Friday, November 2, 2012
C.A. Upholds Group’s Right to Fire Pastor of Affiliated Church
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A church presbytery’s firing of the pastor and several other officials of an affiliated congregation was an ecclesiastical decision not subject to judicial review, the Court of Appeal for this district ruled yesterday.
Div. Five affirmed two orders by Los Angeles Superior Court judges denying applications by the Holy Hill Community Church for an injunction restoring Rev. Dong Sub Bang to the pastorate and returning control of church property to Bang and his followers. Bang and three church elders were ousted by the Western California Presbytery of the Korean American Presbyterian Church after a schism developed more than two years ago.
Bang had been senior pastor of the church, located at 1111 W. Sunset Blvd. in Los Angeles, since 2003. The congregation executed a contract of affiliation with the presbytery in 2007, but the pastor and the presbytery clashed after Bang excommunicated a number of the parishioners.
In March of last year, at a congregational meeting led by Bang, the congregation voted to secede from the presbytery, which in turn fired Bang and the elders, named an interim pastor, and appointed a commission to take control of the church property.
The next month, the presbytery took control, changed the locks, and posted security guards to keep Bang and his followers out. The presbytery and the Bang loyalists have been in litigation ever since.
The presbytery sued for declaratory and injunctive relief and an accounting; Bang and his loyalists cross-complained for trespass, declaratory relief, and intentional interference with prospective advantage, and moved for a preliminary injunction.
Superior Court Judge James Chalfant denied the injunction in August of last year. Two months later, a second application was brought, arguing that the denial was improper because the presbytery’s corporate status had been under suspension by the state since 2005.
Judge Ramona See found the issue of corporate status to be irrelevant to the question of injunctive relief and denied the application.
Justice Orville Armstrong, in an unpublished opinion for the Court of Appeal, said the trial judges were both correct.
Civil courts, the justice explained, may apply principles of civil law to church disputes, but must defer to church authorities on ecclesiastical questions, such as the presbytery’s authority to remove the pastor and the elders.
When the congregation agreed by contract to join the presbytery, Armstrong noted, it agreed to be governed by the Book of Order, a governing document of the Korean American Presbyterian Church. That document grants the presbytery broad authority to approve and install pastors, resolve disputes regarding management of church property, to choose elders, and to remove pastors from office, Armstrong explained.
‘Supported by the Record’
“In short, Judge Chalfant’s conclusion that the Church was a member of the Presbytery at the time that the Presbytery removed Rev. Bang from his pastorship was fully supported by the record,” the justice wrote. “Judge Chalfant properly concluded that the Presbytery’s decision to remove Rev. Bang was an ecclesiastical matter not subject to judicial review.”
Armstrong went on to agree with See that there is no rule of law that requires a court to grant an injunction solely because the party against whom the injunction is sought is a suspended corporation.
Justice Sandy Kriegler concurred. Justice Richard Mosk wrote separately, concurring solely on the ground that there was no abuse of judicial discretion.
Attorneys on appeal were Nick A. Alden for Bang and his followers and David B. Parker and William K. Mills of Parker Shumaker Mills for the presbytery.
The case is The Western California Presbytery v. Holy Hill Community Church, B236877.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company