Lawsuit: Calvary Chapel’s Chuck Smith denied medical help on his deathbed

Pastor Chuck Smith appears on the big screens during a Calvary Chapel event at the Anaheim Convention Center.
(Geraldine Wilkins / Los Angeles Times)

A daughter and the widow of Chuck Smith -- the founder of the worldwide Calvary Chapel movement -- have sued his former church, alleging a conspiracy to commandeer Smith’s ministry and deny him emergency medical attention on his deathbed.

Smith died last year at 86, after a battle with lung cancer. His church started in 1965 as a tiny ministry that appealed to a counter-culture crowd, but quickly blossomed into an enormous brand with more than 1,000 chapels across the nation.

The lawsuit alleges that the church board and Smith’s son-in-law hastened the pastor’s death, took control of the Costa Mesa-based ministry and cheated Smith’s wife and family out of money they were owed.


Calvary Chapel board member and pastor Roger Wing, who is named in the lawsuit, declined comment, but said the church hopes to answer questions once it has reviewed the suit.

Chuck Smith Jr., a son who is no longer affiliated with his father’s church, called the suit “groundless” and “deplorable.”

The suit seeks unspecified damages on behalf of one of Smith’s daughters, Janette Manderson, and his widow, Kay Smith.

The suit names Calvary Chapel and its board of directors, but most of the accusations are leveled at Brian Brodersen, who is married to Smith’s youngest daughter and took the church’s reins after her father’s death.

Manderson says Brodersen and the board oversaw Smith’s in-home care while his health deteriorated in 2013. The suit alleges the board selected a nurse who was loyal to Brodersen and who then refused to call paramedics the night of Smith’s death.

When paramedics arrived after an hour of delays, they said they might have saved Smith, or at least eased his pain, had the family called earlier, according to the lawsuit.

But in a statement that Chuck Smith Jr. posted on Facebook, the pastor’s son said his father was in hospice care at home after doctors informed the family there was nothing more they could do to stop his cancer.

Smith’s caregiver did not call 911 because the pastor was not in pain and the family expected him to die, the son wrote.

Immediately after the pastor’s death, the lawsuit alleges, Brodersen and the board began taking control of the pieces of Smith’s multimillion-dollar ministry.

The younger Smith said he is puzzled by the lawsuit.

“The only motivation I can see for the suit is malice and greed,” he wrote.