Andrew Dys

Judge rules pastor can stay at Rock Hill’s Flint Hill Baptist Church – for now

The Rev. Cedric Maddox is still the pastor at Flint Hill Baptist Church – for now.

After two days of court testimony from deacons who are trying to oust Maddox, and from other deacons who say the overthrow attempt violates church rules, a judge decided Tuesday to enact a temporary injunction keeping him in the pulpit.

But when Maddox’s lawyer, Chuck Ormond, asked that Maddox’s name be put back on the marquee of the church while the dispute remains unsettled, Kimball balked.

“It is not Rev. Maddox’s church, whether he is right or wrong, it is Flint Hill Baptist Church,” Kimball said, drawing cries of “Amen!” from some of the parishioners packed into the courtroom.

Kimball, the master-in-equity judge who handles civil cases, urged both sides to work out a solution, saying that if they couldn’t, he would make a ruling in the case.

The most important issue until then, he said, is that “everybody is entitled to attend; everybody is entitled to access to the church.”

Kimball made it clear that he is not going to tell the church how to run its business, but he will decide whether church rules have been followed.

Kimball agreed to a request from Herb Hamilton, the lawyer for the deacons who tried to fire Maddox, that if his clients were to lose the case, that the judge would determine a legitimate way for church members to vote on Maddox’s future.

Many of the more than 50 people who attended Tuesday’s hearing were upset that nothing had changed.

Alberta Wright, a member for 73 of Flint Hill Baptist’s 90 years in Rock Hill, said it is “awful” that – with a pastor that many do not want – she chooses not to attend her home church for services that are meant to embrace God and unity.

She wore a hat that read, “I love Jesus.”

But Jesus was not asked to testify in court.

Others, including the arguing deacons, talked after the hearing in hushed conversations but without any resolution. All those involved in the lawsuit that has gone from private church squabble to public fight and legal battle declined to comment on the ruling or whether the dispute could be worked out.

In February, a group of members and suspended deacons voted to oust Maddox, then put up “no trespassing” signs and changed the locks on the church in an attempt to keep Maddox out.

Maddox held services outdoors for at least six weeks, despite the presence of the “no trespassing” signs – which Kimball has since ordered removed.

Maddox has been pastor since 2008, but testimony showed that some have had problems with him for at least three years but have been unable to get deacons, who run church business, to bring the matter to a vote of the membership.

A majority of the deacons and Maddox claim the February vote to oust him did not follow church rules.

But the other side claims that the deacons and Maddox have stonewalled the church membership by not bringing the crucial matter of whether to retain the pastor to a vote of the people.

So who is right and who is wrong?

Likely, both sides.

“It is probable that both sides have not followed procedures laid out in the church’s own constitution and by-laws,” Kimball said during the hearing.

The finger-pointing continued in court Monday and Tuesday, with longtime friends and peers opposing each other – all leading Kimball to leave the “status quo” until either the sides reach agreement or he makes a legal ruling.

A ruling could come within weeks if a solution is not found.

The significant concern among many members is making sure the church does not wither and fall apart because of the infighting.

Despite the dispute, 84-year-old Deacon Emeritus Robert Roseboro spoke in the plain language of a civil rights icon outside court Tuesday:

“We need to get back to God and figure this out, so the church can stay together.”