Finnish police investigate claims against Peter Youngren
VASAA, FINLAND—Police in Finland are investigating allegations that Peter Youngren and his assistant, Taina Kuusiluoma, illegally used a Finnish evangelical organization's mailing list to smear its board members.
In April ChristianWeek reported on Youngren's expanding Canadian and international ministries and the charismatic preacher's marital troubles. Last year Youngren purchased Canada's largest Christian channel and rebranded it Grace TV.
ChristianWeek has since learned that a Finnish evangelical organization recently expelled Youngren from its board and is taking him to court. Youngren—who is headlining a series of evangelistic festivals in Asia, the Middle East and Africa this summer—e-mailed ChristianWeek from India to say the fiasco in Finland is "frivolous and laughable at best."
Falling out in Finland
In 1993 Finnish pastor David Sterling invited Youngren to hold evangelistic meetings in Finland. Youngren also joined the board of fledgling evangelical organization Evankeliumi Kaikkiin Maihin (EKM). EKM and Youngren's Canada-based World Impact Ministries subsequently worked together on a number of evangelistic campaigns in various parts of the world. Youngren also joined the board of EKM's publishing company Helmi-Media.
But somewhere along the line the relationship between Youngren and the EKM board turned sour.
David Sterling, vice-chairman of EKM, says it started when the EKM board learned about Youngren's marital difficulties and suggested he take a year off from active ministry to straighten things out.
Last August, Sterling says, Youngren informed the EKM board of problems in his marriage and that he and his wife RoxAnne were "separated." Sterling says he confirmed this in a telephone conversation with RoxAnne in September.
"We presented him with a proposal that he would take time out for one year to try and rebuild his marriage and his personal life, but he was aggressively against this," Sterling told ChristianWeek.
Relationships between Youngren and the board continued to deteriorate. In January 2010 Youngren, with Kuusiluoma's help, allegedly sent a letter to about 6,000 people on EKM's mailing list. In the letter—a copy of which has been obtained by ChristianWeek—Youngren accuses Sterling and board chair Tom Lipkin of misusing EKM funds, holding secret board meetings and attempting to hijack the organization.
Sterling says EKM's reputation in Finland has been seriously harmed by the letter. He also says the list of addresses was confidential in accordance with EU privacy laws, and that Youngren had no right to use it.
EKM had shared the list with Youngren for the purpose of sending a postcard from an evangelistic festival in Pakistan. A written agreement signed by both parties stipulated that the list was to be used once and then destroyed.
But when the EKM board asked Youngren to relinquish the list in December 2009, he refused, saying it was his personal property.
"There was a complete lack of trust, a lack of confidence between him and the rest of the board. We had no options," says Sterling. In February, EKM expelled Youngren from the boards of EKM and Helmi-Media.
Youngren and Kuusiluoma allegedly sent a second letter to the Finnish mailing list in March charging the board of EKM with "stealing" money designated for missions work.
EKM has filed a report with Finnish police and is pressing charges against Youngren.
Youngren tells a different story. He says the conflict between him and the EKM board started three years ago over the use of finances. In an e-mail Youngren told ChristianWeek the mailing list belongs to him.
"I claim ownership because all names on the list have been added at my personal invitation through public meetings and TV," Youngren wrote. "All the people on the database have received promises from me that they will receive reports and teaching articles. This is my database, which I have allowed EKM to use."
Sterling says the addresses were obtained under EKM and that Finnish and EU privacy laws don't permit an individual to use such a list to ask for funds.
Youngren has now set up an office for World Impact Ministries in Finland with a board consisting of three members that includes himself and Kuusiluoma.
In March, Finland's Christian TV channel TV7 stopped broadcasting a 30-minute program produced by World Impact Ministries which had been airing in Finland for about four years.
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