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Pentecostal Group Votes to Vindicate Founder

Times Religion Writer

Ending an acrimonious battle in a well-known Pentecostal body, the board of the Full Gospel Business Men’s Fellowship International voted overwhelmingly Sunday to absolve its founder-president of “supposed improper practice” in financial matters.

Directors of the Costa Mesa-based worldwide fellowship voted, 79-17, with 2 abstentions, to “vindicate” Demos Shakarian, 75. The board also restored his full authority as president. The actions, in effect, repudiated charges made by the board’s audit committee.

Committee members--acting to protect the nonprofit body’s tax-exempt status, they said--had informed the Internal Revenue Service last year that Shakarian received $276,000 in unreported benefits and undocumented expenses that would have to be counted as income, from 1981 to 1987.

But Shakarian’s backers have insisted that insurance and disability-related benefits were authorized by the board and that his travel expenses could be nearly all accounted for.

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Shakarian said the accusations against him arose from a bid for control of the fellowship by a 15-man executive committee of the board.

But Bill Weaver of Oklahoma City, one of the board members accused of engaging in a power play, said there was no vindictiveness involved.

“I’m simply saying his bookkeeping is atrocious,” Weaver said in a voice loud enough to be heard in the hall outside the closed meeting.

Executive Vice President Gene Ellerbee said he assured board members that Shakarian, a millionaire with extensive property holdings, will take responsibility for any money he might owe the IRS.

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Shakarian is considered one of the pioneers in spreading the Pentecostal version of Christianity, which is distinguished by speaking in tongues, healing claims and belief in everyday occurrences of the supernatural.

The now-retired dairyman started the fellowship in 1952 at lunch meetings with business and professional men in downtown Los Angeles.

The noontime exchanges of stories of faith became a feature of chapters around the world, thus blunting the previous image of Pentecostalism as appealing only to uneducated Christians low on the socioeconomic scale.

Shakarian, partly disabled by a stroke in 1984, was nevertheless vigorous in speaking briefly to board members during the daylong debate Sunday. He alternately threatened to quit and urged them to settle the 2-year dispute.

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“If I take a walk, what will you do?” Shakarian was heard to ask.

Income from donors in about 96 countries where the fellowship has chapters has dropped from about $6.5 million in 1986 to just below $4 million in 1988, fellowship officials say.


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