Don Armstrong: The Condensed Version

This strange story has, as they say, staying power.

Since March, reams and reams have been written about the ongoing saga of the Rev. Don Armstrong and his breakaway Grace Church and St. Stephen’s Parish in Colorado Springs. Among the highlights: a near-pieing, illegal parking and accusations that the anti-gay Armstrong misappropriated hundreds of thousands in church funds.

Keep reading for the condensed version.

Armstrong once led the largest Episcopal church in Colorado. Now he is under ecclesiastical indictment, accused of misappropriation of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Here’s the breakdown: Tax fraud – try nearly $550,000 worth; and inappropriately taking nearly $400,000 in church funds to pay for college for his children and for other personal uses; and, improper use of church funds to the tune of another $250,000.

Throughout the ongoing drama, no criminal charges have been filed against Armstrong — who maintains his innocence.

He and a few hundred of his followers are refusing to leave the physical church, a gorgeous old landmark in downtown Colorado Springs. They are now connected with the Episcopal Diocese of Nigeria. The rest of the congregation is currently gathering, at another church a few blocks away.

Things have recently gotten a bit kooky. There was the recent failed attempt to throw a pie in Armstrong’s face in the middle of one of his sermons (the reverend ducked behind the pulpit when he saw the banana crème sailing his way). The pie-thrower was captured by members of the congregation, arrested and later claimed he was making a political statement.

There was the surreptitious photographing by a team of Newspeak blog reporters capturing Armstrong illegally parking his Jeep Rubicon twice in one morning, to dash into Starbucks for his frappucino fix.

There’s the Nigerian angle, and the Episcopals’ evolving position on homosexuality. Faced with his church openly ordaining a gay minister and backing same-gender unions (not to mention the accusations of misappropriation of funds), Armstrong and his followers split with the church earlier this year, and have joined forces with the Church of Nigeria, whose archbishop is Peter Akinola — and who, as the Colorado Springs Independent has pointed out, has written such stuff as this:

“Homosexuality or lesbianism or bestiality is to us a form of slavery, and redemption from it is readily available through repentance and faith in the saving grace of our Lord, Jesus the Christ,” Akinola wrote in an essay.

And there have been statements, and more statements, and more statements still issued by Armstrong supporters and by the Episcopal Diocese of Colorado. There have been so many developments in this story that the key players are now finding themselves having to repeat efforts of the past. This week for example, the pro-Armstrong faction voted to join up with the Nigerian group. The announcement left many scratching their heads. Hey! Didn’t they already do that in March?

The saga continues. Bottom line, no matter how many times Armstrong’s followers take their latest vote, two things are clear in this sordid drama:

1. The Episcopal Diocese of Colorado wants its $17 million church building/landmark back.
2. Armstrong doesn’t want to give it up.

Stay tuned.

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Cara Degette

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