A small Chinese congregation in Colorado Springs is suing the Christian and Missionary Alliance (C&MA) for proceeds from the sale of its sanctuaryand, perhaps, for an explanation.
Chinese Alliance Church of Colorado Springs (CACCC) completed the purchase of its storefront property in 2002. However, denominational bylaws allowed the C&MA to seize the property in 2006 and sell it to a karate studio in 2008 for $550,000.
According to Richard Hammar, editor of Church Law & Tax Report, most churches own their own worship space. However, some hold it in trust for their parent denomination. C&MA bylaws state that a congregation's claim to property depends on its standing within the denomination.
The trouble for CACCC began in 2001, according to court documents. Congregants began to leave the church, and giving dropped. When the church failed to file an annual report with the State of Colorado in 2003, if was officially dissolved as a nonprofit entity. Three years later, the C&MA's Mid-America District downgraded the church's status from "accredited" to "developing" a change that forfeited the congregation's right to its property.
Angelique Kwok, one of the plaintiffs in the church's civil suit, filed this March in Colorado Springs, said she wonders if the entire saga was a pretense for the denomination to get its hands on the church's valuable property.
The C&MA, which is based in Colorado Springs and includes about 2,000 churches, declined requests for comment.
"We have conflict," Kwok said. "Every church has conflict. Are you going to close them down one at a time?"
Robert B. Kruschwitz, director of the Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, said that satisfying a denomination's procedures doesn't necessarily lead to a fair outcome. Kruschwitz said the C&MA may have been better served by coming to a "compassionate understanding" with the church's members and reimbursing them with some of the proceeds from the sale.
According to Hammar, the Colorado Springs court is unlikely to overturn denominational bylaws. He said the Supreme Court has urged religious groups to adopt provisions that resolve property disputes "without the need for judicial intervention."
Kwok continues to hope for such resolution. "I think both [the C&MA] and we are doing God's work, and Satan's between us now," she said. "We need to come to reconciliation."
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