August 13 2008 by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor

    The state Baptist newspaper in Texas is being sued for its coverage of controversy surrounding new-church funding.

    Otto Arango, one of the pastors involved in the issue, filed suit against the Baptist Standard; the Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT); David Montoya; Calvary Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, Texas; the Palo Pinto Association; David Tamez; Dexton Shores; Roberto Rodriguez; Primera Iglesia Bautista; and Eloy Hernandez.

    Marv Knox, editor of the Standard, released a statement confirming the suit.

    “The Standard denies the allegations and expects to be exonerated,” he said. “However, since this case is pending, we are deferring further comment, based on the advice of our attorney.”
    Arango did not return a phone call seeking comment.

    An investigation by the BGCT reportedly found evidence that church-starting funds were misused in the Rio Grande Valley. Arango filed suit in Texas District Court on Aug. 6, according to court documents provided to the Recorder by Montoya.

    Montoya writes a blog called Spiritual Samurai that covered the church-starting issues. He is also pastor of the church in Mineral Wells.

    The BGCT hired an independent lawyer, whose team conducted a five-month investigation that found evidence that funds were misused from 1999 to 2005. The probe found that up to 98 percent of the 258 church starts reported by Arango, Aaron de la Torre and Armando Vera no longer or never existed. The BGCT reportedly provided more than $1.3 million to help support those 258 churches.

    Arango told investigators that he received at least $500,000 from the BGCT in honorarium and reimbursement expenses and was also getting about $14,000 a month from associations.

    Arango says in the lawsuit that the report found no intentional misappropriation of funds, but instead discovered bad record keeping and ineffective controls by the BGCT.

    The suit says that Arango’s success starting churches was “short-lived” when the “BGCT began to question whether the new churches were indeed real churches, or just prayer groups meeting in someone’s home, or even ‘phantom’ church which existed only on paper.”

    The pastors were using a church-starting strategy devised by Arango. It called for lay people starting churches in their homes. The plan called for the churches to become larger by growth or by merging with other home churches.

    The suit says the BGCT’s records of active and inactive churches did not agree with information from the investigators, causing “considerable doubt” as to the accuracy of statistics regarding the effectiveness of the new church starts.

    The report found that BGCT records showed more of the three pastors’ new churches still functioning than investigators could locate. According to the report, BGCT records showed that 100 of the 258 churches were still active, while investigators found that only five still existed.

    Montoya, the blogger, said he hopes Texas Baptists can unite in defense against the lawsuit. He said BGCT officials had earlier indicated they would not sue the three pastors because of the cost.

    “Well, they’re going to have to spend some money now,” he said.

    Montoya said he will not settle. He said he had stopped blogging about the issue in June because he didn’t want to give the impression that he was interested in Texas Baptist politics.

    “So I got out, until I got served Monday,” he said.

    Arango is seeking unspecified damages. He is suing for libel, slander and defamation, saying his reputation has been damaged by “rumors, insinuations and innuendos.”

    8/13/2008 11:24:00 AM by Steve DeVane, BR Managing Editor | with 0 comments




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