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“Church Autonomy” Applies in Church Name Dispute

Court barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine from resolving a church member’s lawsuit challenging the legal validity of a vote by church members to change the name of the church.

Last Reviewed: March 22, 2021

Key point 6-12.4. Most courts refuse to intervene in church disputes concerning the validity of a membership meeting that was not conducted in accordance with the procedural requirements specified in the church’s governing documents. However, some courts are willing to intervene in such disputes if they can do so without inquiring into religious doctrine or polity.

A Tennessee court ruled that it was barred by the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine from resolving a church member’s lawsuit challenging the legal validity of a vote by church members to change the name of the church.

In 2017 a church voted to change its name. A church member (the “plaintiff”) was upset with the new name, and filed a lawsuit against the church, pastor, and board of deacons, claiming that the vote to change the name was illegal and void. The plaintiff asked the trial court to set aside the ...

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Posted:
  • March 1, 2019
  • Last Reviewed: March 22, 2021

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