Baber v. Caldwell

Citation152 S.E.2d 23, 207 Va. 694
Case DateJanuary 16, 1967
CourtSupreme Court of Virginia

Page 23

152 S.E.2d 23
207 Va. 694
Billy T. BABER, Chairman, etc., et al.
v.
M. Boyd CALDWELL et al.
Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia.
Jan. 16, 1967.

[207 Va. 695]

Page 24

Robert S. Irons, Radford (Hale Collins, Covington, on brief), for appellants.

George W. Draper, Roanoke (Dillow & Andrews, Pearisburg, on brief), for appellees.

Before EGGLESTON, C.J., and SPRATLEY, BUCHANAN, SNEAD, I'ANSON, CARRICO and GORDON, JJ.

GORDON, Justice.

Intra-congregational strife in the Level Green Christian Church incited this litigation. The complainants, representing a majority of the congregation, brought suit to establish their right to control the activities of the Church and the use of its property. The trial Court denied the complainants any relief, however, and upheld the right of the minority group to control the Church activities and property as prayed in its cross-bill.

Virginia law recognizes the right of a majority of the members of a divided congregation to control the use of the church property if the church, in its organization and government, is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society. Code § 57--9. 1

Page 25

But the majority cannot, by reason of a change of views on [207 Va. 696] religious subjects, divert the use of the property "to the support of new and conflicting doctrine". Cheshire v. Giles, 144 Va. 253, 260, 132 S.E. 479, 481 (1926).

The trial Court found that the Level Green Christian Church was not such an independent church. It also found in effect that the majority group had 'breached the trust' on which the Church property was held 'by diverting the property of the Church to their own use to the support of doctrines radically and fundamentally opposed to' the doctrines formerly adhered to by the Church. Our decision on appeal depends upon whether the evidence supported these findings. 2

The Church now known as the 'Level Green Chirstian Church' was established in the nineteenth century as 'The Church of Christ, Worshiping at Level Green, Craig County, Virginia'. The present dissension between the majority and minority groups of the Church erupted after Jack Harris became pastor in March 1963. At that time Christian churches and their ministers were divided into two camps, the Disciples and the Independents. Mr. Harris, whom a majority of the congregation supported, was an Independent. 3

In September 1963, members of the minority group of the Church invited a Disciples minister, Jack Hamilton, to conduct an 'evangelistic campaign' at the church beginning September 29. Mr. Hamilton knew the Board of Elders and Deacons of the Church had passed a resolution requiring Board approval before any person could preach in the church. He knew also that the Board had not given its approval to his preaching in the church. Nevertheless, he appeared at the church on the evening of September 29 to begin the evangelistic campaign. He did not conduct the campaign, however, because the church doors and windows had been closed and locked.

In the meantime, at a meeting of the congregation of the Church on September 15, 1963, the members voted to sustain the resolution of the Board requiring its approval before any minister could preach [207 Va. 697] in the church. Members of the minority group who attended the meeting did not vote, so the resolution was passed unanimously. 4

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This suit was instituted in October 1963. In their bill of complaint (as amended and supplemented) the Chairman of the Board of Elders and Deacons and the Trustees of the Church prayed that the defendants (the minority group) be enjoined 'from further interfering with or disrupting the orderly and proper conduct and operation of said Level Green Christian Church, or interfering with its duly appointed minister in the performance of his duties, and from holding or attempting to hold any religious services in said Church contrary to the wishes and direction of the majority of the congregation of said Church and its Board of Elders and Deacons, and * * * (for) such other, further and general relief in the premises as the nature of their case may require, or in equity shall seem meet.' The defendants filed a cross-bill in which they asserted their right to use 'said church as a place of worship for the congreation of the Level Green Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)' 5 and prayed for an injunction against interference by the complainants.

All witnesses agreed that the congregation of each Christian church is autonomous, whether the church be designated 'Christian' or 'Christian (Disciples of Christ)' or 'Church of Christ (Christian)'. No super-congregational body controls the action of any Christian church. 6

H. Myron Kauffman, Executive Secretary of the Virginia Christian Missionary Society, was the key witness for the minority group. He said the Disciples 'became in effect a separate movement' in 1955. Mr. Kauffman admitted there was no difference in the fundamental doctrine and faith of the Disciples and the Independents. Explaining the differences between the two groups, he said: 'In so far as Biblical doctrine is concerned on teachings from the Bible there would be no difference. In so far as doctrinal practices so far as the church government or policy is concerned there is a difference in the point [207 Va. 698] of cooperation. There is a difference as to support of missions through societies. There is a difference as to the central teaching of our people at the basic point of Christian unity. The Disciples of Christ believe in Christian unity and have always preached it.'

The Level Green Christian Church severed...

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4 practice notes
  • Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, Record No. 090682
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 10 Junio 2010
    ..."churches, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, that are subject to control by super-congregational bodies."4 Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). The dispute that resulted in the litigation from which these appeals arise involves a complex interplay betwee......
  • The Protestant Episcopal Church In The Diocese Of Va. v. Church, Record No. 090682
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 10 Junio 2010
    ...“churches, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, that are subject to control by super-congregational bodies.” 4 Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). The dispute that resulted in the litigation from which these appeals arise involves a complex interplay betwe......
  • Norfolk Presbytery v. Bollinger
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 14 Enero 1974
    ...denomination in providing for the determination of property rights upon a division of a church or congregation. Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, [214 Va. 503] 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). In the case of a supercongregational church, we hold that Code § 57--15 requires a showing that the pr......
  • Green v. Lewis, No. 781388
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 26 Noviembre 1980
    ...and government, is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society. Code § 57-9; Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 695, 152 S.E.2d 23, 24 (1967). "We construe Code § 57-15 to require that a church property transfer may be ordered only upon a showing that this i......
4 cases
  • Protestant Episcopal Church in the Diocese of Virginia v. Truro Church, Record No. 090682
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 10 Junio 2010
    ..."churches, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, that are subject to control by super-congregational bodies."4 Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). The dispute that resulted in the litigation from which these appeals arise involves a complex interplay betwee......
  • The Protestant Episcopal Church In The Diocese Of Va. v. Church, Record No. 090682
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 10 Junio 2010
    ...“churches, such as Episcopal and Presbyterian churches, that are subject to control by super-congregational bodies.” 4 Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). The dispute that resulted in the litigation from which these appeals arise involves a complex interplay betwe......
  • Norfolk Presbytery v. Bollinger
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 14 Enero 1974
    ...denomination in providing for the determination of property rights upon a division of a church or congregation. Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, [214 Va. 503] 698, 152 S.E.2d 23, 26 (1967). In the case of a supercongregational church, we hold that Code § 57--15 requires a showing that the pr......
  • Green v. Lewis, No. 781388
    • United States
    • Virginia Supreme Court of Virginia
    • 26 Noviembre 1980
    ...and government, is a church or society entirely independent of any other church or general society. Code § 57-9; Baber v. Caldwell, 207 Va. 694, 695, 152 S.E.2d 23, 24 (1967). "We construe Code § 57-15 to require that a church property transfer may be ordered only upon a showing that this i......

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