Founder to Leave Christian Law School, Ending Dispute

Times Staff Writer

The internationally known founder of a small Christian law school in Anaheim has agreed to leave the institution, the chairman of school's board of directors said Tuesday, ending a year of controversy that included references to alleged moral and ethical improprieties.

John W. Montgomery, a lawyer, minister, evangelical Christian radio and television broadcaster and author of 38 theology books, has agreed to sever his ties with the Simon Greenleaf School of Law in Anaheim, an unaccredited, 60-student night school that blends theology and law to train students for a "principled legal career."

"The board and Dr. Montgomery have signed an agreement where he has separated himself from the school and is starting his new ministry," said David Berglund, chairman of the school's eight-member board of directors.

Montgomery said he could not comment because the agreement was reached through a conciliation service that does not allow public statements. Acquaintances said Montgomery has denied any wrongdoing at Greenleaf, and efforts to remove him reportedly were opposed by a group of faculty members who charged the board with "spiritual arrogance" and unethical behavior in "railroading" Montgomery, who is highly regarded both for his fund raising and recruiting and for his theological arguments and vision.

Berglund, the only board member who could be reached for comment, also declined to elaborate on why the school and Montgomery have agreed to part company. "The differences of opinion we have are theological things, on a man's activities and what a man does," he said. "Nobody is accusing him of anything criminal."

Former board member Walter Martin, an Orange County-based Christian broadcaster who said he has counseled Montgomery on his decision, said Montgomery agreed to enter mediation 4 weeks ago with the Anaheim-based Christian Conciliation Service to preserve the "school's progress. He said, 'If I had to be a casualty to keep the school going, I'll do it.' He went into conciliation to get a minimal agreement, which he did get."

In an Oct. 28 letter to Montgomery, John Wanvig, chairman of a board-appointed committee investigating the former dean, outlined the allegations, saying they included "circumstances surrounding your divorce. . . ."

The letter mentioned other allegations, details of which were unavailable.

Berglund said that in the midst of controversy, Montgomery stepped down last May as dean and administrator of the school and received a 2-year contract as a professor, but immediately took a year's sabbatical.

Complaints Raised Year Ago

Complaints against Montgomery were first raised more than a year ago by Christian broadcaster John Stewart, a teacher at the school until 1987 and a prominent figure in the Jim Bakker-Jessica Hahn scandal. Complaints originally were brought to the board members by Stewart and Leonard Stitz, a lawyer and former dean of students.

In 1987, Stewart, then a teacher of biblical studies at the school, had helped Orange County lawyer Paul Roper draft a lawsuit intended to force televangelist Jim Bakker to reveal his affair with Jessica Hahn.

Because of his role in confronting Bakker, Stewart said, those at the school who had complaints about Montgomery came to him with allegations of Montgomery's abrasive treatment of staff and his marital situation. Stewart said he and Stitz took those complaints to the board to "let them resolve it. They spent a year and a half trying to get to the bottom of things."

Central to the complaints are a divorce that Montgomery's ex-wife, Joyce, claimed was completed in 1985 without her knowledge.

In a court document, she said that the couple had sought a divorce and signed a property settlement in 1977, but that she thought they had reconciled. Since then they had "lived together as man and wife, sharing the same house, having marital relations, filing joint income tax returns, and entertaining professional and business friends as a married couple," she said in court papers.

She said she found out he had requested and obtained a final judgment when her son found the papers, which had been mailed to their home in Orange.

'Married in Eyes of God'

Montgomery "informed me that the divorce did not matter, because we had a valid common-law marriage and that 'we were still married in the eyes of God.' Because my husband is a minister and an attorney, I believed him. . . ," Joyce Montgomery said.

She also alleged that Montgomery had physically attacked her several times--once in February because she had turned a heater on. On an earlier occasion, she said, she had to go to a hospital emergency room because of "severe beatings and kicks in the back" by Montgomery.

Montgomery denied the allegations of physical abuse, claiming his wife initiated "provoking conflicts."

"She has refused to cook any of my meals for the past several years and for the past 18 months has rejected all marital intimacy," he claimed in court documents.

Joyce Montgomery declined comment on the divorce.

In April, John Montgomery's attorney asked the court for a speedy dissolution of his 34-year marriage to Joyce Montgomery because of a planned wedding in August in Strasbourg, France. Friends said they received announcements last summer that Montgomery had married Lanalee deKant, an Orange County harpist.

In the Oct. 28 letter, Wanvig, chairman of the investigating committee, wrote that the board "has become convinced that the fundamental underlying issue in this matter is a spiritual matter--which transcends all others." In November, the committee recommended hearings to consider dismissal. "Based on our biblical duty to exercise spiritual oversight in the Simon Greenleaf community, we will proceed with our due process hearing procedure," Wanvig wrote. A copy of the letter was obtained by The Times.

But a Nov. 7 letter to the board from nine faculty members in the school's master of arts program complained that Montgomery was being treated unfairly.

Locks, Phones Changed

The letter complained that the board had cut off Montgomery's salary and support for his radio program, "Christianity on Trial," which had been heard on KYMS in Orange, had canceled his telephone credit card, and had changed the library locks and the telephone number in his office, which Berglund said Montgomery also used for his private law practice.

It also claimed that as a result of the board's actions, "the Simon Greenleaf staff is down to two and one-half people, there is no dean or full-time administrator, there is virtually no fund raising or recruitment taking place (and) this year's student enrollment is nearly half that of last year's, with next year's student enrollment in jeopardy altogether."

The letter also said the board's actions were jeopardizing the school's purpose, which the letter described as "providing bright young Christian men and women the essential wisdom they will need to go out into a dying world, to combat such enemies as academic error and intellectual deceit, to return intellectual credibility to our faith . . . and to bring our Lord's salvation to the lost."

Montgomery's supporters included his pastor, Pomeroy J. Moore of Trinity Lutheran Church in Anaheim, who charged that the board overstepped its bounds by judging Montgomery on moral grounds.

Despite the support for Montgomery, the board proceeded, and after Montgomery and the board entered mediation they reached an agreement to part company, Berglund said.

No hearings were held because Montgomery asked for Christian conciliation, a process that aims to avoid lawsuits between Christians by following scriptural teachings, Berglund said.

New Dean Being Sought

Under terms of the agreement, the school will return to Montgomery portions of his library of rare and legal books, which Berglund said had been appraised at $400,000.

"We have a task force that is working on finding a new dean," Berglund said. "We have a new direction for the school and are very encouraged about the future of the school."

A frequent world traveler, Montgomery owns an apartment in London and another in Strasbourg, France. He returned to Orange County from England on Monday but declined all comment in a brief telephone conversation Tuesday.

"He does feel very hurt, that the board had made mountains out of molehills," said former board member Martin, the Christian broadcaster. Martin said Montgomery, characterized as a brilliant scholar with a history of stormy relationships, lost his temper many times with board members who believed his reaction was inconsistent with what a "Christian clergyman should be doing."

Montgomery has made plans to start a new organization, the Institute for Theology and Law, with Greenleaf faculty member Michael Smythe as director.

A form letter, sent out by Montgomery to "Christian friends" recently, describes the institute as a radio and television ministry that will produce "Christianity on Trial"--also the name of Montgomery's biweekly television series broadcast on the Tustin-based Trinity Broadcasting Network--continue his call-in radio program, and put on seminars in Christian apologetics (a branch of theology involving defense of the faith) and study programs in France and China. The letter also says the institute will offer unspecified academic programs to train "defenders of the historic Christian messages to impact our secular society on all levels--to change the climate of opinion for our Lord and Savior."

"Law teaching has been a great challenge, but its effects are necessarily limited by the fairly small number of students in such a program," the letter says. "The institute's boundaries are virtually unlimited!

"A new year of wonderful opportunities in the defense of the Gospel is upon us," Montgomery wrote. " 'Old things are passed away: all things are become new.' (II Corinthians 5:17)."

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