A Crisis of Faith—His Flock's in the Integrity of His Ministry—Threatens the President's Pastor
Now, unexpectedly, that liberalism is being tested. Next month his congregation will vote on a recommendation by its deacons that Trentham, 60, be dismissed. The reasons: a decline in baptisms, Trentham's divorce last year from his second wife and charges that he has been dating a congregant (a divorcée) who came to him for guidance. "This is not a public issue," insists Dr. William McBeth, chairman of the deacons. "It is a family matter within the church." But the Carter connection has brought it public exposure—and the President pointedly showed his support for the pastor by appearing in church the Sunday after the deacons' vote and by greeting him personally in the range of photographers.
The congregation, which will vote November 28 on whether to renew Trentham's contract, is as divided on the question as its elders. "Dr. Trentham is an outstanding speaker and well respected," says former church moderator Robin Clack. Adds another congregant: "There has been no evidence of illegality or immorality on his part." But the deacons—who opposed reappointment by a plurality of 27 to 11—have issued a written statement, arguing that Trentham's "credibility" has been damaged by his behavior. Why did some of the deacons go public? "Dr. Trentham is a smooth talker and there was a feeling that he could sway the congregation," explains one member. "Some of the deacons wanted the facts on the table."