James Keogh and Chad Martin are the Southern Acres members who filed the lawsuit to block McDonald and his wife, Erica, from spending church money or making any real estate transactions. The suit alleged that he consolidated power and financial authority among himself, his wife and one other staffer.
McDonald, became the church's lead pastor in 2006, allegedly acquired power by dissolving a larger governing board, altering the church's operating rules and doing away with churchwide approval votes on any changes. The suit also alleged that most church staff members were either fired or quit due to the changes. While the church had roughly 1,000 members when McDonald first became pastor, it is unclear how many remain.
The lawsuit was dismissed in court on Friday because the members felt it was "a matter the church's congregation must decide internally, prayerfully and peacefully," according to their attorney, Joe Bilby. He also explained that "the full congregation will have an opportunity to vote for a change in leadership on Feb. 4."
"At least 54 members of the congregation believe Southern Acres needs a fresh start with new leadership," Bilby said, referring to a letter bearing their names delivered to the general congregation on Friday.
Staley said several of those 54 members were blocked from attending church on Sunday.
"It's disgusting," Staley said of the incident. "Anyone who has ever gone to a church has heard the lines, 'you are welcome; come as you are.' Even a nonbeliever knows that. To be told, 'you are not welcomed here'...They are creating an exclusive club...and this is not of the Christian moral values."
Austin Wilkerson, the church's attorney, told WKYT that blocking the members from attending church was a matter of precaution because "there were indications that there was going to be a disruption" on Sunday.
"We're very well aware there's a lot of people who need to be heard and that there's deep reconciliation needed and the church is very happy to have the opportunity to do that," Wilkerson said. He also noted that an independent financial review is in progress, which he believes will clear McDonald's name.