The Number One Reason That Churches End Up In Litigation
There was a church in Tennessee that practiced foot washing. But then a great debate arose over which foot you should wash first (the Bible doesn’t say). The argument became so heated that eventually the century-old congregation split into two churches – the Right Foot Baptist Church and the Left Foot Baptist Church. For the past decade, the number one reason churches ended up in court was the sexual abuse of minors. But now, the top cause for church litigation is a different problem – property disputes. And in just about every case it involves conservative congregations wanting to depart increasingly liberal denominations. But those old-time religion folk are discovering that the bylaws of their denomination often state that all assets (land and building) belong to the head office (even if the local church parishioners have paid for all of it out of their own pockets) and the national governing body has the signature of the local trustees so stating. This came to a head in Canada when a conservative Anglican church wanted to leave their liberal diocese. The diocese took the congregation to court and not only did the Supreme Court of Canada side in favour of the diocese concerning ownership of assets, but ordered the local church to pay all legal costs (over $100,000).
The bottom line? In liberal denominations, the devil is not only in the doctrine but also in the details.
Story – This true story comes from Paul Harvey Jr., the well-known TV and radio personality. He wrote about an event that is either the most phenomenal coincidence to ever occur or must have been an act of God. It took place in the tiny town of Swan Quarter, North Carolina. Some 125 years ago, the Methodists of Swan Quarter had no church building. Several times, they petitioned a shrewd, prosperous landowner, seeking to build on the choicest real estate on high ground near the town, but to no avail. The only available property to them was a plot of low-lying land on Oyster Creek Road. Finally, construction began at that site for a modest white-frame building, propped upon brick pilings. The work was completed in the summer of 1876, and on Sept. 16, a Sunday, a joyous dedication ceremony was held. Three days later, a terrible storm lashed Swan Quarter. All day that Wednesday, the wind howled and the rain came down in a gray wall of water. By nightfall, much of the town was flooded, roofs were ripped from homes, and devastation was everywhere. The storm raged on through the night and into a bleak morning. By Thursday afternoon the wind subsided, and the rain all but stopped. An uneasy calm settled on the town. The residents of Swan Quarter pushed back window shutters and peered out from what was left of their homes. Most saw only desolation in a town that had been ravaged by nature. Except those with views of Oyster Creek Road. What they saw was truly incredible. The church – the Swan Quarter Methodist Church, the whole building, intact – was floating down the street! Flood waters had lifted the entire structure from the brick pilings on which it rested. The church was slowly, silently, moving along Oyster Creek Road.
Within minutes, concerned citizens were sloshing about in the street, waist-deep in the waters, fighting
the currents, struggling to reach the still-moving church so they could moor it with lengths of rope. The ropes were fastened, but their efforts failed. There was no remaining anchor structure to restrain the floating chapel. As the building moved down the street, it drew more attention, and more aid was enlisted, but all to no avail. The waters bore the church onward. Following Oyster Creek Road, the building reached the center of the town. Dozens of people watched, amazed, as the Swan Quarter Methodist Church, still adrift, made a sharp, inexplicable right turn and continued down that road. It seemed as though the chapel was alive, intently moving on its own. For two more blocks, the townspeople unsuccessfully fought to anchor it with the ropes. They could only gape as yet another mysterious shift occurred in the route. The church veered off the road, seemingly steered itself to the center of a vacant lot, and there stopped. To this day, the people of Swan Quarter cannot explain how the Methodist church ended up on the town’s choicest piece of property – the same piece of land they had begged for on many occasions. The next morning, after discovering the church in the middle of his lot, that balky landowner went to the Methodist minister and, with trembling hands, presented him with the property deed.
✓Note – This is a wonderful story, but one not likely to be repeated here in Canada. No, for many religiously moral conservatives found in liberal main-line denominations, there isn’t the option of keeping your home church and your strong convictions at the same time. Of course, they could leave and go to the Bible-believing Baptist church, to which they respond, “What, do you think I am some kind of radical!” Sad.