Lawsuit Against Pastor Explored -- Witnesses Claim They Were Harassed
Seattle Times Religion Reporter
A Seattle law firm has been hired to represent several people who say members of Overlake Christian Church made harassing phone calls and threats against them after they came forward with accusations of sexual misconduct against the Rev. Bob Moorehead, the church's former pastor.
Camden Hall, an attorney with the firm of Foster Pepper & Shefelman, said he is investigating the possibility of civil action on behalf of more than a half-dozen people, including several men who accused Moorehead publicly of inappropriately touching them in the past, often before weddings or baptisms.
The group also includes at least one former member of the church who said he had received death threats and angry phone calls after he began investigating reports that Moorehead had engaged in sexual misconduct.
Hall said as many as 40 people eventually may join in bringing the lawsuit against Moorehead and some church members.
Moorehead, 61, resigned in May after 29 years as senior pastor of Overlake, an independent evangelical church in Redmond, which has about 6,000 members and is the largest congregation in the state most Sunday mornings.
Until the scandal began to unfold, Moorehead was powerful in the evangelical community, particularly in the Northwest. He has preached here for Promise Keepers, a Christian organization that sponsors large-scale revivals for men.
Moorehead's troubles began in July 1996, when he and another man were arrested in a public restroom in Daytona Beach, Fla., for allegedly masturbating in front of undercover police officers. The case was later dropped, but as word got around the congregation about the incident, allegations began to mount against him.
The accusations were devastating, particularly given Moorehead's public position against homosexuality and gay rights.
An investigation commissioned by Overlake's 13-member board of elders eventually turned up 17 men who alleged Moorehead had inappropriately touched them or tried to. The elders dismissed this report, saying they could find no biblical grounds in the accusations to fire Moorehead.
Moorehead steadfastly denied any wrongdoing, saying he was not guilty "of these horrible, perverted, reprehensible accusations." He resigned, he said, because he had become a liability to the congregation.
After harsh criticism from other pastors on the Eastside for the way they handled the accusations, the elders admitted they had second thoughts about it and told the congregation they may not have shown proper sensitivity toward the accusers. But they stopped short of an apology.
The church has received 20 applications from people who want to replace Moorehead, but it will take several more months to finish the process, according to Dana Erickson, Overlake's executive pastor.
Moorehead has an unpublished phone number and couldn't be contacted for comment on the possibility of legal action against him. Nathan Neiman, attorney for the church, and Erickson said they would not comment on any action until they had seen a copy of it.
Hall said there may have been a concerted effort on the part of members of the church "to demonize" Moorehead's accusers. He said they had been bombarded with phone calls and threats of retaliation in an effort to intimidate them into withdrawing their accusations.
Dennis Sullivan, a former Overlake member who said he was ousted from the church after he looked into the Florida incident and encouraged people who claimed to have been fondled by Moorehead to come forward, is among the group of potential litigants.
Sullivan reported to police last February that he had received three death threats and had been subjected to telephone harassment and accused of being in league with the devil.
"There's still a concern about how they treated the people who came forward," Sullivan said yesterday. "People called people at home, yelling at them and calling them instruments of Satan. This is not about money. It's about rumor, libel and slander. . . . It's about people who were culpable on a number of occasions."
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