The Michigan Supreme Court decided Wednesday that it would hear arguments on whether it should intervene in a dispute between a Grand Rapids church and its former pastor who claims he was illegally removed from his post.
The now defunct Pilgrim's Rest Missionary Baptist Church started falling apart in 2011 when the church booted the Rev. Arthur Pearson for embezzling church funds.
At issue now, however, is whether he can contest his dismissal in court or whether the Constitutional separation of church and state means the courts will have to just stay out of it, according to Mlive.com.
Pearson and church secretary Gerolanita Bailey entered no contest pleas to embezzlement in 2013 and were ordered to pay back more than $220,000 stolen from the congregation and spent on personal items, read the report. They currently still owe $146,641 of that debt.
Pearson filed a lawsuit claiming he was the victim of wrongful termination because he had the support of many in the congregation to stay in his job. The dispute split the church into factions and the congregation is now battling over donations collected in the name of the defunct church.
Kent County Circuit Court Judge Dennis Leiber attempted to get rid of the case last year charging that the issues "stray into questions of religious doctrine or ecclesiastical polity."
A decision by the Michigan Court of Appeals in April said while the pastor's claims of breach of contract and other employment issues fall under religious exemption, the issues of who gets the money is still open to the decision of the court.
On Wednesday, the Michigan Supreme Court decided it would hear arguments in the case.
"On order of the Court, the application for leave to appeal the April 23, 2015 judgment of the Court of Appeals is considered. We direct the Clerk to schedule oral argument on whether to grant the application or take other action. MCR 7.305(H)(1). The parties may file supplemental briefs within 42 days of the date of this order, but they should not submit mere restatements of their application papers," noted the order.
Pearson's attorney, Jerry Ashford, told the Associated Press that the case is important because there will be "anarchy" in certain churches if earlier court decisions stand.