewritten so that only a four-member board headed by Barnett could make decisions [1][permanent dead link]. According to Tim Brown, director of the Colossian Fellowship (an evangelical Christian group concerned with biblical orthodoxy), it was at this point the group "took an authoritarian turn."[1] As the group's rules began to change, Barnett instituted "Operation Rescue," in which members were encouraged to report on each other's faults to the pastor. A dress code was implemented, as well as a dietary code restricting pork and shellfish, all based on Barnett's interpretation of Old Testament Judaic Laws. Specific Christian books and bookstores were also to be avoided, because they contained "false creeds." The celebration of Christmas and Easter was also discouraged because Barnett considered them "secular" holidays. Engagements were also forbidden, unless Barnett's wife Barbara was informed beforehand. Indications of a negative or "rebellious" attitude were frequently attributed to demon possession.[6]

The "new sanctuary," or "west campus," of Community Chapel, built in 1979.

Throughout the 1970s, according to researcher Ronald Enroth, a series of "spiritual fads" began to sweep through the church, "exciting many of the faithful but confusing many others." The first of these was the "white room experience," introduced by Barbara Barnett as a result of a vision she claimed to have received. The "white room" was a mystical place that enabled one to become especially intimate with the Lord, but could only be reached through a progression of varying degrees of spiritual maturity. Another "fad" was known as the "pillar of holiness," a spiritual event that could only be experienced by those who had "gotten into the white room." Another "fad" was referred to as "singing in the Spirit," in which the entire congregation would sing in tongues together. A "fad" known as "spiritual surgery" also occurred, in which individuals were encouraged to "completely yield to God," so that "inner healing" could result.[6]

In 1979, Barnett invited area ministers to a series of meetings known as the "Puget Sound Charismatic Ministers Discussion on the Doctrine of the Bible." According to Dr. Daniel Pecota, a professor at Northwest College (now Northwest University) in Kirkland, WA, Barnett monopolized the meetings with preaching about the "Oneness" doctrine, a doctrine that, because it denies the Trinity, is widely recognized as contrary to historical Christian doctrine. Religious leaders, including Pecota, soon stopped attending the meetings.[7]

The dancing revelation[edit]

In 1983, Barnett told his congregation that he was taken "in Spirit" to heaven, where he sang with angels and experienced "oneness of being" with Christ. Following this, he instituted "dancing before the Lord," which was a free-form, individual dance with spiritual implications. In 1985, however, this evolved into a highly controversial, intimate two-person dancing practice known as "spiritual connections."[citation needed]

During church services, members were instructed to find a dance partner, known as a "connection." By staring into each other's eyes, a process known as connecting, partners were told they would in actuality be seeing Jesus in each other's eyes, and were encouraged to look with love into their spiritual connection's eyes in order to express their love to Jesus. Throughout the week, both in and out of church, members were encouraged to spend time with their spiritual connections in a kind of "quasi-dating relationship." Physical intimacy often accompanied these "spiritual" connections, and connection love was taught to be more intense, and more desirable, than marital love. [1][6] A former member has stated that the connecting experience was so intense that she and other women would experience orgasms without ever having any physical contact with their connections.[6]

It was taught that God was using the "spiritual connections" to break down the barriers and inhibitions within the congregation, and promote greater "unity" within the church. Spouses that felt jealousy watching were taught to "release their mates unto the Lord," and Pastor Barnett taught from the pulpit that members were not to view the connections "carnally." According to Barnett, what the people were doing (which included hugging, holding, fondling, kissing) was not to be viewed with the eyes of the "flesh." As he explained, "What's happening is they're having spiritual union ... It just looks the same on the outside, but what's really occurring is spiritual, so don't judge them or their motives."[6] In the book Churches That Abuse, a former member described what it was like at church services that included such sessions of dancing:

Picture your typical forty-year-old wife who's out of shape and has six children. There she is watching her husband dancing with this little twenty, year-old perfect beauty-long blonde hair, big bust, little waist-in his arms, gazing at her for hours. And meanwhile the wife is going insane.[6]

The practice often led to marital friction. The members were told that intimate spiritual experiences with their "spiritual connection" (typically a member of the opposite sex to whom one was not married) could help defeat the "demons of jealousy" and open up the person to a deepened experience of the love of Christ.[6] Critics have attributed spiritual connections to "over 400 court cases of divorce, plus separations as well as suicides and the murder of a young girl by her mother." The practice of spiritual dancing has been highly criticized in newspapers and books, and by former members and researchers. The Rev. David Wilkerson, author of "The Cross and the Switchblade," referred to the practices as "the most grievous thing I've ever heard in my 30 years of ministry" and "the worst error that's ever come into the charismatic movement."[6] [8][9][10]

CRI labels group a "cult"[edit]

In 1986, the Christian Research Institute issued a statement about the group, in which they stated that, "Based on our research, there is more than sufficient evidence to show that CCBTC is, in the theological sense of the term, a cult. That is, a religious organization which professes to be Christian but which teaches heretical doctrine on the fundamentals of the Christian faith." According to the CRI, the group's beliefs about Christian demon possession and "Oneness" constituted heresy. The practice of "spiritual connections" was also criticized as "unbiblical and socially deviant." In conclusion, the CRI wrote, "Christians should not seek to have fellowship with those involved."[11]

Legal Proceedings involving community chapel[edit]

Civil complaints filed for alleged sexual misconduct[edit]

On April 30, 1986, Carol Gabrielson filed a Complaint for Damages against Donald Barnett, Pastor Jack Mcdonald, the Tacoma satellite branch of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center led by Mcdonald and the main Burien campus of Community Chapel.[2][dead link] The complaint alleged various claims arising out of the alleged sexual misconduct of Pastor Jack McDonald and the "spiritual connections" doctrine taught by the Community Chapel.[12] Gabrielson provided details of the misconduct in a deposition given October 22, 1987. [3][dead link] On October 24, 1988 she was awarded $130,000 by a Pierce County Jury.[4][permanent dead link] The award to Gabrielson was originally $200,000, but was reduced by 35 percent due to her contributory negligence in the situation.[13]

Numerous other individuals filed civil lawsuits in King County Superior Court against Barnett and Community Chapel in 1986 including Kathy Butler, Sandi Brown, Michael & Sandy Ehrlich, and many others. Their claims included assault and battery, outrage, "ministerial malpractice", negligent counseling, "wrongful disfellowship", counselor malpractice, infliction of emotion distress, loss of consortium, loss of parental consortium and defamation, among others. Many of these lawsuits were eventually consolidated for trial purposes under King County Superior Court Cause No. 86-2-18176-8, although all of the cases settled before trial. The court files pertaining these cases can be found here: [5][dead link]

Elders request judicial dissolution of Community Chapel[edit]

By 1988, most of Community Chapel's congregation had left the church, many church elders had left, and strong divisions were evident between the remaining elders and Pastor Barnett.[14][15] In March, 1988, elders of Community Chapel sought to dissolve the church due to the ongoing conflicts between them and Pastor Barnett.[16] A petition for dissolution was filed by the elders on March 21, 1988 under King County Superior Court Cause No. 88-2-05272-7.[6][permanent dead link] Barnett opposed the petition and took numerous depositions of Community Chapel Elders and staff, including the deposition of Mark Yokers [7][permanent dead link], Drake Pesce [8][permanent dead link], John H. Dubois [9][permanent dead link], Scott Hartley [10][permanent dead link], Loren Krenelka [11][permanent dead link], David Motherwell [12][permanent dead link] and Wyman Smalley [13][permanent dead link]. Barnett also requested the elders be held in contempt of court, as the mere filing of a separate petition to dissolve the corporation before another judge was a per se violation of the restraining orders then in effect in the declaratory judgment action. On June 6, 1988, Judge Wartnick found elders in contempt of court for violating the earlier restraining orders. [14][permanent dead link] The dissolution proceedings were later dismissed by Judge Charles Burdell. [15][permanent dead link]

After being expelled from Community Chapel by the elders, in 1988, Barnett established a new church in Renton, Washington, named the Church of Agape, where he was still preaching and practicing "spiritual connections" in 1996 [17]

Criminal Proceedings[edit]

Death of child linked to group[edit]

On March 20, 1986, a parishioner of Community Chapel and wife of a teacher in the high school drove to a motel in Portland, Oregon and drowned her 5-year-old daughter in a bathtub, allegedly to save her from demons.[10] A short time later the parishioner entered a plea of "not guilty for reasons of insanity" to the crime. On April 16, 1986 Judge R. William Riggs found that the member was affected by mental disease or defect at the time of engaging in the criminal conduct, and ordered the member be committed to Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Psychiatric Hospital in Towson, Maryland.[18] On July 26, 1991, the parishioner was discharged from the hospital when it was believed they no longer continued to present a substantial danger to others.[19]

Also, there were some 60 separate cases, of failure to report child molestation.


  1. ^ a b c d John McCoy (1986-04-10). "The Pastor who sets them dancing". Seattle Post-intelligence. Over its 19-year history, no revelation has more confounded the Community Chapel and Bible Training Center than the one Donald Barnett received last spring. Barnett, the chapel's founder, pastor and "anointed of God," decreed that a higher spiritual realization could be found by dancing at church services with someone else's spouse. Finding one’s "spiritual connection," he said, opened up the possibility of a holy, complete and wonderful spiritual love.
  2. ^ a b Barnett, Barbara (1996). The Truth Shall Set You Free. Wine Press Publishing. ISBN 1-883893-67-4. (page 305:) I don't know how the term 'connection' got started, but it certainly describes what began happening. After many of the congregation opened their eyes while worshiping, and, in a very real sense, perceived one another as members of Christ's body, Jesus – assisted by angels – began connecting our spirits to one another in love.
        (page 319, describing her first experience of a 'connection:') I knew that Jesus, the glorified Son of Man, had – in union with another human being's spirit – manifested Himself to me, and by doing so, our spirits melded into one. I was certain the Father had answered Jesus' prayer of John 17:21: 'That they may be one as we are.'
        I thought, Surely this is the mystery the Apostle Paul refers to in Ephesians 5:31–32: '...the two shall be one flesh; this is a great mystery, but I speak concerning Christ and the church.'
  3. ^ Carol M. Ostrom (1986-04-11). "Minister's Teachings Wrack Church – 'Move of God' Linked to Divorces, Suicides, Alleged Murder of Child". Seattle Times. In the past year, Barnett has encouraged his followers to make spiritual connections with each other – through dancing, hugging and kissing. Such connections, Barnett has said, are necessary to open members of the congregation to pure, spiritual love and the possibility of complete unity with God. Barnett's teaching, also referred to as "the move of God," began as simple joy-filled solo dancing in the church. Gradually, former church members say, the dancers became couples, married people often pairing with others' spouses.
  4. ^ Carol M. Ostrom (1986-05-03). "Burien Pastor's Doctrine is Deplored – 'Most Grievous Thing,' Says Charismatic". Seattle Times. Those leaving the church, including some high-level Bible-school teachers and church counselors, have claimed that the pastor, Donald Lee Barnett, encourages church members to find "spiritual connections" through one-to-one dancing, a practice they say has led to a number of divorces. They also claim the practice played a part in the recent suicides of two church members and the murder of a young girl by her mother, also a church member, who told investigators she was trying to save the girl from demons. ... "That's the way it started with Barnett's church. The next step is to move into spiritual connections," he said. "I'm not against spontaneous dancing out of a sense of exuberance and joy, but the dancing with others' mates, the longing looks into each other's eyes . . . the giving up of your mate to any other . . . I've heard a lot in 30 years, but I'll tell you, this is the No. 1 delusion I've heard." In church services, Barnett has defended the practice of spiritual connections, saying such connections were a "move of God" bringing church members closer to a pure, spiritual love and to complete unity with God. And in letters to church members, he has condemned adultery, saying such relationships should remain purely spiritual.
  5. ^ Marsha King (1988-03-01). "Pastor Rebuked for 'Sexual Sin'". Seattle Times. Other former members have bitterly criticized Barnett's teaching that members can find holiness by making "spiritual connections," often through dancing that sometimes involves intimate contact with each other. Critics say the teaching has led church members to scores of divorces and separations as well as suicides and the murder of a young girl by her mother.
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Enroth, Ronald (1992). Churches That Abuse. Zondervan Publishing House. ISBN 0-310-53290-6. "Connections" and "intimate dancing" nearly caused Robin to have a mental breakdown. Instituted- between 1983 and 1985, the "dancing before the Lord" evolved into a teaching with specific rules that encouraged members to find a "connection," or dance partner. Soon partners were instructed to stare into one another's eyes, eventually known as "connecting." Partners were told they would see Jesus in each other's eyes, and that they were to love their spiritual connection in order to express the love of Jesus. During the week, both in church and outside the church, members were encouraged to spend time with their spiritual connections in a kind of quasi-dating relationship. As might naturally be expected, physical intimacy often accompanied these "spiritual" connections.
  7. ^ Nathalie Overland (1988-05-08). "Chapel service reveals strengths, weaknesses of troubled church". Valley Daily News.
  8. ^ Marsha King (1988-03-01). "Pastor Rebuked for 'Sexual Sin'". Seattle Times.
  9. ^ Carol M. Ostrom (1986-05-03). "Burien Pastor's Doctrine is Deplored – 'Most Grievous Thing,' Says Charismatic". Seattle Times.
  10. ^ a b Carol M. Ostrom (1986-04-11). "Minister's Teachings Wrack Church – 'Move of God' Linked to Divorces, Suicides, Alleged Murder of Child". Seattle Times.
  11. ^ "Christian Research Institute (Statement DC685): COMMUNITY CHAPEL AND BIBLE TRAINING CENTER". Christian Research Institute. 1986. Archived from the original on 2007-09-29. For several years now we have received requests to comment on the teachings and practices of Community Chapel and Bible Training Center in Seattle (hereafter CCBTC), pastored by Donald Lee Barnett. Based on our research, there is more than sufficient evidence to show that CCBTC is, in the theological sense of the term, a cult. That is, it is a religious organization which professes to be Christian but which teaches heretical doctrine on the fundamentals of the Christian faith
  12. ^ The complete court file in the Gabrielson case can be found here
  13. ^ Carol M. Ostrom (1988-10-24). "Parishioner is awarded $130,000". The Seattle Times.
  14. ^ Nathalie Overland (1988-05-09). "Disconnecting from a Church – Battered Christians search for life after Barnett". Valley Daily News.
  15. ^ Marsha King (1988-03-16). "Senior Elder Quits Posts with Church". Seattle Times.
  16. ^ "Community Chapel Elders Seek to Dissolve Church". Seattle Times. 1988-03-23.
  17. ^ Sally Macdonald (1996-12-28). "Fallen, But on the Rise". The Seattle Times.
  18. ^ See trial order, judgment of guilty except for insanity, and order placing defendant under jurisdiction of psychiatric security review board filed April 16th, 1986 under Multnomah County Circuit Court Cause No. C 86-3-31216.
  19. ^ See Order of Discharge filed July 26th, 1991 under Oregon Psychiatric Security Review Board file No. 86-831

Further reading[edit]

Newspaper articles[edit]

  • "The Pastor who sets them dancing" Seattle Post-Intelligencer, April 10, 1986.
  • "Minister's Teachings Wrack Church – 'Move of God' Linked to Divorces, Suicides, Alleged Murder of Child" Seattle Times, April 11, 1986.
  • "Burien Pastor's Doctrine is Deplored – 'Most Grievous Thing,' Says Charismatic". Seattle Times, May 3, 1986.
  • Lindsey, Robert, "Isolated, Strongly Led Sects Growing in US", The New York Times, June 22, 1986.
  • "Pastor Rebuked for 'Sexual Sin'" Seattle Times, March 1, 1988
  • "'Embarrassment' Burien-Church Officials React to Pastor's Ouster" Seattle Times, March 6, 1988
  • "A servant of God or a 'sick man'?' Seattle Post-Intelligencer, March 7, 1988.
  • "Pastor Plans Court Challenge of Ouster – If that Fails, Barnett says He'll Start a New Church" Seattle Times, March 7, 1988.
  • "Pastor Reinstated for now at Chapel" Seattle Times, March 11, 1988.
  • "Pastor Plans to Fire Staff, says Chapel Spokesman". Seattle Times, March 14, 1988.
  • "Church Heading Back to Court – No Firings Yet in Divided Community Chapel". Seattle Times, March 14, 1988.
  • "Burien Pastor Object of Civil Suit as well – Former Church Cites Stress, Unusual Loan". Seattle Times, March 15, 1988.
  • "Senior Elder Quits Posts with Church" Seattle Times, March 16, 1988.
  • "Three Chapel Satellites Also Under Fire" Seattle Times, March 17, 1988.
  • "Restraining Order Modified". Seattle Times, March 18, 1988.
  • "Barnett Troubles Obscure Success – Friends and Critics Blame his Woes on Ego, Eccentricities" Seattle Times, March 18, 1988.
  • "Community Chapel Elders Seek to Dissolve Church". Seattle Times, March 23, 1988
  • "Barnett Loses Bid to Escape Lawsuit-Chapel Elders to Detail Their Sex Lives". Seattle Times, April 19, 1988.
  • "Elder Quits Chapel Post in 'Connections' Dispute" Seattle Times, April 27, 1988.
  • "Community Chapel (faltering on religious fringe)" Valley Daily News, May 8, 1988.
  • "Chapel service reveals strengths, weaknesses of troubled church" Valley Daily News, May 8, 1988
  • "Disconnecting from a Church – Battered Christians search for life after Barnett". Valley Daily News, May 9, 1988.
  • "Embattled pastor didn't admit '75 guilty plea, records show" Seattle Times, August 11, 1988.


  • Anderson, Sandra (1998) Angels can Fall. Mukilteo, WA: Winepress Publishing. ISBN 1579211119
  • Barnett, B.J (1996). The Truth Shall Set You Free, Confessions of a Pastors Wife. Mukilteo, WA: Winepress Publishing. ISBN 1883893674
  • Enroth, Ronald M. (1992) Churches That Abuse. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House ISBN 978-0-310-53292-7
  • Summers, J. (2005) ocCULT, They didn't think it could happen in their church. Las Vegas, NV: Global Strategic Resources.ISBN 0975421484

External links[edit]