Pastor battles lawsuit from congregation members

Jun. 21, 2013 @ 05:52 PM

Angry shouting, a police presence and lawsuits aren’t what you’d expect at church.
But an ongoing dispute at Temple Memorial Baptist among some congregation members and its pastor appears to have resulted in just that.
Former deacons of the church have filed a lawsuit against its pastor, the Rev. Thomas A. Banister III, saying they were unjustly removed from the church’s Deacon Board in retaliation for investigating complaints brought against Banister by other members.
In the lawsuit, the plaintiffs say the complaints centered around “issues of moral character, conduct and general competence.”
While Banister would not go into specifics about the complaints, he said they are based on “hearsay and innuendo.”
The plaintiffs, Rudolph Baldwin, James T. Boyd, Melvin O. Oliver and Theodore Mack, are seeking damages for “mental pain, shame, embarrassment, and mental anguish.” They are asking for more than $12,000 in attorney fees and $10,000 each in monetary compensation. They are being represented by Greensboro attorney Marquis Street. Multiple phone calls to Street were not returned Friday. Phone messages were left with Boyd and Mack Friday. Oliver’s wife returned a phone call late Friday and said Oliver was at work and unable to return the call.
According to the suit, the plaintiffs received complaints from other members in the church about Banister and began an investigation. Members of the church’s joint board, composed of members from the Deacon and Trustee boards, voted to hold a vote on Oct. 8, 2012, on whether to oust Banister.
The lawsuit alleges that at that meeting, when Banister received the microphone to answer the charges against him, he “incited the church to a riot,” resulting in the police having to be called.
“One member yelled across to another and they were going to meet in the middle,” Banister said. “Then you had people going to the middle aisle to stop her and pull her back. That was the nature of this ‘riot,’ and I did not incite that. It didn’t have anything to do with me.”
Capt. Mike Kirk, public information officer with High Point Police Department, said there were no arrests made from the incident or any reports made. Officers responded, saw there was not a problem, and left, he said.
According to Banister, the next day the plaintiffs changed the locks on the church.
“It became an extreme case, because our leadership was pitted against themselves,” Banister said.
The four allege in the lawsuit they then were removed from the deacon ministry at an impromptu Oct. 28, 2012, meeting. In addition to money, the plaintiffs want the meeting stricken from the record and their deacon titles returned.
Banister said that the dispute is “about control.”
“You have an older group of church people who think ‘this is my church’ and ‘how dare he come in and take my church from me,’” Banister said.
Banister said he wants the church to move past this as soon as possible and looks forward to preparing for the church’s 75th anniversary in July.
“That’s when this lawsuit jumps up,” he said. “This is nothing more than an attempt to try and kill what we are doing at the church, and it’s tiresome. They see that our church is growing. I want to honor our seniors, but I want to continue to build and uplift our young people and new members as well.”
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