In Portland's conservative evangelical circles, City Bible Church is a colossus. Its twin-domed complex at Northeast 92nd Avenue and Fremont Street attracts about 4,000 faithful on Sundays. Pastor Frank Damazio is the author of numerous books on faith, finance and leadership. Parishioners played major roles in the drive for Measure 36, the constitutional gay-marriage ban that passed overwhelmingly in November.
One might think a critical blog would bug City Bible about as much as a mosquito bothers an elephant. Earlier this month, "City Bible Watch" (citybiblewatch.blogspot.com) went online, giving a few disgruntled ex-members a place to vent. Mostly, gripes focused on money--the bloggers claim City Bible overemphasizes tithing, fundraising and equipment purchases.
"They put a huge emphasis on giving," says Johnpaul Morton, a 25-year-old flooring-supply salesman who started the blog with his brother and a few friends. "They imply that if you give them money, God will bless you back. But does God really need a plasma screen in the lobby?"
By last week, the blog had attracted enough notice that City Bible leaders sought a meeting with Morton, who attended the church for a decade. Morton says an elder of the church told him his online criticisms were "tearing down the church and the Body of Christ." Morton says he wasn't surprised--he believes City Bible can't handle dissent.
"It's got a very controlling feel," he says. "If you question them about anything, it's a huge deal."
City Bible referred inquires about the blog to Robert Jameson, the church's business administrator. Jameson says the church has little to say about the critical website, though he says City Bible's financial practices are transparent and in line with those of other churches.
Morton says he's doing some soul-searching about whether the blog is the best way to express his qualms about his old church. Meanwhile, City Bible Watch appears to be picking up steam, attracting dozens of posts in the past few days. Some defend the church; others offer guarded sympathy for the lead bloggers' criticisms.
"When I first read the blog, I laughed because it was true," writes one anonymous poster. "Then I cried because it was true.... However, when observation becomes verdict and sentencing, we are encroaching on the duties of the Lord Jesus, and there really isn't grace for that."