A branch of the world's largest Pentecostal denomination is suing the board of a Miami church for allegedly allowing is now-former pastor to continue leading the church while being accused of having sexual relations with congregants.
The Peninsular Florida (PenFlorida) District Council of The Assemblies of God recently filed a lawsuit against some board members belonging to Brave Church of Miami, alleging that they allowed Pastor David Stocker to continue leading the ministry despite having been found to be morally and biblically unfit for the role.
Church Board Failure?
The lawsuit, filed late in May but only recently made public, names church board members Josephine LeJuez, Nivia Pena, Eliada Rivera and Yarilend Taboada as defendants.
These board members, after an investigation conducted by PenFlorida found Stocker committed "significant incidents of gross sexual misconduct and immoral actions," are accused of failing to protect the congregation from the erring pastor's behaviors.
The lawsuit claims that with the board members' actions, they have committed "breaches of their fiduciary duties" to their congregation in "covering up the misconduct of their pastor" and "failing to protect the congregation."
Further, the lawsuit also accuses the defendants of trying to break away from the denomination in order to let Stocker keep leading the church and remain in the pulpit.
Moreover, the board members are also accused of failing to follow the bylaws governing the Assemblies of God church. All of these actions, per the lawsuit, are to the "detriment of the parishioners" who are members of the Pentecostal denomination.
Standards Of A Church Leader
The lawsuit states that the Assemblies of God places great importance in the local church as being led by someone who was ordained for the position. Such ordination happens when the person meets the standards outlined by Scripture, particularly in 1 Timothy 3:1-7 and Titus 1:5-9.
The Assemblies of God specifically outlines these standards that ordained ministers have. These include "a devotional spirit," a love for God, the ministry, and people; faith; humility; convictions as based in Jude 3; dedication or a "total commitment to God's will;" a "ministerial spirit" which is "an aptitude to give service; to be solicitous over the well-being and growth of people spiritually, morally, socially, etc."; and faithfulness.
Further, the lawsuit also outlines the moral standards that all ordained Assemblies of God ministers are expected to maintain. These include not engaging with sexual activities with anyone not their spouse, as well as the practice of honesty as opposed to deceit, and avoiding the use of alcohol.
Ordained ministers, per the lawsuit, should live lives as described by 1 Timothy 3:23, specifically being "above reproach, faithful to [their spouse], temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money."
Stocker's Errors While In Leadership
Stocker, who was ordained according to the denomination's standards in 2002 and transferred to PenFlorida District in 2004, has been Brave Church's pastor since 2014, the same year wherein he received the "credential of an ordained minister" by the district.
Years later, in January of 2022, a woman from Brave Church reported to the Presbytery Board of PenFlorida, accusing Stocker of "sexual misconduct and moral transgression involving sexual misconduct." The woman said they went on their first date in 2019, after which they had sexual relations afterward.
The said woman provided the Presbytery Board with evidence of their affair, in the form of "hundreds of text messages, photographs and videos." She also provided evidence of Stocker's use of alcohol, which the denomination forbids, as well as his erratic behaviors.
The unnamed woman also said Stocker had been sexually involved with "at least two women from the congregation," and added that Stocker used church funds for personal use "on at least two occasions."
The woman provided several more details with regards to Stocker's behaviors, including the fact that they had an affair while he was still legally married to his wife; how he used church money to purchase her tickets for a trip they had together; and how Stocker would stay at local hotels in order to keep the illicit affair going without being discovered.
Stocker's then-wife became suspicious of his behavior and reported him to PenFlorida, which then confronted the ex-pastor about it. Stocker "lied and denied it," the lawsuit said.
Stocker was able to continue the illicit affair with the woman, but four months into their relationship she found out that he had another affair with a second woman, and then later on also had another affair with a third woman.
The lawsuit states that the first woman ended her relationship with Stocker, but that they continued to have an "on and off" relationship for about a year. It added that up to its filing Stocker still has a relationship with the second woman.
No Longer Connected
Attorney Kristin Ahr, a partner at the law firm which is representing Brave Church and its board, Nelson Mullins, explained to the Christian Post that Brave Church and its board members were not aware of "the full nature and extent" of the erring pastor's behaviors and dealings with others. PenFlorida discovered this only after the lawsuit was filed.
Nevertheless, Brave Church and its board were quick to respond to the matter, and were able to settle with PenFlorida. Further, Stocker is no longer as pastor at Brave Church, after he and the congregation parted ways late in May.