Reclaim News Report on Oakland 4 Church Trial

Editor’s Note: Reclaim News has been reporting regularly over the last several months on the LCMS lawsuit against the “Four Church Ladies from Oakland, California.” Here is their most recent report.

Judge Throws LCMS-CNHD Out of Court: Justice for Oakland 4

Forget about the trial.  The Judge told the LCMS-CNHD they had not right to sue four Oakland, CA women.

The LCMS-CNHD suit against Sharon Bowles, Mary-Ann Hill, Portia Ridgeway, and Celia Moyer for the church property of Our Redeemer Lutheran Church of Oakland, CA (case number RG07363452) has been thrown out of court on an Order on Summary Motions by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Marshall Witley.

The Judge ruled against the suit filed by Attorney Sherri Strand, LCMS Legal Counsel to the LCMS Board of Director as follows:

“Finally, nothing has been presented that amounts to authority that would compel the conclusion that where a ‘division’ occurs in congregation, the District is entitled to remove certain members and replace them, or that by voting to disaffiliate, the Defendants’ lost their membership the congregation.

Summary Judgment is therefore DENIED.”

This is what the LCMS paid at least a million dollars in legal fees from mission funds to hear the judge tell them, “Summary Judgment is therefore DENIED.”

This was a victory for C. F. W. Walther and congregational autonomy.  The LCMS has created such a labyrinth of contradictory CCM rulings on the authority of District Presidents; they actually beat themselves in court.

The Judge used the Handbook against the LCMS as follows in a small excerpt from his ruling:


“The Defendants are four individual members of Our Redeemer who voted to disaffiliate Our Redeemer from the LCMS.  Plaintiffs’ contention that the District could deem these Defendants non-members of Our Redeemer is contrary to the governing documents and other evidence before the court.  The LCMS Constitution and Bylaws do not describe the LCMS or District as an authority with respect to membership status issues in the congregation.  The documents specifically provide that the LCMS is not an “ecclesiastical government” but acts only as “an advisory body” to member congregations (LCMS Handbook, Const. Art VII.1, Bylaw 1.7.2, Ex. B to Defs.’ Appendix.).  Congregations are members of the LCMS, but individual members in the congregations, with exceptions not relevant here, are not (Id. Art. V; Bylaw 1.2.1.).  A congregation’s membership in the LCMS gives the LCMS no interest in the property of the congregation (Id., Art. VII.2).

            The Plaintiffs cite to a District President’s power of ecclesiastical supervision over congregations, including the powers of supervision and investigation found in Bylaws 4.4.5 and 4.4.6.  These provisions gave District President Newton the power to supervise “the doctrine, the life and the official administration on the part of the ordained or commissioned ministers who are members through his district” and the power to investigate “continuing and unresolved problems in doctrine or practice” within congregations.  President Newton’s “supervisory” powers are limited to the ministers under the District’s control.  And while Bylaw 4.46 specifies the Newton may “investigate” doctrinal issues in a congregation, which is acknowledged as his authority for calling a meeting on April 30, 2007 (see Plfs.’ Ex. 36), nothing provides that Newton’s power to investigate included the power to adjudicate doctrinal issues, or to declare certain members of the church to be in or out.  Instead, if a District President found evidence of a “continuing, unresolved problem of doctrine or practice” in a congregation, the ultimate sanction would be expulsion of the congregation from the synod – whether after exhaustion of internal procedure or otherwise (LCMS Const. Art. XIII; Bylaw 2.14.).”


Kieschnick’s appointees on the CCM ruled in CCM 267-04 that a District President doesn’t have to follow proper channels in an LCMS congregational constitution.   Obviously the Judge didn’t agree with their interpretation of the LCMS Handbook. 

In favor of the Defendants’ the judge ruled:

“Defendants’ request for summary adjudication of the individual Plaintiffs’ standing to sue for ejectment and declaratory relief (save Lee’s claim of improper removal from office) is GRANTED.”  [Lee’s removal as president was never a part of the motion for summary judgment.]

“Defendants’ request for summary adjudication of the issue of the District’s standing is GRANTED.  The District has no claim related to Our Redeemer’s property.  The District’s only claim to the property would arise if Our Redeemer were to dissolve or disband (ORC. ART. VII.).’


The Judge used Kieschnick’s deposition as evidence that the Defendants should not be sued. 

Through his own examination of the LCMS Handbook, Witley has amazingly accurate understanding of LCMS polity.

The Judge ruled just as Attorney Paul Nelson had pleaded, namely that Our Redeemer could not be a plaintiff in the suit, and that the LCMS-CNHD had no standing to sue for Our Redeemer Church property.

There is no question that the LCMS attempted to break these women financially with a false suit at a cost to them of $569,000.

The LCMS Board of Directors, President Kieschnick, and the COP could have at anytime instructed Attorney Sherry Strand, LCMS legal counsel to the Board of Directors, and the District President Newton to stop the suit.  They did not.

There is a lot more to be said about this suit, the money the LCMS owes these women, and not to mention significant punitive damages.

Kieschnick was drawn into a controversy in Yankee Stadium over District President David Benke’s prayer with Moslem clergy at the beginning of his Presidency, a controversy from which he never recovered.

Now, at the beginning of his Presidency, Matt Harrison may be drawn into litigation filed by the defendants over a false suit that was supported by the COP, for a dollar amount the LCMS has never dreamed it would have to pay.

In both cases the cause is a runaway COP whose first goal is to support, protect, and defend its own interests.

Now that the Convention has rewritten the LCMS Constitution, we will see what the courts do.


View interview with Oakland Four

Oakland Four’ Sued by LCMS – Interview by Rev. Cascione (first half)

‘Oakland Four’ Sued by LCMS – Interview by Rev. Cascione (second half)

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Oakland CA is under siege by an LCMS District in a suit that is about nothing more doctrinally significant than taking the congregation’s property.  Our Redeemer Lutheran Church seeks donations to help pay for legal fees to defend itself from a suit filed by Attorney Sherri Strand, legal counsel for the LCMS Board of Directors, in behalf of the California-Nevada-Hawaii District of the LCMS.  Tax deductible donations can be sent directly to a new dedicated account.  Donations of any amount may be sent to:

Our Redeemer Lutheran Church

Account number 0536971270

Bank of America

4054 MacArthur Blvd.

Oakland CA 94619

Please send only checks and place the account number in the memo line.  All donations to this account are tax deductible.  For more information and eyewitness information to the depositions contact Dr. Sharon Bowles at [email protected]

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