Just when it seemed a respite had been found in the ongoing legal battle over an attempt to fire the pastor at Rock Hill’s Flint Hill Baptist Church, it flared up again this week.
Someone added the words “Pastor Cedric Maddox” to both sides of the church sign Friday — despite a judge’s instructions that the name was not to be put on the sign.
It was the latest turn in a squabble so heated that police have been called several times, and South Carolina’s former top cop has been ordered by a judge to referee.
It came just four days after a court-ordered, members-only meeting at one of Rock Hill’s largest, oldest and most historic black churches, now in danger of falling apart from the discord.
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The squabble threatens to further erode a church that years ago had several hundred members and survived arson during the civil rights era. For 90 years, Flint Hill has been a leading congregation in assisting the poor, hungry and elderly in Rock Hill.
Maddox has been pastor since 2008, but dozens of members have been trying to vote him out. Church rules dictate that a majority of deacons would have to call for a members’ vote on Maddox’s future, but that has not happened.
Monday’s meeting included several complaints about Maddox, and Friday’s changing of the sign fueled even more discontent among members who want Maddox ousted. Dissident members say the sign change was an “underhanded” attempt to try to mislead church members and the community that the battle is over and Maddox and his supporters have won.
The sign requires a key to open. It was not known Friday who changed the sign.
“This is a deliberate action to try and get people to think the fight to get rid of Rev. Maddox is finished and that he has won,” said Flint Hill member Bobbie Hardin, a vocal critic of Maddox and the church deacons who support him. “It is not over. Maddox has not won. The court case is still going on.
“I was in the courtroom when the judge specifically said that his name was not to be put back on the sign until this is resolved.”
This summer, Maddox and several deacons sued dissident deacons and church members who had set up a February vote of the congregation that ended with Maddox’ being fired, the locks changed on church doors, and “No Trespassing” signs placed on the church lawn.
That was also when Maddox’ name was removed from the church sign.
Master-in-Equity Judge Jack Kimball ruled after a July court hearing that the vote was illegal and that Maddox would stay as pastor until the dispute is resolved either by the church itself or the courts.
In that hearing, Maddox’ lawyer, Chuck Ormond, asked Kimball if pastor’s name could be put back on the marquee of the church while the dispute remains unsettled in the courts.
Kimball said no.
“It is not Rev. Maddox’ church, whether he is right or wrong,” Kimball said then. “It is Flint Hill Baptist Church.”
Attempts to reach Ormond and Herb Hamilton, lawyer for the dissident deacons and members, were unsuccessful Friday.
The lawsuit has not been resolved, and it remains unclear what effects, if any, Friday’s sign change might have on the outcome.
Several church members opposed to Maddox showed up to take pictures of the sign.
“Changing the sign is nothing but sneaky and underhanded and wrong,” said Mary Hall, another member who wants Maddox out.
Sammie Anderson, one of the longtime deacons sued by Maddox for trying to remove him from the pulpit, said Friday he and the other defendants have complied with all judicial orders.
“I don’t think the judge is going to be very happy with what has been done here,” Anderson said.
The dispute was so heated during the spring and summer that Rock Hill police were called several times by both sides. On Oct. 27, police were called to the church after an employee claimed he had not been paid.
Officers have repeatedly told church members that the dispute is a civil issue, not a police matter.
Judge Kimball appointed attorney and former State Law Enforcement Division Chief Reggie Lloyd as a neutral party to make sure church meetings are “orderly” and held in accordance with court orders.