Former parishioners file suit against Mt. Zion pastor, church - WSMV Channel 4

Former parishioners file suit against Mt. Zion pastor, church

Posted: Updated: Feb 25, 2012 06:08 PM CST

Four women who used to belong to Mt. Zion Baptist, one of the largest churches in Middle Tennessee, have filed a lawsuit against the pastor, Bishop Joseph Walker III, and other church leaders.

The plaintiffs alleged that Walker and other church leaders sexually abused them. They also claimed they were spiritually and psychologically manipulated.  According to the lawsuit, some of the alleged incidents happened during counseling sessions with the pastor. 

Only one accuser's name is listed in the suit.  The others are referred to as Jane Does. 

According to the suit, the listed accuser decided to speak out because she "finally found her voice after years of clerical malpractice and victimization by her pastor."

The accusers claimed they did not consent to the sexual contact and were threatened by Walker and other clergy.

The listed accuser also alleged, at times, she was physically restrained by Walker. 

The suit also alleged church leaders assisted Walker by recruiting young women to the congregation for the purposes of sexual exploitation. 

The lawsuit requests compensatory damages estimated to be about five million dollars, along with punitive damages.

In a statement, John Van Mol, a spokesman for Mt. Zion said, "The only thing this action demonstrates is that anyone can sue,sometimes anonymously, no matter how ridiculous the claims nor how sensational the charges.  It is truly sad that a church and its leaders can be attacked with such shocking and ugly charges when the apparent motive is to extract huge sums of money from the congregation and its leaders."

"Mt. Zion is a welcoming, caring community. Its policy is that relationships between church staff and all others be appropriate and professional, and any failure to follow this policy can lead to a variety of disciplinary actions, just like any other responsible organization."

"It appears this action is not a quest for truth or justice, but instead solely for money," Van Mol said.

Bishop Walker is one of the most well-known pastors in Nashville. He is married to Dr. Stephanie Walker. 

Mt. Zion has more than 15,000 members in its three Nashville locations, including Jefferson Street near downtown, Old Hickory Boulevard and Murfreesboro Road in Antioch. 

Stay tuned to Channel 4 News and for the latest on this breaking story.

Copyright 2012 WSMV (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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