Taylor v. Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, 1160034

CourtSupreme Court of Alabama
Citation242 So.3d 979
Docket Number1160034
Parties Charles Brookins TAYLOR et al. v. PARADISE MISSIONARY BAPTIST CHURCH et al.
Decision Date28 July 2017

242 So.3d 979

Charles Brookins TAYLOR et al.


Supreme Court of Alabama.

July 28, 2017

John W. Thompson II of Thompson, Thompson & Winters, Butler, for appellant Charles Brookins Taylor.

J. Perry Newton and J. Blane Dolbare of Newton & Dolbare, P.C., Butler, for appellees.

BOLIN, Justice.

242 So.3d 980

Charles Brookins Taylor and others identified later in this opinion appeal from an order of the Choctaw Circuit Court holding that Taylor was rightfully removed as the pastor of the Paradise Missionary Baptist Church ("PMBC").

Facts and Procedural History

PMBC was organized in 1993 by Lenora Ray, her late husband Harding Ray, and Thelma Taylor. The members of PMBC initially held church services in Lenora's home until the church acquired property at 1106 East Pushmataha Street in Butler. A $20,000 gift to PMBC by Lenora and her late husband made it possible for the church to acquire the property. PMBC has, since its inception, been affiliated with the Gilfield District Missionary Baptist Association, the Alabama State Missionary Baptist Convention, and the National Baptist Convention. Although PMBC is affiliated with those entities, they do not control PMBC; it remains, as described in the church's bylaws, a "self-determining-autonomous body under the Lordship of Jesus Christ." Charles Brookins Taylor, Thelma's brother, became the pastor at PMBC in 2007.

On August 18, 2010, the members of the congregation of PMBC decided to organize PMBC as a domestic nonprofit corporation pursuant to § 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Code. Also on August 18, 2010, the members of PMBC voted to adopt bylaws. Article 3 of the bylaws sets forth PMBC's purpose as being "to advance the Kingdom of Jesus Christ." Article 4 of the bylaws sets forth PMBC's mission statement: "The mission of PMBC is (1) to be a purpose driven church, ‘a church that acts on faith’—Heb. 11:1–6; (2) to practice the Great Commission—St. Matthew 28:19–20, and the Great Commandment—St. Matthew 22:34–40; and (3) to glorify God by ministering to the spiritual and Human needs in the name of Christ." Article 6 provides that PMBC is a "self-determining-autonomous body under the Lordship of Jesus Christ," the government of which "is vested in the body of the believers who compose it," and that it is "subject to the control of no other ecclesiastical body." Article 7 of the bylaws states that "PMBC receives the Scriptures as its authority in matters of church and practice." Matters of church discipline are found in Article 9. Article 9.02 provides:

"TERMINATION OF MEMBERSHIP: Any person may be terminated from membership by any of the following methods:

"A. By Letter. Any member in full and regular standing who desires a letter of recommendation to a designated church of like faith and order, is entitled to receive it upon his/her request, and such a letter shall be granted by PMBC.

"B. Uniting with another church. If a member of PMBC unites with another church his or her membership in PMBC is terminated automatically.

"C. By exclusion. A member is dismissed after recommendation by the pastor and deacons, and by a vote of the church due reasons and circumstances provided in ARTICLE 9, section 4—Church Discipline. The pastor and deacons will do all they can to counsel the member for restoration prior to action of dismissal or a request of the member to be dismissed from church membership.
242 So.3d 981
"D. INACTIVE MEMBERS. When a person has manifested a lack of interest in the support and life of PMBC for a year by failure to attend services, to communicate with PMBC, or to contribute to it through tithing and general offering, his/her name may be placed on the Inactive List upon recommendation of the pastor and deacons, and confirmed by PMBC.

"1. Persons whose names are on the inactive membership list shall not be counted or reported as members and shall not take part in church business meetings or be eligible to vote or to hold office.

"2. Any person whose name is on the inactive membership list may be reinstated to active membership by recommendation of the Pastor and Deacons, and majority vote of the church.

"E. PROLONGED INACTIVE MEMBER. The church may, after faithful efforts to make such action unnecessary, ... terminate the membership of persons ... whose names appear on the inactive membership rolls for at least (3) consecutive years. The church shall keep a permanent list of such persons."

Article 9.04 provides:

"A. Should any unhappy difference arise among members, the aggrieved member shall follow a tender spirit, the rules given by our Lord in St. Matthew 18:15–17. If the issue is not resolved, the aggrieved member then takes the issue before the Deacons.

"B. Should any case of gross breach of covenant and doctrine, or of public scandal, occur, the Deacons in counsel with the pastor shall endeavor to resolve the conflict, and if this effort fails, shall report the case to the church. The offender, at this stage of resolution, shall not hold a leadership role in the church, pending further action taken by the church.

"C. All such proceedings shall be pervaded by a spirit of Christian kindness and Forbearance, but should and adverse decision be reached, PMBC may proceed to Admonish or declare the offender to be no longer in the membership of PMBC."

Article 11 of the bylaws addresses PMBC's leadership and states that "[t]he leadership of the church shall consist of the Pastor, Deacons Ministry, Trustee Ministry, Women Missionary Ministry's President, Financial Secretary, Treasurer, Sunday School Superintendent, Church Clerk, Director of Christian Education, and Presidents of all other designated Adult Ministries. The leaders shall form the Joint Committee of PMBC." Article 12 provides that the pastor of PMBC is an ecclesiastical officer of the church. Finally, Article 14 of the bylaws addresses the dismissal of the pastor:

"The Pastor shall be considered for dismissal from PMBC only after the alleged charges(s) has been fully investigated and which must include the following steps: (1) The Deacons Ministry and the Joint Board must meet with the Pastor; (2) if PMBC Deacons and Joint Board find the alleged charges to be non-meritorious, no further action is taken; (3) if the Deacons Ministry and PMBC's Joint Board decide[ ] the alleged charges to be meritorious, a written notice containing the specifications of the charge(s) as alleged shall be given by certified mail, return receipt requested[,] to the Pastor at least 14 days prior to a special meeting to be held for this purpose and the pastor shall be accorded an opportunity to defend himself against such charges including the right
242 So.3d 982
of counsel. In the event such charges are not sustained, the pastor shall resume the duties of the pastor and the church shall be responsible for the payment of reasonable counsel fees incurred by the pastor in defending himself against such allegations."

By 2012, PMBC's membership of 16 persons had fractured into 2 groups. It is alleged that the congregation had become dissatisfied with Taylor's service as pastor at PMBC and that Taylor and his close relatives had "started taking over the church" and were behaving in such a way as to have "forced other members from attending church." Taylor headed one group of eight church members, and Lenora, a church trustee, headed the other group of eight church members.

On July 20, 2012, Lenora sent Taylor a letter by certified mail informing him of a specially called meeting to be held at PMBC on August 28, 2012. The letter requested Taylor's attendance at the meeting and indicated that the purpose of the meeting was to decide the issue of Taylor's continued service as pastor at PMBC. The letter gave no "specifications of the charge(s) alleged" against Taylor. It appears from the record that Taylor refused service of this certified letter on three occasions.

In the meantime, a special meeting of PMBC was convened on August 5, 2012, by Taylor's eight-member group. Taylor presided over this meeting and stated that Lenora had not attended any church services since July 8, 2012, and had performed acts that prevented other members and friends from conducting religious services at PMBC. Carolyn G. Taylor, the chairman of the PMBC Board of Trustees ("the Board") and Taylor's wife, moved to seek a restraining order against Lenora to prevent her from attempting to keep Taylor and the members from entering the PMBC or engaging in any other action designed to prevent Taylor and the members present at the meeting from exercising their right to worship at PMBC.

Also at this special meeting, Thelma, a founder and former trustee of PMBC, moved to have Lenora removed as a trustee of PMBC and to nominate Rose E. Taylor—a sister of Taylor's and the clerk of PMBC—as a trustee to the Board. Finally, Thelma moved those members present to approve by a vote of affirmation Taylor's continued service as the pastor of PMBC. Each of these actions was approved by a unanimous vote of those present.

On August 28, 2012, a "mutual" council met with PMBC. The council's purpose was to serve as an advisory body for PMBC and consisted of the following representatives: Reverend Pettus L. Lockett of the Kinterbish District Baptist Association ("the Kinterbish...

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    ...2016)). "'We review de novo whether the trial court had subject matter jurisdiction.'" Taylor v. Paradise Missionary Baptist Church, 242 So.3d 979, 986 (Ala. 2017) (quoting Solomon v. Liberty Nat'l Life Ins. Co., 953 So.2d 1211, 1218 (Ala. 2006)). "'"The appropriate standard of review Rule ......
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