Great Falls

Mar 12, 2014 9:27 PM by Sanjay Talwani (sanjay@kxlh.com)

MT Supreme Court: Minority of members can keep Lutheran Church

HELENA -- The Montana Supreme Court has partially reversed a ruling on a property dispute among factions of Great Falls Lutherans who disagreed over the role of gay clergy in the church.

The ruling, issued on Wednesday, will allow a minority group of members of Faith Lutheran Church of Great Falls to keep control of church property, but will not give them control of a foundation associated with the church.

The dispute began when the Evangelican Lutheran Church of America decided in 2009 to allow people in same-sex relationships to enter the clergy.

That created a rift in Faith Lutheran, and 71% of its members voted to split off. That splitting group also said it was entitled to all the church property and that of the Foundation for the Endowment of Faith Lutheran Church.

But the remaining members, who called themselves New Hope Lutheran Ministry, said that under the church's constitution, a split of 90% of the church is needed to allow the group splitting off to take the property from the remaining members.

In the unanimous seven-judge order, the high court said it was not ruling on the underlying doctrinal issue, but it agreed with a District Court that the remaining minority of the church had the rights to keep the church property.

On question of the church's foundation, which has its own board of directors, the high court disagreed with the lower court and said the minority should not also gain control of the foundation.

Tax forms filed by the foundation show its endowment about $381,000 at the end of 2012.

The court included District Judge Job Oldenburg, sitting in for Justice Laurie McKinnon, and Gregory Todd, sitting in for former Justice Brian Morris.

Click here to read the full text of the court's decision (PDF).

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