Christian Science Church Threatened With Lawsuit
Board of directors defends government structure against demands for resignations, access to records
THE Christian Science Board of Directors yesterday disclosed that it has been threatened with a lawsuit by members protesting recent church actions.
A lawyer with the Philadelphia law firm of Dechert, Price, and Rhoads delivered the group's demands Tuesday in Boston. The members seek to examine the financial accounts of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, of which the board is the governing body.
Last Friday another group of members contacted the board and asked that the directors and all key church officers resign. According to the board, this group also demanded that the replacements be chosen from among "those who 'have had no responsibility for or sympathy with' what they call 'the failed policies of these recent years.' "
The board responded yesterday to the most recent demands with a letter to church employees and members characterizing the demands as an attack on the government of the church itself as set up by its founder, Mary Baker Eddy. "The demand by a group of members that all the officers and managers of The Mother Church resign their positions is very disturbing to the majority of church members, who accept Mrs. Eddy's demonstration of the present form of government of The Mother Church," the board said. "Forced
resignations of this nature would establish a precedent that would set aside the Church Manual [written by Mrs. Eddy]." "Demonstration" is a term used by Christian Scientists to indicate the resolution of a problem through prayer.
Three groups in recent weeks have presented the board with demands related to the church's expansion of The Christian Science Monitor into television news and the publication by the church of a controversial biography of Mrs. Eddy. The media expansion was curtailed April 15, when the church's cable television network, The Monitor Channel, ceased production.
Programming of reruns currently is scheduled to last through June 15 while the church continues to try to find a buyer for the channel. Church officials say the church has spent about $235 million on different television ventures since 1985. Three teachers protest
On March 4, a group of three Christian Science teachers wrote to the directors protesting recent church policies and urging the resignation of director Harvey Wood, Christian Science Publishing Society trustee Hal Friesen, trustee and Monitor Television, Inc., chairman John Hoagland Jr., Monitor Television president and Publishing Society manager Netty Douglass, and church treasurer Donald Bowersock. Mr. Wood, Mr. Hoagland, and Mr. Friesen have since resigned. Ms. Douglass resigned as Publishing Society manager; Mr. Bowersock was replaced as treasurer by director John Selover and named managing treasurer.
The directors have not, however, linked those resignations with the teachers' complaint.
Although the teachers requested that their document, which is over 100 pages long, not be given to the press, copies have been obtained by several newspapers, including the Monitor. Church Manual's primacy
" 'The Manual of The Mother Church' is the result of more than 15 years of prayer and demonstration by Mrs. Eddy," the directors said in their statement to members yesterday. "We are confident that it will continue to lead this church effectively. We must be frank and state that changing the government of The Mother Church in response to an organized pressure group of members would violate the Manual...."
"We are convinced that, at heart, all members, including those considering a lawsuit, are seeking to preserve the welfare of the Cause of Christian Science. However, those who care about this church need to recognize that this is a time to stand with the church in prayer," the board said.
The complaint by the three members, Margaret Rennie, Nola Cook, and Roy Linnig, was filed with the directors in accordance with a provision of the church Manual that provides for holding officers accountable for the adequate performance of their duties. "We have spent much time over the past month investigating the points it raises and expect to complete this work in accord with the requirements of the Church Manual," the directors said.
The Manual is a 138-page document containing the by-laws of the church. A "teacher" occupies an educational position in the church structure but has no hierarchical role.
The directors said that the church and Publishing Society are engaged in the annual audit with the accounting firm of Ernst and Young.
Noting that the audit is required by the Manual (the church's fiscal year ends April 30), the board said the audit must have first priority. But it did not completely reject the possibility of other examinations: "Other requests for review, outside of the provisions of the Church Manual, will have to be weighed after the work required by the Manual has been completed."
The Manual requires the directors to deliver a financial report at the church's annual meeting, to be held June 8.