Internal struggles of an NI church laid bare: Irish League star-turned-pastor accused own brother of ‘rebellion’

The internal struggles of an evangelical movement set up by an ex-Irish League star have been laid bare in a report by the Charity Commission.

By Adam Kula
Wednesday, 9th December 2020, 12:01 am
Updated Thursday, 10th December 2020, 10:00 am
Glenn Dunlop with the league-winners cup in 1997; today he is a Christian pastor
Glenn Dunlop with the league-winners cup in 1997; today he is a Christian pastor

It conducted a review of three charities connected to the Karmel City Church in Belfast, and told all of them that they should close.

In its report, it finds that church founder Glenn Dunlop is understood to have charged his own brother with “rebellion”, and insisted on being in overall command of decisions because his authority was “God-ordained”.

The report also says there was a lack of transparency about a £600,000 donation, and that Mr Dunlop at one point used £15,000 in charity funds as a loan to himself, to cover car payments (more below).

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INTERNAL POWER STRUGGLES:

The story began 21 years ago this month, when Mr Dunlop founded Karmel City Church. It grew from a gathering of just several people meeting at home to a congregation of about 180 people.

It was based at the northern end of Ravenhill Road in east Belfast (though last year announced it would be moving to a warehouse in Roden Street, south Belfast).

Mr Dunlop is a retired footballer who was much-feted as a defender for Crusaders (a team he stuck with for almost two decades).

His movement was split into three entities: The Karmel Trust (which centred on overseas evangelism), Make A Difference Worldwide (focussed on relief and aid work), and Karmel City Church (dealing with local church work).

Glenn Dunlop was senior pastor, and a charity trustee of the church.

The Charity Commission received concerns in April 2019 about how the church, as a charity, was being governed.

It investigated, finding that it seemed “all strategic and financial decisions were ultimately made by Mr Glenn Dunlop [who] believed that he had a ‘God-ordained authority’ to assume control” of church governance.

He also believed “the board of trustees existed only in an advisory capacity and did not have ‘actual power’... as ‘church is not meant to be a democracy’”.

The report goes on to state that, as internal splits within the church emerged, Glenn is understood to have charged his brother Warren Dunlop, and a Mr Edwin Tease, with “rebellion and non-submission” – with a view to suspending them as elders.

However the report goes on to say: “Ultimately a letter of excommunication was read aloud to the congregation of the church on April 28, 2019.”

Glenn Dunlop then went on to encourage the congregation to withold their £3,750-per-week donations, and set up a new church – Karmel Apostolic House – with the congregation leaving to join him.

TRIO OF CHARITIES TOLD THEY SHOULD SHUT:

The commission’s investigation of the church and the other two charities found “evidence of mismanagement and misconduct across the charities”.

There were “obvious failings in corporate governance in each of the three charities” and they have all now closed, with remaining assets to be “passed to other charities with similar charitable purposes”.

As well as general misgivings about corporate governance, such as not holding regular meetings or keeping proper minutes, there were a number of specific financial concerns:

l> These included “a lack of transparency by the senior pastor about the origin and purpose” of a £600,000 donation from a private individual (some of which ended up being returned to that individual).

l> In 2017 Glenn Dunlop dipped into charity funds “to provide himself with a short term loan of £15,000 to cover personal car financing” (though this was repaid weeks later).

l> Numerous payments, called ‘love offerings’, were made to individuals seemingly recommended by Glenn Dunlop, but this process “appears to lack the degree of transparency expected” from a charity.

The report ends by noting Glenn Dunlop says it contains “inaccuracies and unproven allegations” (but that he declined to comment on any specifics).

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