Recent Developments

Issues that affect ministers and churches
Congregation Loses Property Upon Disaffiliation from Denomination
A local church may lose its property when it withdraws from its denomination.

In a similar case, the Kentucky Supreme Court correctly ruled that a pastor and majority of members in a local Cumberland Presbyterian Church forfeited their right to use and occupy church property when they voted to withdraw from the parent church. In 1987, while the pastor was under investigation by the denomination, he agreed to resign his ministerial credentials in return for the dropping of all charges against him by the denomination. Shortly after the pastor's ministerial credentials were revoked, the church membership voted (58 to 26) to withdraw from the Cumberland Presbyterian Church denomination. At its next meeting, the local presbytery removed the local church's leadership and appointed a commission to oversee the affairs of the church. The commission asked the former pastor and the church board to turn over all funds and records of the church. Upon their refusal to do so, the presbytery sought a court order prohibiting the former pastor from conducting worship services, requiring the former pastor and board to turn over church funds and records, and prohibiting the former pastor and the majority of church members who supported him from exercising any control over the church's building and properties. A trial court refused to issue such an order, and the presbytery appealed. A state appeals court also refused to grant the relief the presbytery had requested, and the presbytery thereafter appealed the case to the state supreme court. The state supreme court reversed the lower courts' judgments, and ruled in favor of the presbytery. The court based its decision on the so-called "compulsory deference rule." The compulsory deference rule is one method the United States Supreme Court has approved for resolving church property disputes. It was described by the Supreme Court in the landmark case of Watson v. Jones in 1871 as follows:

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Posted: July 1, 1992



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