Western Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C. v. Miles, s. 666

Decision Date06 March 1963
Docket NumberNos. 666,668,667,s. 666
Citation129 S.E.2d 600,259 N.C. 1
CourtNorth Carolina Supreme Court
PartiesThe WESTERN CONFERENCE OF ORIGINAL FREE WILL BAPTISTS OF NORTH CAROLINA, an Unincorporated Rcligious Association et al. and J. G. Teasley et al., known as the J. G. Teasley Faction, v. James A. MILES et al., known as the James A. Miles Faction. The WESTERN CONFERENCE OF ORIGINAL FREE WILL BAPTISTS OF NORTH CAROLINA, an Unincorporated Religious Association et al., v. Ronald CREECH. J. G. TEASLEY et al., known as the J. G. Teasley Faction, v. Ronald CREECH.

Arthur Vann, Durham, and Clarence M. Kirk, Wendell, for plaintiffs, appellants.

Lake, Boyce & Lake, Raleigh, for defendants, appellees.

I. Joseph Horton, Snow Hill, for Central Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, amicus curiae.

Hubert Phillips, Kenansville, for North Carolina State Convention of Original Free Will Baptists, amicus curiae.

Johnson, Gamble & Hollowell, Raleigh, for Cape Fear Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, amicus curiae.

R. S. Langley, Kinston, and Robert D. Wheeler, Grifton, for Eastern Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, amicus curiae.

Maupin, Broughton, Taylor & Ellis, Raleigh, for National Association of Original Free Will Baptists of the United States, amicus curiae.

William A. Mahler, Jr., Raleigh, for State Association of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., Blue Ridge Association of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., Coastal Association of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., General Conference of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., Jack's Creek Association of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., and Piedmont Association of Original Free Will Baptists of N. C., amici curiae.

MOORE, Justice.

This is the second time we have heard appeals in these cases. At the Fall Term 1961 defendants appealed from orders continuing temporary injunctions to the final hearings. We modified and affirmed the temporary restraining orders, and as a result defendants were enjoined, pending final determination of the actions, in general as follows: (1) The Miles faction was restrained from excluding the Teasley faction from the use and possession of the church property; (2) defendant Creech was restrained from holding himself out as an Original Free Will Baptist minister by reason of ordination by or membership in the Western Conference; and (3) defendant Creech was restrained from serving as pastor of Edgemont. Western Conference, etc., v. Creech, 256 N.C. 128, 123 S.E.2d 619. The opinion summarizes proceedings had prior to and in the course of that appeal, and sets out the injunctive orders in detail.

At the March 1962 Term of Superior Court the case first listed in the caption, Western Conference and Teasley faction v. Miles faction (our Docket No. 666), came on for trial before Judge Hobgood and a jury. The other two cases were not tried on the merits.

Plaintiffs' evidence (in case 666), offered in support of the allegations of the complaint, tends to show in substance the following facts (paragraphed and numbered by us):

(1). The Original Free Will Baptist denomination of North Carolina originated in 1727. There are presently 50,000 members in the State. The local churches send delegates to an annual State Convention. The local churches have membership in geographically convenient Conferences within the State. There are nine Conferences. The Western Conference was formed in 1886. Presently about fifty churches, having a total of about 10,000 members, are associated in the Western Conference.

(2). Many years ago the State Convention adopted and promulgated a treatise of faith and government (Discipline) for the Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina. It has been revised from time to time, and was last revised in 1955. It has been recognized, observed and adopted as the ecclesiastical law of the denomination by the Conferences and local churches. The Western Conference has been governed by it. The Western Conference adopted the 1955 revision in an annual session held at Edgemont. The Western Conference has a constitution and by-laws of its own, not inconsistent with the Discipline. Certain customs, practices and usages, as disclosed by the official minutes of the Conference sessions, have become recognized and accepted by the Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina as a part of their church polity. According to the Discipline, 'The Annual Conference, the highest tribunal, shall have final disciplinary authority over the local church. ' As between the Conference and the local church there is a connectional form of government. Local churches are organized by the Conferences, and the Conferences have exclusive authority to ordain and discipline pastors. By custom and usage the Conference may discipline local churches and decide between factions within the local church.

(3). Edgemont was formed in accordance with the Discipline in 1922, was received into the membership of the Western Conference in 1923, has at all times since had continuous membership therein, has adhered to the customs, practices and usages of the Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, and has participated in the programs and policies of the Western Conference and the denomination. Title to the property of Edgemont is in 'Trustees of Edgemont Free Will Baptist Church.'

(4). In August 1960 unrest, strife and dissension arose in Edgemont Church. The Miles faction and Creech, then pastor, had set out upon a course of departure from the fundamental tenets, faith, polity and customs of the Original Free will Baptists of North Carolina. The Teasley faction remained true to the faith and reported the offenses and derelictions of the Miles group to the officials of the Western Conference. The Executive Committee and the Board of Ordination, which function for the Western Conference when not in session, attempted during the latter part of 1960 and the early part of 1961 to have the Miles faction and Creech attend meetings called by the Committee and Board that the charges might be heard and discussed and that recommendations might be made. Though notice of the charges and the time and place of meetings was given, the Miles faction refused to be present and participate in any of the meetings, but undertook to expel the Teasley faction from offices and membership in the church, to withdraw the church from the Western Conference, to petition for membership in another Conference, to confer authority upon Creech to perform marriage ceremonies, and to otherwise defy the jurisdiction and authority of the Western Conference. They seized the church property and by threats barred the Teasley faction therefrom. The Executive Committee and the Board of Ordination finally heard the charges in the absence of the Miles faction, though the latter had been given notice of the meeting and had been directed to attend. The Committee and Board made a written report to the Conference.

(5). At a session of the Western Conference the report was heard and considered. By a vote of 88 to 10 the Conference recognized the Teasley faction as the true congregation of Edgemont. Thereafter, the Teasley faction demanded possession of the church property. Defendants refused. The Teasley faction, as the true congregation, elected trustees and other officers for Edgemont.

(6). The Miles faction has departed from the tenets, faith, polity and customs of the Original Free Will Baptists of North Carolina, as they were recognized and observed prior to August 1960, in that it failed and refused to cooperate with the Western Conference, State Convention and other churches in support of denominational institutions, programs and enterprises; advocated and tolerated the doctrine of 'eternal security' which is contrary to the declaration of faith entitled 'Perseverance of the Saints,' as set out in the Discipline; refused to use the Sunday School literature printed and distributed for and on behalf of the denomination; refused to avow and re-affirm adherence to the Discipline and the customs and usages of the denomination when requested to do so by the Conference; defied the orders and requests of the Western Conference and undertook to appeal therefrom to the National Association when no such appeal is authorized by the Discipline; seized the property and records of the church and retained them in defiance of the orders of the Western Conference; expelled members maliciously and without a hearing; arbitrarily removed from office duly elected officials; recognized Creech as pastor after the Conference had withdrawn his credentials, and undertook to confer on him the authority to perform marriage ceremonies; refused to support the Mount Olive Junior College and openly criticized it; ceased making gifts to the Board of Superannuation of Original Free Will Baptist Churches of North Carolina; discontinued support of the Mission Boards and the Free Will Baptist Children's Home; permitted the Western Conference officials and member ministers to be openly criticized in the church bulletin; and permitted independent ministers to fill its pulpit in preference to ministers duly ordained by the Conferences.

In summary, defendants' evidence tends to show:

(1). Edgemont is an independent, autonomous, congregational type church of the Original Free Will Baptist faith. Its government is by majority rule. The Western Conference is a voluntary association of churches organized to promote activities and enterprises in which the member churches are interested. It does not represent individual churches. The Discipline is not an official document of the Western Conference, but it provides that 'Each local church is a distinct and independent organization, with full authority to manage its own internal affairs, elect its officers, receive, dismiss, discipline and exclude members. ' No Conference has ever interfered with local church...

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