CHARLESTON - A former Teays Valley youth minister has filed a suit against his church, claiming he was denied a leadership role in the church after he tried to file a sexual harassment complaint against his pastor.
Craig Gobel filed the suit June 16 in Kanawha Circuit Court against the Church of the Nazarene and Charles A. Williams, the pastor of the Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene.
Marvin Smith, the superintendent of the church, the Church of the Nazarene International and the General Board of the Church of the Nazarene are also named as defendants.
Gobel and his family began attending the Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene in 2002 while Williams was pastor. Prior to attending the Teays Valley church, he attended another Nazarene church.
He received his local minister's license from the other Nazarene church, pursuant to the standards, doctrines and government of the Church of the Nazarene, including the South District, the suit says.
After receiving his license, he went to the Church of the Nazarene, West Virginia South District Bible College, pursuing the degree of "Elder," with the intent of being an Ordained Elder in the South District.
In 2002, he started working with Teays Valley Church of the Nazarene as the church's Youth Minister and Associate Pastor.
According to the suit, Gobel attended a meeting at the church with Williams in July 2003, to discuss his plan and direction.
At the end of the meeting, Gobel and Williams shared "a light 'brotherly' hug," which was customary between the two, the suit says.
However, during this particular hug, Williams allegedly raised his leg and placed it between the Gobel's legs, pressing his leg against Gobel's genital area.
"At the same time, Williams brushed his lips along (Gobel's) ear and whispered to (him), 'I need you,'" the suit says.
Gobel attempted to push Williams away, but Williams resisted, rubbed his genital area about Gobel's hip and help him tighter, until Gobel pushed him away and left the church building.
"After leaving the church building on his way to his vehicle, (Gobel) became nauseated and vomited several times," the suit says.
Gobel and his family stopped attending the church and returned to their previous church.
On Oct. 12, 2004, Gobel and two other former members of the Teays Valley Church sent a letter to Smith, in his capacity as superintendent and board member of the South District Advisory Board, outlining the above allegations and asking for a formal investigation.
On Nov. 23, 2004, Smith informed Gobel that the South District would undertake no formal investigation because no member of the church in good standing had signed off on the charges against Williams.
One of the other former members of the Teays Valley Church then sent a letter to W. Talmadge Johnson, then a general superintendent of Nazarene International, addressing the allegations of sexual misconduct/harassment.
No response has been returned.
Another letter was sent to Jack Stone, general secretary of Nazarene International, again addressing the allegations of sexual misconduct/harassment against Williams. On Jan. 5, 2005, he responded, saying the jurisdiction for the allegations was with the South District, not the General Board of the Board of Superintendents of the Church of the Nazarene, therefore a formal investigation was denied.
In March 2005, after nearly four months of denying a formal investigation, Smith contacted Gobel to arrange a meeting.
"At some point during the meeting, defendant Mervin Smith leaned over his desk and said to Gobel, 'Sonny (Williams) told me that you must have enjoyed it,'" the suit says.
Gobel was then told an investigation was going to be sought against him by members of the Teays Valley church. He later learned that was not true. Gobel was also told not to come back to the Board unless he could produce someone who had been fondled who was in good standing with the church. The meeting then adjourned.
Having been denied a formal investigation, Williams continued to pursue ordination as elder in the South District, the suit says. He requested the ordinance, but was told by Smith that he was too late and would have to wait until the following year.
In June 2006, he submitted the application again. On his application, he was asked if he had been involved in "church troubles of any kind." He responded yes, and indicated that he had accused Williams of sexual misconduct.
He received a letter dated June 12, 2006, from the South District Advisory Board, signed by Charles A. Seabolt, the secretary, informing that the Board denied his request because he was guilty of conduct unbecoming of a minister, the suit says.
The Board extended an invitation to let Gobel speak with the Board alone, to discuss their decision, to which he agreed.
At the meeting, Gobel was accused of trying to stir up trouble by responding yes. The Board then asked Gobel to formally apologize, and fill out the application form again, leaving the question blank.
Gobel was informed June 20, 2006, that by a vote of 8-0, his request would be delayed for a one-year evaluation period. The letter also started that if he issued a written apology and submitted a new application, his license would be approved.
Gobel agreed to the one-year evaluation period. However, after the year, his elder ordination request was denied.
He was told another one-year evaluation period would be needed.
Gobel was then told that his request would continue to be denied unless he agreed to "close his file" on Williams.
Gobel refused to issue such a written apology because of its untruthfulness, and, as a result, was denied his ordination and had his district minister's license revoked.
In the eight-count suit, Gobel claims he suffered severe emotional distress and will likely continue to suffer it in the future. He claims he also suffered pecuniary loss, for which he is entitled to recover damages.
He seeks unspecified compensatory and punitive damages.
Attorney Brian Ooten is representing Gobel. The case has been assigned to Judge Jennifer Bailey Walker.
Kanawha Circuit Court case number 08-C-1178