Temple Church of God in Christ
A Tennessee Supreme Court ruling Thursday will help determine who should be the pastor of a Fayette County church.
A disagreement arose in 2011 between the members the Moscow-based Temple Church of God in Christ and its parent group, the Memphis-based Church of God in Christ (COGIC). The two organizations differed on who should be Temple’s pastor.
The disagreement boiled into a dispute over the control and ownership of the church property. Some members of Temple barred the person COGIC assigned as pastor from entering the building or administering the church, according to a statement from the court.
COGIC filed suit in 2015 hoping to declare that it owned the building and had control over it. The trial court dismissed the suit, concluding that the property despite would, ultimately, force it to determine who the church’s pastor would be.
The trial court ruled that deciding an internal, religious matter like that was prohibited by the First Amendment of the United States Constitution. The Court of Appeals in Jackson affirmed the trial court’s decision in 2016.
However, the Tennessee Supreme Court overruled those decisions Thursday. It said courts could and should resolve church property disputes “so long as courts defer to religious organizations on disputes about church discipline, faith, ecclesiastical rule, custom, law, church polity, or the internal governance of the religious organization.”
So, the court deferred to COGIC as to who should be the rightful pastor of the church in Fayette County.
“As for the property dispute, the Supreme Court enforced the language in COGIC’s governing documents which stated that local churches, like the Fayette County church, held their property in trust for COGIC,” the court statement reads. “Because the Fayette County church had voluntarily associated with and agreed to be bound by these governing documents when it joined COGIC, the Supreme Court concluded that COGIC was the rightful owner of the Fayette County church’s real and personal property.”
The Supreme Court sent the matter back to a trial court to work out any final details of giving COGIC ownership of the church.