HELENA, Mont. — The Montana Supreme Court has ruled the property of a Lutheran church in Great Falls belongs to a few dozen members of the congregation who stuck with its national denomination after the majority split off in protest of the ordination of gay ministers.
In doing so, the justices said in the unanimous decision Wednesday (March 12) that they could rule on matters of church property without intruding on constitutional religious freedoms, a position the Montana court and the U.S. Supreme Court have taken before.
In 2009, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America decided to allow the ordination of men and women in committed same-sex relationships. The following year, 71 percent of the congregation of Faith Lutheran Church voted to break off from the national denomination.
The church’s constitution allows such a schism if at least two-thirds of the members approve it, but it requires a 90 percent vote to take the church’s property with them.
The 71 percent of the members who voted for the split kept the Faith Lutheran name and continued to control the church’s property. Some 48 people — about half of those who voted to remain affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America — formed the New Hope Lutheran Ministry.