Amazing Disgrace

Joel Levitt's crusade to right an old wrong gets him banned from Calvary Temple.

Administrative pastor Jensen denies any improprieties in the church's finances and says that Levitt simply refused to accede to the will of the majority and his pastors. "We've continually said to Joel that if there's a question about Pastor Blair's work or Calvary Temple, we'd cooperate 100 percent with any official investigation," he says. "We feel we've done all the internal ethical and moral review of these issues we can do."

In May, Levitt was summoned to a meeting with church leaders and told not to discuss the Second Mile campaign in the Sunday school class that he led. Levitt says he agreed to the demand but that his class was canceled anyway. His requests for more detailed financial data were refused, on the grounds that they were not being made "in good faith and for a proper purpose," as the law requires. "Your apparent purpose is to dig up old wounds and perhaps to humiliate and chastise Pastor Blair and others," wrote Calvary attorney William C. Ritter in a stern letter that warned Levitt to stop his "continued harassment" of church staffers and boardmembers.

"He seems to want to look at everything," says Ritter. "It was a question of the church being inundated. They're understaffed for a big ministry like that, and his requests took up considerable time and resources."

Levitt's attorney, Dan Lynch, says the question of whether Levitt's requests were reasonable and in good faith is a matter for the courts to decide. "Harassment is in the eye of the beholder," says Lynch, who also represented investors in the Second Mile civil lawsuit. "If they have a policy that expels members because they ask for records, that defeats the intent of the statute."

A few days after he received Ritter's letter, Levitt was expelled from the church. His stated intention to take legal action to obtain the information he sought, as well as his efforts "to stir up discord and dissension," were cited as reasons.

"Joel is under what we would call 'spiritual discipline,'" says Jensen. "If he was to--I guess I'll use a church term--if he was to repent and come before the Board of Elders, we'd discuss his membership."

Levitt says he's not the one who needs to repent. Although Calvary Temple leaders insist he has no right to inspect their finances now that he's no longer a member, he vows to continue the fight. He's heartened by the fact that his Sunday school class has decided to still meet at a coffee shop despite being officially canceled.

"They can try to get rid of me, but I'm still going to look at the records," he says. "If people who spend so much time reading their holy books would expend the same energy to get financial accountability from their religious leaders, there would be no poverty in America.

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