Charles Brookins Taylor et al.
Paradise Missionary Baptist Church et al.
from Choctaw Circuit Court (CV-14-900007)
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").
and Procedural History
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
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
"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.
"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
"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 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 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
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.
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.
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.
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 association");
Reverend Theodis McSwain of the Gilfield District Missionary
Baptist Association ("the Gilfield association");
and Reverend Jasper Irby of the Gilfield association. Taylor
did not attend this meeting. Reverend Lockett expressed his
"sadness" that Taylor was absent, having been
afforded the opportunity to "vindicate himself of the
charges forwarded by the church." The council advised
PMBC to "strive to restore harmony" and suggested a
seven-day restoration period. Although the council had
advised PMBC to "strive to restore harmony" and
suggested a restoration period, it appears from the church
minutes that five members of PMBC present at this
meeting voted to dismiss Taylor. Taylor was informed of the
action taken at the meeting and responded by telling Lenora
that she had no authority to call the meeting.
September 12, 2012, a special meeting was held at PMBC that
appears to have been attended by eight church members. The
purpose of the meeting was to verify the expiration of the
seven-day restoration period given Taylor at the August 28,
2012, meeting. Reverend Irby stated at this meeting that
"nothing could be done to over-rule any decision made by
the church" in the previous meeting held on August 28,
2012. Reverend O.L. Sealey, a representative of the Gilfield
association, moved at this meeting that the decision made at
the meeting on August 28, 2012, to remove Taylor as the
pastor of PMBC be upheld. Lenora seconded this motion. Taylor
was provided notice that his services as pastor were
terminated effective September 17, 2012.
October 4, 2012, Taylor informed Lenora by letter that the
meetings held on August 28, 2012, and September 12, 2012,
were unauthorized and that they were held without following
PMBC's bylaws; that the Gilfield association had no
authority over PMBC and was not authorized to call a
"mutual" council; that she had been removed as a
trustee of PMBC on August 5, 2012; and that he did not accept
the results of the unauthorized meetings of August 28, 2012,
and September 12, 2012. Taylor requested that Lenora
"cease and desist from acting outside the jurisdiction
and the membership body of [PMBC]."
January 10, 2014, PMBC, Lenora, Rosie Drummond, Vernon L.
Harbin, and Billy Ray (hereinafter collectively referred to
as "the Ray plaintiffs") sued Taylor, Carolyn,
Rose, and Thelma (hereinafter collectively referred to as
"the Taylor defendants") seeking injunctive relief.
The Ray plaintiffs alleged, among other things, that Taylor
had behaved in such a bullish and domineering manner as the
pastor of PMBC that the only regular attendees of PMBC are
his close relatives; that Taylor insisted on controlling
everything in the church and had created an atmosphere where
others feel unwelcome; that during a church meeting Taylor
was verbally abusive to Ray; that Taylor has conducted
specially called meetings in violation of PMBC's bylaws;
and that Taylor and the other defendants have appropriated
church assets for their own use and control.
plaintiffs sought an order from the trial court finding that
Taylor's termination as the pastor of PMBC was valid and
requiring the Taylor defendants to return all church
documents, records, and bank accounts in their possession.
The Ray plaintiffs also sought to enjoin Taylor from claiming
to be the pastor at PMBC and to enjoin the Taylor defendants
from "conspiring and claiming that they are the Church
and controlling all aspects of the Church"; from holding
themselves out as having sole and exclusive authority to act
on behalf of PMBC; and from disrupting church activities and
harassing church members.
February 17, 2014, the Taylor defendants moved the trial
court to dismiss the Ray plaintiffs' complaint, arguing,
among other things, that the complaint failed to state a
claim upon which relief could be granted; that the trial
court lacked the jurisdiction to remove a church pastor and
"to interfere with the 'spiritual' or
'ecclesiastical' affairs of any Church"; that
the removal of a pastor is an ecclesiastical matter rather
than a civil matter; and that the alleged removal of Taylor
as the pastor of PMBC was invalid because PMBC's bylaws
were not followed in removing him. The Taylor defendants
supported their motion to dismiss with exhibits.
March 6, 2014, the Ray plaintiffs filed a response in
opposition to the motion to dismiss in which they contended
that they were not asking the trial court to interfere with
the "spiritual" or "ecclesiastical"
affairs of the church by removing Taylor as pastor of PMBC
because they contended that Taylor had already been removed
as the pastor of PMBC by a majority vote of the congregation.
The Ray plaintiffs stated that they were requesting an order
upholding Taylor's removal as the pastor of PMBC. The Ray
plaintiffs alleged that "a majority of the members of
[PMBC] held a valid meeting, a meeting in which [Taylor was]
given proper notice to attend, and by a majority vote, voted
to remove [Taylor] as pastor." Relying upon In re
Galilee Baptist Church, 279 Ala. 393, 186 So.2d 102
(1966), the Ray plaintiffs argued that the trial court had
jurisdiction of this matter because they were seeking an
order determining that Taylor's removal as the pastor of
PMBC was valid and had been accomplished in accordance with
the bylaws of PMBC.
April 30, 2015, the Taylor defendants filed their brief in
support of their motion to dismiss, to which they attached a
number of exhibits. On June 8, 2015, the Ray plaintiffs filed
their brief in response, supported with a number of exhibits.
On December 16, 2015, the trial court heard the parties'
oral arguments in support of their briefs. On May 20, 2016,
the trial court entered the following order, which reads, in
"The Court has reviewed the legal briefs submitted by
the parties and has heard oral arguments from counsel.
"This Court is extremely disappointed and saddened that
a matter such as this has made its way into the judicial
process. Spiritual matters are best left to each particular
church and its congregation to resolve. However, given the
present posture of this situation, this Court is forced,
however reluctantly, to make a determination of certain
issues involving [PMBC].
"In arriving at a decision, the Court is relying heavily
on the Alabama Supreme Court's recent opinion in Ex
parte Tatum, 185 So.3d 434');">185 So.3d 434 [(Ala. 2015)]. It is this
Court's opinion that Ex parte Tatum is a road
map for circuit courts in Alabama when determining church
"A circuit court lacks subject matter jurisdiction to
apply judicial notions of due process to church proceedings
when the highest adjudicatory body of a church decides a
purely ecclesiastical matter. However, the mere fact that the
subject matter of a church dispute concerns an ecclesiastical
or spiritual issue does not preclude a circuit court from
recognizing a decision rendered by the highest adjudicatory
body of a church and, based on that decision, enjoining
persons from taking unauthorized actions on behalf of the
"In the present case, the Court concurs with the opinion
in Ex parte Tatum that it lacks subject-matter
jurisdiction to apply notions of due process to a church
proceeding to remove the pastor of that church, but the Court
does have the ability to recognize that a decision made by
the majority of the members of [PMBC] to remove Defendant,
Charles Brookins Taylor, as the pastor was a valid decision.
In affirming such action of the church, the Court can also
enjoin the Defendant, Charles Brookins Taylor, from taking
unauthorized actions on behalf of the church.
"In a Baptist church, the majority of the congregation
is the highest adjudicatory body, unless the church bylaws
provide otherwise. In a Baptist church, the majority of the
members of the church control the business of the church.
Each Baptist church is within itself a pure democracy; it is
the right of the majority to rule; the will of the majority
having been expressed; it becomes the minority to submit;
church action is final. The church may remove the pastor at
any appropriate time it deems necessary. Thus in the church,
the highest adjudicatory body of the church with respect to
removing a pastor is a majority of its members.
"It is apparent from the legal briefs and oral arguments
of counsel that, even though the bylaws of [PMBC] did provide
for boards to be established and persons to be appointed to
those positions to make decisions for the church, no such
boards existed at the time of the August 28, 2012, meeting
and the bylaws did not specifically state that the majority
of the congregation would not be considered the highest
adjudicatory body of the church. While after July 2013, the
Court recognizes that a question arose as to the active
membership of [PMBC], it is apparent from the legal briefs
and oral arguments of counsel that the [Ray plaintiffs] and
the other members who voted to remove the Defendant, [Taylor,
] as the pastor of [PMBC] on August 28, 2012, did constitute
a majority of the membership of [PMBC] and therefore their
decision to remove the pastor shall be affirmed.
"The Court finds that the August 28, 2012, meeting held
by the [Ray] Plaintiffs and other members of [PMBC] to remove
the Defendant, [Taylor], as pastor of [PMBC] and approved on
September 12, 2012, was a valid meeting held by the majority
of the membership of said church and that their decision to
remove the Defendant, [Taylor], as pastor is hereby affirmed;
"That the Defendant, [Taylor], is hereby removed as
pastor of [PMBC] by a majority vote of the membership
effective immediately and said leadership and/or control of
the church shall be vested with the [Ray] Plaintiffs and
other members of [PMBC]."
1, 2016, the Taylor defendants moved the trial court to
alter, amend, or vacate its judgment, which motion was denied
by operation of law. The ...