Ex-SLED chief to referee Rock Hill church dispute

10/22/2013 9:34 PM

10/23/2013 7:10 AM

At Flint Hill Baptist Church in Rock Hill, the division is so deep that prayer no longer is enough; it will take the former State Law Enforcement Division chief and top federal prosecutor in South Carolina to try to conduct an “orderly meeting” of church members in a dispute over whether the pastor is removed or left in the pulpit.

The rancor has been so acrimonious that Judge Jack Kimball has had to order a “neutral party” – former SLED chief and U.S. Attorney Reggie Lloyd, also a former circuit court judge – to oversee a Nov. 11 congregational meeting, make sure church bylaws are followed, and see that the meeting is conducted in an “orderly manner.” Lloyd is the only black SLED chief and U.S. Attorney in South Carolina history. Now a private practice lawyer in Camden, Lloyd will be paid $200 an hour by both sides.

But the church membership, which has been arguing over an attempted ouster of Maddox, will not have a chance to vote Nov. 11 on whether to keep or fire him. Several dozen members have gone to other churches for months after the split went from internal power struggle to public dispute in the courts. Those members have refused to accept any alternative other than a vote up or down on Maddox’s future.

Plus, Maddox himself has been ordered by Kimball to be the moderator of the Nov. 11 meeting.

It remains unclear when, or if, church members will have a chance to vote on Maddox, despite his employment being the sole reason for the controversy and a subsequent lawsuit that is costing congregants at one of Rock Hill’s largest black churches thousands of dollars to resolve.

Flint Hill, with a 90-year history of feeding the hungry in the city, has been fractured since the insurrection by dozens of church members concerned about the way church business was handled by Maddox and some deacons. Church members took a vote in April that ousted Maddox from the pulpit. Some members then changed locks on church doors and put up no trespassing signs, forcing services to be held outside in the summer heat.

The dispute turned from arguments over leadership to a public spectacle where police were called and services were held under a broiling sun. Maddox refused to leave and filed a lawsuit; then Judge Kimball ruled the April vote was illegal under church rules and ordered the locks fixed, with both sides getting keys.

The dispute remains unresolved and, without a vote on Maddox, appears not to be anywhere near resolution. Willie McCurkin, one of the longtime church members pushing for Maddox’s ouster and who was sued by Maddox, said Maddox’s future remains unresolved and germane to the problem.

“We have seen the order but there is no vote on the pastor in there,” McClurkin said.

Another long-time member who was sued, Tim Nelson, said the issue that divided the church remains Maddox’s employment as preacher.

Herb Hamilton, the lawyer for McClurkin, Nelson and others who tried to oust Maddox, could not be reached Tuesday. He has previously said in court that his clients’ goal was to put the issue of Maddox as pastor to a vote of the membership.

Chuck Ormond, the lawyer for Maddox and deacons who support him, said he hopes the Nov. 11 meeting “ends the dispute.” However, Kimball did not order a vote on Maddox’s status Nov. 11, said Ormond – Kimball only ordered a meeting. The only vote that will be held Nov. 11, under the court order, is a vote on whether the deacons who were suspended by Maddox and his supporters during the initial insurrection shall be permanently removed or stay in office, Ormond said.

Only the deacons, under church rules, can recommend a vote of the membership on the pastor’s status, Ormond said. Yet Ormond said the goal of his clients is to “try and heal the church.”

“The goal for both sides – I know for my side – is to reconcile this church,” Ormond said.

Yet it is unclear if this church, which feeds almost 1,000 people each year at Christmas in a service that unites white and black churches, can reconcile as long as Maddox is the preacher and the complaints of the people who attend the church and built it over decades are not heard.

Judge Kimball’s order requires the deacons on Nov. 11 to “receive complaints from the congregation concerning the pastor of the church for referral to the deacons ministry for future action.” The order states “members have sought to lodge complaints concerning the performance of the pastor,” but the deacons declined to “entertain the complaints” or proceed with any action or vote on the pastor’s status under church rules.

The split forced a church that survived arson during the civil rights era to require court oversight to determine not just the church’s leadership, but to try to keep the church from splitting apart. At one court hearing in July, almost 100 members of one of Rock Hill’s largest black churches jammed a courtroom as the two sides argued.

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