DENOMINATIONAL TIES THAT BIND

We have reported many times the attempts of local churches, some clever and some blundering, to slip the ties that once happily kept them snug in the denomination once those ties became odious.  Almost uniformly, those efforts have failed.  Hierarchical denominations receive greater deference regarding internal decisions about property and ministers.

In Dong San Church Corporation v Park, Slip Op. (Cal. App. 2020), the trial granted summary judgment to the denomination in a lawsuit for declaratory judgment and to quiet title.  The Court of Appeals affirmed.  The local church was a member of the denomination for more than two decades.  The local church was led by an interim pastor that was not confirmed as pastor by the denomination because of legal issues unresolved in South Korea.  To keep the interim pastor, the local church sought disaffiliation with the denomination.  The interim pastor and some members of the local church disassociated themselves from the denomination.  The courts held that the disaffiliation effort by the local church was not effective under the denominational governance documents.  The disassociation of the interim pastor and some of the members did not change the affiliation of the local church.  The denomination appointed a new pastor and the court quieted title in favor of the denomination.

The denomination probably should have not have permitted the interim pastor to serve as long as he did given the serious nature of the unresolved legal issues in South Korea.  Appointment of a replacement pastor should have been the choice rather than the wait and see choice made by the denomination.  Waffling on employment or appointment decisions very often leads to protracted litigation.

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