LIVERMORE -- The case of a Baptist church's eviction from its place of worship took another twist Friday as the church's pastor and members of the congregation showed up at the shuttered sanctuary to announce they're suing their lender for wrongful eviction.
Calling the situation "David vs. Goliath," St. Matthew's Baptist Church's senior pastor, the Rev. Allen Turner Jr., asserts that his church was unlawfully foreclosed on and illegally evicted from its North Livermore Avenue headquarters Nov. 5.
Turner accused Foundation Capital of using "underhanded" tactics and discriminating against the church's predominately African-American membership.
Foundation Capital has said it has given the church plenty of chances to repay its $5 million debt, and the company is putting the building up for sale.
St. Matthews filed suit Wednesday in Alameda County Superior Court, arguing that the writ used for the eviction was based on a previously vacated court judgment. A hearing is scheduled for April.
"We want the church back; that's all we want," Turner said. "We're taking this as high up as we can. We have to get their attention. It's just flat-out wrong."
Turner says the church secured a conditional loan of nearly $4.6 million to buy back the church, but Foundation Capital, which offers loans to build churches across the country, refused the offer. Foundation Capital is operated by Assemblies of God, one of the nation's largest funding sources for churches.
"We're a small denomination," Turner said. "They don't want this church to stand."
Foundation Capital attorney John McCardle said he hadn't read the lawsuit and wouldn't comment on it, saying the lender has no ulterior motive in seeking the eviction.
"They're not being discriminated against in any manner," McCardle said. "Foundation Capital is going to sell that property, and their concern is not the denominational background of whoever buys it."
Foundation Capital foreclosed on St. Matthew's in 2011, but the church was able to fend off eviction through the courts until Nov. 5, when sheriff's deputies locked the doors. The church was founded in Livermore in 1977 and says it has nearly 900 members.
The gathering in front of the church's former home followed a hearing Thursday in Hayward where, after an hourlong heated discussion behind closed doors, Judge Stephen Kaus denied a motion to set aside the eviction. Turner said the church will appeal.
McCardle said that although the eviction was carried out with an old writ, the lender still has a valid court judgment. The judge agreed, saying it didn't make sense to give the church back to St. Matthew's.
"Justice was served," McCardle said. "The fact they're no longer in this building doesn't mean they're no longer a church."
Foundation Capital says St. Matthew's owes them more than $5 million. Jim Duncan, the lender's director of real estate services, said the church never made a "serious" offer to buy the building, and was given numerous chances to pay their bills.
"They should've left two years ago," Duncan said. "They're trying to find a loophole to say we shouldn't have done it yet."
Duncan said the St. Matthew's building, which he said appraised at about $6 million, will be placed on the market, adding the company ideally would look for another church to occupy it.
"We're very patient and long-suffering," he added. "At some point, you've got to move on."
Contact Jeremy Thomas at 925-847-2184. Follow him at Twitter.com/jet_bang.