Pastor Sued for Defaming Members in Fight Between Church Pianist, Music Director

(Photo: Diamond Hill Church)Pastor of Diamond Hill Church in North Carolina, Larry Holleman and his wife, Hope

A pastor who unsuccessfully mediated a feud between his longtime pianist and music director will now have to face a lawsuit for defamation after the North Carolina Court of Appeals reinstated a previously dismissed case brought against him by his now one-time pianist.

According to the Statesville Record & Landmark, Kim and Barry Lippard, longtime members of Diamond Hill Baptist Church, accused Pastor Larry Holleman in 2013 of defaming them in church meetings and emails in a bid to get them banned from the church.

They filed a defamation lawsuit against Holleman and the church's minister of music, Alan Hix, but a Superior Court judge dismissed the case in 2016, arguing that they did not have the right to sue the church.

On Tuesday, however, judges at the North Carolina Court of Appeals ruled otherwise.

"Our courts have not yet considered whether a statement issued by a religious leader or made from the pulpit creates an actionable defamation claim capable of adjudication under neutral principles of tort law," the judges said in their opinion. "However, several federal courts and out-of-state courts have confronted this question and concluded the First Amendment does not create a categorical bar to such defamation claim."

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(Photo: Diamond Hill Church)Alan Hix, the Music Director at Diamond Hill Church in North Carolina and his wife Vivian.

The feud began in 2012 when Kim Lippard, who was Diamond Hill's pianist and vocalist for 34 years, got into an argument with Hix over a solo performance. There was reportedly tension between the two for a while and Pastor Holleman was asked to mediate.

After two rounds of mediation between the pianist and the music director, however, there was no resolution and the pastor pinned the problem on Kim Lippard, who he said "failed to fully commit to an examination of her character."

On Nov. 28, 2013, the question of whether she should continue playing the church piano came before the entire congregation and the members voted to keep her in her position.

Holleman, who has been pastor of Diamond Hill for about 10 years, is said to have advocated Lippard's dismissal in a "a 20-page diatribe" that included untrue statements about her and her husband, who served the church as a deacon.

Holleman, according to the Statesville Record & Landmark, accused Kim Lippard of being involved in disputes with the church for more than two years and that she "maliciously slandered another choir member and accused Hix of lying and intentionally hiding her sheet of music."

He also accused Barry Lippard of "physically preventing Alan Hix from leaving the music room" and "aggressively going after Hix."

In a statement to the local publication, Holleman said: "We are saddened that our prayers and efforts toward reconciliation have not thus far been successful, but we continue to remember our brother and sister in our prayers."

"We are also obviously disappointed with the court's decision which has resulted in the undermining of our confidence in our Constitutional right to carry out the disciplines of our faith."

It was further noted on the church's website that they will be making no further public comments on the case due to the ongoing lawsuit.

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