Ebenezer trial puts pulpit in spotlight

Judge cautions witnesses to stay on topic
Jessica Cuffman
May 22, 2013


A visiting judge will lean on man’s laws as he sorts out a civil case stemming from a deep divide in a Sandusky church.    

As for the laws of heaven, only God will know those answers. 

It proved difficult for members of Ebenezer Baptist Church to limit their answers to questions of law Tuesday, when they testified at a bench trial in Erie County Common Pleas Court.   

More than once, visiting Judge Dale Crawford had to remind witnesses they were on the stand — not at the pulpit — as they answered questions from attorneys representing both sides in this long-running debacle.

The two lawsuits stem from disagreements about the Pierce Street church’s now-completed $1.25 million expansion, as well as the church’s leadership under the Rev. Clayton Howard. 

Four church members who opposed Howard were voted out of the church in April 2012. But the “4” — Renee Brown, her husband Josiah Brown, Daryl Murphy and Nora Monegan — didn’t give up so easily. When they returned to Ebenezer the Sunday after their ousting, a church trustee called police to have them arrested for criminal trespassing.

They later returned to the property once more, to hold a vote to remove Howard from his position as pastor. The vote came as the church was celebrating the three-year anniversary of Howard’s arrival to Ebenezer. He’s from Memphis.   

Howard and his supporters responded by filing a lawsuit to keep the dissidents off church property. 

In turn, the “4” filed their own lawsuit to force the church to recognize the vote to oust Howard. They also want a new board of trustees and they want membership restored for the Browns, Murphy and Monegan. 

On Tuesday, more than 50 people packed into the often-noisy courtroom, as witnesses testified about a tumultuous year.

The central question at hand: Should the vote to oust Howard be recognized as legitimate church business?

Clearly passionate about their faith and their place of worship, it was near impossible for witnesses in the courtroom to limit testimonies to legal issues. 

“We raised our three sons there. We buried our dead there,” Renee Brown said when she took the stand. “Looking around here today, I see my brothers and sisters. And they have been good to us. I can’t believe we’re here today. It’s still unreal.”

Howard, too, took the stand.

“Who governs the church?” asked attorney Gerhard Gross, who represents the “4.”

“God,” Howard said, drawing a number “Amens” and head nods from people in the courtroom.

“And here on Earth?” Gross asked.

“The pastor,” Howard said.

It will be up to Crawford to make a decision on that one. He’ll have to cull testimony from four days of trial, and then review the church’s bylaws. Even then he might not issue an opinion on the matter — he could decide he doesn’t have jurisdiction. 

Howard and his attorneys have suggested that the matters in question are ecclesiastical and, as such, not a matter in which the courts can interfere.

“That will be resolved after all the evidence is in,” Crawford said Tuesday.



Lose, lose situation. This will not turn out well.



You and I don't agree on most topics but you are 100% on this one.


I recognize that some pretty passionate personal feelings are involved here, but from what's been reported, it seems simple enough: Was the vote to oust the "4" legitimate? If it was, then they've nothing more to say. Churches, for all of their "let us welcome you" advertising, are effectively private organizations, and they can control their membership however they like (Catholics, for example, have excommunicated people virtually since the religion's inception).

If, and ONLY if, that question is answered negatively can a request for a vote on the pastor be considered. If the "4" are non-members, then no, it can't, not any more than any of the rest of us could demand some church or organization reconsider its leadership.

Of course, while the answers are relatively straightforward, that's not to say the aftermath will be. Like I said, passion is involved here. luvblues2 is right: This is a lose/lose no matter what happens!

yea right

Churches are no more than CULTS..I refuse to step in a "church" cuz of this reason..I still Believe in God but not in cult form..when one man can teach Gods word HIS way then it is WRONG.. remember Jones town..Waco..ect..

sandtown born a...

Spot on!!! Come on in have a seat put money in the plate follow like a good sheep all BS believe what you want. I have my beliefs and it does not include someone claiming to be a servant of god interpreting the bible in their views and still need your money to serve the way they see fit NO THANKS


Freedom From Religion!


The 1st Amendment guarantees freedom of religion, not freedom from religion. Freedom from religion is a Marxist and Communist dictate. Pray for the safe return of our military and for the families of our fallen Veterans this upcoming Memorial Day. May God Bless America!

Edwin Ison

The 1st amendment provide both freedom of and from religion.
The 1st amendment provides that the government must not establish religion nor favor any specific religion. Therefor, freedom OF and FROM.
Wow, nor'easter, you have just labeled a good percentage of our founding fathers as marxist and/or communist.
Our founding fathers were so smart that over 200 years ago they were able to write a document to keep in check religious zealots :) Of course, these were the very reasons they came here.


I was referring to the Freedom From Religion Foundation. Yes I want the troops home. I know the 1st amendment. I know also know there is supposed to be seperation of church and state. I simply wish your gods were taken out of the equation. Contrary to popular belief nontheists are good people who live their life to the fullest because its the only life you get. There is no afterlife....

If America got rid of all of their atheists they would lose over 90% of their scientists, but less than one percent of their prison population


And 94.3% of statistics are made up on the spot.

Edwin Ison

That "church" is getting what it deserves. Hire a slick preacher man who wears $1000 suits and drives Caddy SUVs around like a gangster.... It was once a true church, now it is just a nice building.

sandtown born a...

The escalade was a gift from god and the suits how can he represent the lord in everyday clothes? The lord needs to be able to spot him amongst the other followers so the suits are a must. BS all for show not to support the beliefs of a GOD

Licorice Schtick

There's part of the problem - the notion that a person can "represent God." Beware anyone who claims to do so.

A spiritual leader helps followers find God, learn God's way, and learn how to serve God. (Is that what you see happening here?) A prophet is a conduit for God's word. But one who would claim to speak for God is to be pitied as delusional or abhorred as evil.


Being new around here, I have NEVER heard anything like this one where I came from. This is truly shameful. Our ministers and priests out west don't act like THIS. They would have been out on their ears if they did. Most work FOR their congregations, not the other way around. What a shameful situation. Never, never, never. They should be ashamed.