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Scandal Turns Church Into a House Divided

A 'moral transgression' between brothers, both pastors, splits their congregation in O.C.

June 17, 2003|David Reyes | Times Staff Writer

It started when the pastor surprised his congregation by announcing one Sunday last month that he was stepping down because of a "moral transgression."

But after his brother, Jim, filled in the blanks -- that Pastor Daniel Kruse's transgression had been an 18-year affair with Jim's wife -- Sunday mornings at the church haven't been the same.

The scandal between the brothers, both pastors at the church, has divided the congregation at Crossroads Community Church in Westminster. There have been disputes over who should keep collection-plate offerings, a change of locks, calls to the police to keep the peace and, finally, a court order to freeze church assets.

"In the beginning, all we wanted was for Pastor Daniel to get counseling and seek restoration so he can be brought back to the church whole," said Pastor Richard Sturm, another Crossroads pastor. "But he has chosen this course. He doesn't know how many people he's hurt."

Some parishioners remained loyal to the pastor. But as word of Daniel Kruse's alleged transgression spread, other church members reacted first with disbelief, then anger. Critics in the congregation said Daniel Kruse, 50, had promised church leaders he would seek "counseling and restoration" but failed to follow through.

Leaders of the dissenting faction created a new board of directors and selected a new senior pastor -- Jim Kruse, who is in his early 40s.

But Daniel Kruse changed his mind and began efforts to regain control by appointing his 24-year-old son, Dallas, the church's music director, as acting senior pastor. In addition, he has questioned the new board's authority.

With two pastors and parallel boards, church services quickly eroded into shoving matches over collection plates and allegations of theft when one faction allegedly removed a sack of collection money totaling $6,000 -- though the other faction said it was $3,600.

Tempers flared one Sunday morning when Daniel Kruse allegedly ordered the church's locks changed. Police were called on another occasion when parishioners reported that someone had driven over another person's foot. When the dust cleared, Waylan Kruse, 26, made a citizen's arrest of his cousin Tyler Kruse, 22, for assault, said Police Sgt. Kevin Baker.

The church battle has moved to the courts. Daniel Kruse alleges in a lawsuit that he left as pastor but did not resign as a member of the church's board of directors. The new board was formed illegally, he contends. In the meantime, Superior Court Judge James M. Brooks has frozen the church's assets until a June 25 hearing to sort things out.

Jim Kruse said he has spoken to his married brother, who he said apologized for having an on-again, off-again romance with his now-estranged wife.

Daniel Kruse, who appeared in church Sunday but did not conduct services, declined to discuss the controversy.

Jim Kruse said he confronted his brother three weeks ago and told him church members were hurting and begged him to "put a stop to this" by halting his efforts to retain control of the church. He said his brother responded, "Absolutely not."

According to an open letter from church elders, it's not the first time Daniel Kruse has been in confrontation with the Crossroads congregation. Six years ago, the open letter said, he was taken to task when it was revealed that the church was making car payments and paying baby-sitting bills and year-end bonuses for Kruse relatives.

The brothers' father, who founded the church, was removed in 1995 following allegations of moral and financial wrongdoings, Jim Kruse said.

Church members fear the current tempest will result in a move to sell the church, estimated in court documents to be worth $3 million, and start a church elsewhere. In a ruling Friday, a judge ordered that for now the church can't be sold.

Church members including Steve Fabian, 34, of Buena Park said they are conflicted. During services on Father's Day, Fabian was accompanied by his four children. When Dallas Kruse began preaching, Fabian and about 30 others walked out in protest. "I just can't take the deceit," Fabian said.

Many church members said they wanted to stay away on Sunday but were encouraged to attend by Jim Kruse.

"He wanted us here to support the church," said Jeffrey Ernst of Mission Viejo. "He said if we didn't attend, the church might collapse without the congregation."

Still, it wasn't easy for Ernst and his family. When his 13-year-old son, J.R., heard Dallas Kruse preach about believing in God during troubled times and keeping faith, he turned to his father.

"Dad, I don't really want to be here," he said.

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