The controversy over who should lead one of New Mexico's largest evangelical churches has entered cyberspace.
A Web site has popped up in support of Calvary Chapel senior pastor Pete Nelson, who resigned suddenly last month citing a struggle with founder Skip Heitzig.
The site— http://bringbackpete.com/index.html — asks members of the congregation to sign a petition "to have Pete return as Pastor in good standing, having control over all areas previously controlled by Skip."
The petition also calls for a new board of directors made up of church members who live in New Mexico. Currently, four of the six board members live out of state.
The Web site does not indicate who posted it on the Internet, but said in an e-mail response to the Journal they are "people who have attended Calvary for several to tens of years and have an interest in restoring it from the turmoil it is currently in."
Others have expressed support for Heitzig and confidence in church leadership— even if they also like Nelson as pastor.
"God hasn't resigned. He is still on his throne," said Linda McClanahan, who, with her husband, has attended Calvary for 14 years. "We won't know every single detail of what's going on, but I have faith that everything that will come from it will be good."
A draft copy of Nelson's resignation letter obtained by the Journal outlined a struggle for control of the 14,000-member church.
Heitzig served as Calvary's senior pastor for 22 years before choosing Nelson to replace him in early 2004. Heitzig left to lead Ocean Hills Community Church in California.
Nelson wrote that Heitzig never allowed him to totally exercise the duties of senior pastor and that he wasn't able to appoint his own board members, as he said was promised when he was hired.
The letter also contended that Heitzig was using Calvary Albuquerque's assets to finance his national ministry.
During the past week, Calvary leaders— including Heitzig and former board member Franklin Graham, son of evangelist Billy Graham— have sought to reassure the congregation there has been no financial impropriety. They have said Nelson was not ready to assume all the duties Heitzig had carried out.
On Sunday, Graham expressed support for Heitzig and said perhaps God would lead the former pastor back to Calvary.
Associate Pastor Chip Lusko, the church's spokesman, said Wednesday, "We hope that any conflicts that exist can be resolved using Biblical steps."
Bringbackpete.com questions whether board members appointed by Heitzig who do not live in New Mexico should be allowed to remain on the board. Of the six board members, one lives in Albuquerque and another in Santa Fe. The others are from out of state.
Heitzig, who lives in California, is still board chairman.
"In his last service, Pete said that this church belongs to Jesus," one page on the site says. "However, the board maintains its tight grip of control. Do you have any connection to those who control your church?"
The site also asks five "poll questions." Two are "yes or no" questions: "Are you satisfied with the board's response to the events of the last week?" and "Do you want Pete back as pastor?" Other questions ask members' "opinion of Calvary," what they hope for the church's future and their preference for board members.
McClanahan said she was "really sorry to see Pete go. "He's a great teacher, as is Skip."
She said she and her husband accept the church's leadership. "In 14 years we could've found out more about the board and how our money was being spent, but we didn't," McClanahan said. "We trusted in what was going on. So it's not fair now to go back and question."There are all different kinds of churches— some that are more transparent— and we could have chosen one of those."
She said Heitzig's vision for a national ministry that uses Calvary's radio stations lines up with her worldview. "What's important to me is how many people you touch with the Gospel," McClanahan said. "The radio programs have touched I don't even know how many lives."
Nelson had expressed concern in his letter over Heitzig's proposal to turn Calvary Chapel's radio assets over to a new company Heitzig owned.
The next step for Calvary is still unclear.
Board member Paul Saber has said he expects the board to meet during the next few weeks and that naming a new senior pastor is the top priority.