Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Sex and Money Lead to Break-up of Christian Talk Network

We generally cover political talk radio, usually liberal talk radio, but every once and while we run across a story so engrossing that we expand our coverage area to include other forms of "spoken word" radio programming.


We came across such a story, this morning in Los Angeles Times. The Times ran a page one feature story that had sex, money, deceit, and involved a talk radio network. Our kind of story! Naturally, we jumped right on it. No it didn’t relate to political talk radio – liberal or conservative. Instead it focused on the second largest segment of the talk radio industry – Christian talk.

It seems that a controversy has been raging for some time now involving the owners of the Calvary Satellite Network. The network has about 400 low-power stations and 49 full-power stations in 45 states. Its coverage area has 22.5 million potential listeners. It estimates its worth at $250 million, derived mostly from the value of its broadcasting licenses.

The network, which was founded by Chuck Smith, founder of the worldwide Calvary Chapel movement and his one time protégé Mike Kestler, became the focus of costly legal battle, after charges of financial irregularities, poor management, and sexual harrasment were directed at Kestler by Smith and his son Jeff.
The two sides have hurled accusations of lust and greed, betrayal and embezzlement. As part of the battle, Smith also funded a lawsuit against Kestler by a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader who said he had been fired from her from her radio job for rebuffing Kestler's sexual advances.

However, in a surprise move, the elder Smith dropped the legal proceedings claiming to make a "Christian gesture" saying according to the former cheeleader, Lori Pollitt, that "it was time to turn Kestler over to Satan."

Following are portions of the L.A.Times article:

When Chuck Smith, founder of the worldwide Calvary Chapel movement, decided to invest big in radio, the Orange County evangelist joined forces with a pastor he trusted.Mike Kestler was one of his proteges, a folksy preacher with a ponytail who had ridden the Calvary phenomenon to a pulpit in Twin Falls, Idaho.

Smith had presided at Kestler's wedding. He'd helped Kestler keep his job after a churchgoer complained that Kestler had begged her to run away with him. Now, the pastors would be business partners.

Kestler knew how to run a radio station. Smith had money and a famous name. They shared a vision of FM radio as a megaphone for God's word.Bolstered by $13 million from Smith's Costa Mesa church, Calvary Satellite Network grew into a spectacular recruiting tool for the evangelical movement.

In listening areas across the nation, Calvary Chapels proliferated.But relations between the two pastors deteriorated. In 2003, Smith cut off funding for the radio network, precipitating a crisis that continues to roil Calvary's leadership. It sparked a war for control of the network on terrain Smith had preached against for years: the earthly courts.

The two sides have hurled accusations of lust and greed, betrayal and embezzlement. As part of the battle, Smith funded a lawsuit against Kestler by a former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader who said he had fired her from her radio job for rebuffing his sexual advances.Now, after a year of hugely expensive legal sparring, the 79-year-old Smith is so eager to settle the case that he is willing to do so at a staggering loss.He is about to surrender much of the radio empire to Kestler, a man he calls morally unfit for ministry. Smith says that by walking away, he is making a Christian gesture.

Smith opened the first Calvary Chapel on a Costa Mesa lot in 1965 with a handful of congregants. Combining literalist Bible teaching with casual dress, contemporary music and an aversion to ritual, the church quickly became famous as a sanctuary for disillusioned hippies and a hub of the Jesus People. The doctrinal cornerstones included the depravity of the world, hell for unbelievers and the promise of a Second Coming.

Kestler was drawn to Smith's church in the early 1970s, when it still occupied a tent. He joined the movement and with Smith's blessing opened his own church in Twin Falls in 1979. Before long, he had built a small Christian radio station there.In 1994, Kestler's fortunes appeared to teeter on the brink.

A parishioner had accused the married pastor of showing up at her home and office uninvited and pleading with her to run away with him. Kestler stood to lose both his pulpit and his radio station.Smith took a plane to Twin Falls, defended Kestler before his church board and fended off his ouster. In a recent interview, Smith said he believed Kestler's claim that the woman's accusation stemmed from a misunderstanding.Broadcasting a mixture of sermons and worship music, the network started with two stations: Kestler's in Twin Falls and another in Yucca Valley, Calif.

From 1996 to 2003, Chuck Smith poured an estimated $13 million — much of it from the collection bowls of Calvary Chapel Costa Mesa — into expanding the network.The radio system did not carry advertising, relying instead on listener donations, money from preachers whose sermons it broadcast, and monthly subsidies from Chuck Smith's church.As the network grew, so did tensions between Smith and his son who was working with Kestler.
Stations were opened at a ferocious clip, but it typically took years for them to break even."I thought of myself as not having a voice," the elder Smith said. "When I see a ship sinking and I'm voting to put plugs in the hole and they're saying 'No, no, no, make more holes,' I don't want to go down with a sinking ship."

In January 2003, he resigned from the network's board and cut off the monthly subsidies. Apart from misgivings about the network's direction, Smith said, he had developed moral qualms about Kestler.A Calvary parishioner, a California woman, had come forward saying Kestler had made passes at her. Smith said he called Kestler about the accusation."Mike confessed and [said] sorry and so forth and so on," Smith said. "At that point, I felt, 'There's something wrong with this guy.' I really don't want to maintain much of a relationship with him, so I resigned."

As matters worsened, so did the church board's distrust of Jeff Smith. After rejecting the sale offer, the Calvary board pushed for an audit of the Word for Today, a church-affiliated book and tape ministry that Jeff Smith used to raise money for the radio network.The review found shoddy accounting and oversight, 10 bank accounts, $184,000 in computer purchases for obscure reasons, undocumented loans to employees or friends, plus $568,000 in loans to the radio network in 2002 and $350,000 in 2003.

Word reached the Smiths that another woman was complaining about Kestler. Sarah Meyer, an Idaho parishioner, said he had offered her a radio job, only to try "using Jesus to seduce me.""He'd prayed, and felt God was saying I was the one he was supposed to be with," Meyer, now 28, said in an interview. She said she turned down his advances and the job. Now, when she hears Kestler's voice on the car radio, "it makes my flesh crawl," she said.

Kestler's lawyer declined to comment on her allegations.

Smith had long been troubled that he defended Kestler in 1994 against accusations from a female churchgoer, only to see other women voice similar complaints. Now, he bankrolled a federal lawsuit by Pollitt, 46, the former Dallas Cowboys cheerleader. Pollitt said Kestler lured her from Dallas to Twin Falls with the promise of a job at Calvary Satellite Network, only to fire her after she rejected his come-ons. In court papers, Kestler has denied retaliating against Pollitt and has said she made sexual overtures to him.

Returning the Smiths' fire, Kestler filed suit in Orange County Superior Court, seeking control of Calvary Satellite Network and accusing the younger Smith of seizing donations intended for the network.In a countersuit, the younger Smith charged Kestler with misappropriating millions of dollars in listener contributions. The suit also accused Kestler of "sinful sexual and flirtatious misconduct with numerous women over the years" and of spending network funds on vacations and purchases at Victoria's Secret.

Today, management of the network is split between Jeff Smith in Santa Ana, who controls a host of full-power stations, and Kestler in Twin Falls, who controls the much more valuable translator network.The younger Smith said the network could have weathered his father's withdrawal of financial support were it not for Kestler's alleged financial mismanagement. Jeff Smith said the network had to sell $9 million in assets to stay solvent

7 comments:

BrksBoed said...

Whether there are problems, or not, with this network, I have been inspired to make an effort to improve the way I behave morally, sustained by hope during times of difficulty and challenged to be a blessing to my community because of the programs aired on this network - it just goes to show that God uses imperfect people and organizations to accomplish His purposes.

Anonymous said...

Forget what the Bible says, let's just look the other way. If the guy "inspires" who cares that he has a long history of seducing women other than his wife.

Melanie said...

Interesting.

I go to CCCM and I think that pastor Chuck dealt with everything quite appropriately.

I think that he summed it up with "something is wrong with this guy" in reference to Mike Kestler and took the appropriate steps to distance himself from the guy. Its plain that in reference to pastor Chuck, some people just love to stir up drama.

With that, I will continue to attend Calvary Chapel, looking at my OWN actions and accountability first. If you don't like Calvary, leave. Its that simple.

emily garnhart said...

I found your blog interesting and useful. I added your blog to my favorites and i will come to visit again tomorrow. I have a blog about how to get him back after a break up :)

Andy said...

Melanie,

In other words, stick your head in the sand with the rest of us CCCMers and PLAY THE PRETEND GAME that this organization doesn't have big troubles it's brought about on itself with the Moses Model of (so-called) Leadership. Got it, Melanie. Keep yourself informed with the blind leading the blind scenario and "see" into which spiritual wilderness that leads you where the wolves will have a field day with you. There's much more to be done than just simply leaving!

Case in point, see:

http://www.calvarychapelabuse.com/wordpress/

Chuck Smith and co-horts are keeping a lot more from you all than you think.

SHARON KEFFALOS said...

I HAVE ALWAYS LISTENED TO CSN FOR OVER 18 YRS.THERE ARE MANY WONDERFUL CALVERY CHAPEL PASTORS IN PHOENIX AZ ALSO CALVERY CHAPEL OF SAN ANTONIO TX. PASTOR CHUCK SMITH IS THE FATHER OF TEACHING THE BIBLE CHAPTER BY C HAPTER WHICH HAS HELPED MILLIONS OF PEOPLE IN THE WORLD. PLEASE DON'T JUDGE THE WHOLE CSN BY ONE FALLEN PERSON. PLEASE PRAY HE WILL REPENT' AND BE RESTORED BACK TO THE LORD

overthemountain100 said...

The problem is that a true man of God does not take advantage of women. God did not use Kestler, but rather Kestler "used" God, so sad.