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Democracy, Anyone?

Democratizing the hierarchal structure of the Church is a pet project of liberal Catholics. They can often be heard pontificating about giving the laity “a place at the table” when it comes to pastoral and even doctrinal matters, about giving the laity “a voice” when it comes to deciding the selection and tenure of priests and bishops. And the U.S. bishops have been somewhat accommodating in this regard — at least symbolically — in hearing, for example, lay testimony at their June 2002 Dallas conference (even assigning — albeit temporarily — the Chairmanship of the National Review Board to a no-nonsense layman, Gov. Frank Keating), and in giving special audiences to both liberal and moderately conservative lay groups (about which see our New Oxford Note “‘A Minor Kerfuffle,'” Dec. 2003). The clerical sex scandals have been a boon to the liberal democratizers in the Church, as ten-cent moralizers in major U.S. media outlets jump on their bandwagon. Meanwhile, the U.S. bishops are content to conduct meetings and issue soporific statements, all the while willfully ignoring the root causes of the crisis in the Church — namely, homosexuality in the priesthood and episcopate, and widespread dissent.

Against this backdrop, we perked up when reading the news report “Pastor Will Not Quit Church, Suit Says,” in The Oakland Tribune (Oct. 23, 2003), about the power struggle going on at the Canaan Christian Missionary Baptist Church in Oakland. Back in November 2002, the Rev. Anthony Majors moved his family to Oakland from Rochester, N.Y., to take over the position of Pastor at Canaan, having received the unanimous approval of Canaan’s search committee. But, according to The Tribune, after only six months on the job, some Canaan members “developed ‘serious reservations’ about the way Majors was running the church.” So, during the “announcement period” at a July service, deacon Richard Herbert “tried to orchestrate a vote to sack Majors,” whereupon Majors “inspired church musicians to begin playing, and members to take the microphone from Herbert and join in a din that drowned out efforts at an impromptu vote.” Or, as Majors tells it, “The people who support me stood up and began to sing and pray.” And the battle was on.

The next month, a general vote was taken, with reportedly 57 of the 95 Canaan members — or 60 percent — voting to terminate Majors’s “employment contract.” But Majors disputes the tally, claiming that the results were inflated and “don’t honestly reflect the desire of the majority.” “I won the vote,” Majors insists. So he refuses to leave — he won’t quit the church! “As you see, I’m still the pastor,” Majors told The Tribune. Only now he’s the pastor who’s also facing a lawsuit.

The suit, brought by four Canaan members, claims that Majors has “wrongfully and unlawfully refused to vacate the pulpit,” and that he has been trying to garner votes in favor of keeping him in office. He was allegedly fired for making personnel decisions “without properly consulting others in the church,” which is a violation of Canaan bylaws. “Among alleged ‘misconduct’ by Majors,” the suit alleges, “was his appointment of new members to leadership roles without confirmation by church officers.”

The suit also alleges that Majors “mishandled church funds,” charges he emphatically denies. “I have nothing to do with any money in this church and never have,” he told The Tribune. “I learned coming in [that] there are two things that can get you put out of a church: money and women. So I keep my own money and my own woman.”

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