CHURCH OF THE FIRST BORN OF TENNESSEE, INC.
TOM SLAGLE, ET AL.
Session Date: December 15, 2015
from the Chancery Court for Trousdale County No. 7196 Charles
K. Smith, Chancellor
dispute among members of a church arose over control of the
church. One group of members incorporated and then filed suit
against individual members of the church seeking to quite
title to certain real property. The parties filed
cross-motions for summary judgment. In granting the
individual church members' motion and denying the
corporation's motion, the trial court found the church to
be congregationally governed with a clear and established
practice for handling real property transactions. We conclude
that the corporation lacked standing to bring the action and
that the corporation's case should be dismissed on that
basis. Therefore, we reverse.
R. App. P. 3 Appeal as of Right; Judgment of the Chancery
Court Reversed and Case Remanded.
L. Crain, Brentwood, Tennessee, and Joshua R. Denton and D.
Hiatt Collins Nashville, Tennessee, for the appellant, Church
of the First Born of Tennessee, Inc.
Haynes, Goodlettsville, Tennessee; Keith Jordan, Nashville,
Tennessee; and J. Thomas Smith, Franklin, Tennessee, for the
appellees, Tom Slagle, Billy H. Ray, Jon James, Kelvin
Gregory, Chester H. Cole, Earl B. Thompson, Gary Kelley,
Roger Ray, Evelyn H. Cole, and Michael Spears.
Neal McBrayer, J., delivered the opinion of the court, in
which Andy D. Bennett and Richard H. Dinkins, JJ., joined.
NEAL McBRAYER, JUDGE
Church of the FirstBorn
1933, Prator Donald "P.D." Hardin formed the Church
of the Firstborn (the "Church"), acting as its
first elder/overseer. As elder/overseer, he served as the
pastor and spiritual leader of the Church.
Hardin led the construction of the Church's first
building in New Deal, Sumner County, Tennessee, in 1936.
During that same time period, a Church congregation also met
at Hartsville in Trousdale County. Later Church congregations
would meet in Portland in Sumner County and Nashville in
Davidson County. But, by the 1980s, the Church had only two
locations: Hartsville in Trousdale County and White House in
of spiritual matters, governance of the Church, an
unincorporated association, could best be described as
informal. Trustees held title to real property owned by the
Church and executed documents on behalf of the Church. A
board of deacons handled many of the business and temporal
affairs of the Church. Historically, the elder/overseer
selected deacons, but the manner for selection of trustees is
a matter of dispute. Although P.D. Hardin allegedly drafted
bylaws for the Church, the precise role of deacons and, to a
lesser extent, the trustees in the Church is also disputed.
Hardin remained as elder/overseer of the Church until his
death on September 19, 1983. Before his passing, he selected
his nephew, Bob C. Hardin, to succeed him. During Bob
Hardin's tenure as the elder/overseer, the Church began
construction of a private Christian school on land in
Robertson County adjoining the White House sanctuary. The
school, which was named Dayspring Academy, opened in August
Hardin died in 2008 without naming a successor
elder/overseer. He had, however, ordained Robbie Kline to be
the pastor of the Hartsville congregation and Roger Brewer to
be the pastor of the White House congregation. At Bob
Hardin's death, the board of deacons had seven members:
John Edward Andrews, Mickey Andrews, Kelvin Gregory, Jon
James, Billy H. Ray, Tom Slagle, and Earl B.
Elder Bob Hardin's death in 2008, disagreements arose
amongst the Church's members. The underlying basis for
the disagreements is itself a matter of dispute. Some members
claim that the dispute centers over "the Church's
doctrinal position on the sacrament of baptism and its
twenty-year long practice of using a Hebrew version of the
name of God as a central tenant." Others trace the
disagreements to Dayspring Academy and the "substantial
and continuing costs of subsidizing" its operation.
the precise timeline is unclear, dissension grew, and the
members chose sides. Certain members, including deacons, who
formerly worshipped at White House moved their attendance to
Hartsville. The minutes of the March 13, 2010, meeting of the
deacons reflect the tensions between those attending services
in White House and those attending services in Hartsville.
the meeting, which was held in White House, the chairman of
the deacons, Tom Slagle, complained that Church members who
attended in Hartsville were being asked to leave the premises
in White House. After commenting that the Church had no
leader, he advocated for the "deacons to take
charge" and "to put all this to rest." The
minutes reflect that the deacons voted "to take control
of all functions of the Church of the Firstborn."
Slagle sent a letter to Roger Brewer, pastor at White House,
advising him of the vote of the deacons. The letter, dated
March 13, 2010, stated that the deacons would assume control
of the following functions of the Church, "just to name
1. Security of the Church of the Firstborn, Dayspring
Academy, and all property owned by ...