Property Disputes Take Over Child Abuse as Premier Reason Churches Go to Court
August 31, 2017: After more than a decade of child abuse being the number one reason that churches go to court, property disputes have taken over.
Christianity Today reported that in 2016, more churches went to court over disputes about their buildings than over any other cause.
According to analysis by Church Law & Tax (CLT), a sister publication of Christianity Today, state appellate and federal court ruling revealed that 8.7 percent of church court cases last year addressed property-related issues. Child abuse made up 8.3 percent of cases.
CLT senior editor Richard Hammar said that child abuse claims had dropped in 2016. He was not certain whether this was the result of better risk management or if this was simply an anomaly.
Some think that the drop in child sex abuse claims connected to churches could be due to courts catching up with a backlog of cases.
Howard Friedman, a law professor and church-state expert who runs a legal blog called Religion Clause, said that, “New suits are only likely to be for recent abuse situations—and heightened awareness in churches of the problem has hopefully reduced the number of new cases.”
He said that most property disputes “seem to arise from factional disputes between conservative and progressive wings of congregations.”
Friedman claimed that the disputes mirrored a societal trend: “The increasingly divisive culture wars have moved into churches.”
In recent years, the Adventist community has experienced polarization over issues such as women’s ordination and church governance.
Entities of the Adventist Church in North America, Europe and Australia are considered by the General Conference to be out of compliance with the policies of the world church.
The upcoming October Annual Council of the denomination will start the process of determining which steps, legal or otherwise, will be taken to address this noncompliance.