For the first time, the nation's largest Pentecostal and African-American denomination, the 5.5 million-member Church of God in Christ (COGIC), has voted out its presiding bishop.
Gilbert E. Patterson, pastor of Temple of Deliverance in Memphis, Tennessee, defeated the former presiding bishop, Chandler D. Owens, with 59 percent of the vote. The November 14 election, held in Memphis during the 104-year-old denomination's annual Holy Convocation, was the culmination of a hotly contested race that followed a lengthy dispute over Owens's alleged abuse of power.
Owens, who pastors Greater Community COGIC in Atlanta, had claimed that his spiritual authority was analogous to the pope's. The bishop told an Orlando, Florida, circuit court judge in July 1999: "I have the authority to make all of the decisions within the church without any disruption or confirmation. I have a board—a general board—that approves my decisions, but they're still my decisions. Same as the Catholic Church—same identical deal. The pope has the right to send a priest to a Catholic church, and has the right to remove him. I have the same authority."
Claiming the right to make decisions unilaterally, the bishop tried last year to remove pastor Derrick W. Hutchins from his 800-member Orlando Institutional Church of God in Christ. (Owens declined to return phone calls by Christianity Today.)
Owens told Charisma magazine that Hutchins had violated an earlier agreement to give up his pastorate at two other churches, in South Carolina and Tennessee, before officially becoming pastor at the Orlando church. "Brother Hutchins never did receive a permanent appointment from me," Owens said. "As far as I'm concerned, it was like a temporary appointment. He promised to give ...1