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Church Business Meetings

• Ambiguous wording in a church constitution or bylaws frequently leads to internal disputes. Such was the case in a recent controversy in Washington. A Lutheran church's constitution provided that "the candidate receiving the majority of all votes cast shall, upon unanimous approval, be declared elected." The church convened a congregational meeting to vote on a pastoral candidate, and the candidate received a majority of the votes cast (but not "unanimous approval"). The candidate was subsequently employed, and a group of dissidents filed a lawsuit in which they asked a civil court to enforce the church's constitutional requirement of "unanimous approval." While noting that the first amendment prohibits a court "from entangling itself in matters of church doctrine or practice," the court concluded that it could resolve controversies, such as this one, involving the interpretation ...

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Richard R. Hammar is an attorney, CPA and author specializing in legal and tax issues for churches and clergy.

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  • January 1, 1988

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