Michigan Supreme Court to Consider Church-State Separation Case

Court parses principle of separation of church and state.

The Michigan Supreme Court will decide whether courts may step into resolve a dispute between dueling factions of a Baptist congregation without violating the separation of church and state.

The court agreed Thursday to decide whether it will take the case or allow a lower court decision to stand.

The case dates back to 2011, when members of the Pilgrim’s Rest Baptist Church in Grand Rapids were divided as to whether keep or fire their pastor, who had embezzled money from the congregation.

The argument got so fierce that eventually there were two competing boards of directors that both claimed control over the church and its assets. The faction that wanted to fire the pastor went to court. The supporters argued courts had no place meddling in the church’s business.

The pastor’s supporters won on that point in the Kent County Circuit Court, but lost in the Michigan Court of Appeals. So, the losing side is challenging the appeals court ruling. It held this is a property dispute, not a theological one, and it’s exactly the sort of argument courts are supposed to resolve.