The Associated Press
February 10, 1986, Monday, PM cycle HEADLINE:
Local Church Wins Fight With National Office
DATELINE: BONHAM, Texas
Members of a Jehovah's Witness congregation have declared victory in their legal fight with the denomination's national organization over ownership of a local church.
Justice of the Peace Don Jones ruled that leaders of the national group, the Watchtower Society, unlawfully changed locks andtook over the church.
The denomination, known for its door-to-door evangelism, has filed an an appeal of the ruling. The dispute centered on ownership of the Kingdom Hall and began last summer when Ralph Deal sent 14 letters to the Watchtower Bible and Tract Society in New York asking for answers to particular theological questions.
Deal testified that when he persisted with his questions, the Watchtower Society sent a committee to Bonham on July 14 to choose new officers for the church. The group changed locks on the church after the new officers were chosen.
Deal, along with Tony Jones, Wesley Ruddell and Tommy Johnson, were notified by letter that they had been "disfellowshipped"_ or dismissed for disciplinary reasons _ from the church. They filed suit to retain possession of Kingdom Hall.
The title to the property is filed with the county under "Trustees of the Bonham Congregation of Jehovah's Witnesses."
After Friday's ruling, lawyer David Mercot, representing the local church, said he thinks other individuals and congregations dissatisfied with the Watchtower Society will be encouraged to stand up.
"For 40 years or more, the Watchtower Society acted like the local congregations were their pawns while in public denying any hierarchy," Mercot said.
The suit was filed because the local members were "rousted" from the church, Ruddell said. "We were intimidated to do exactly asthey said."
Jehovah's Witnesses was founded by Charles T. Russell in 1884. The denomination is distinguished by its belief that only 144,000 people will go to heaven.
Critics say defections from the denomination began after the world failed to end in 1975 as leaders had predicted. Other dates cited by church leaders included 1914, 1920, 1925 and 1938.
Official spokesmen for the denomination have declined to answer questions about the case.