NASHVILLE (BP) — A U.S. magistrate has recommended dismissal of all claims in a lawsuit filed against LifeWay Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee, and the Glorieta 2.0 ministry that bought the Glorieta (N.M.) Baptist Conference Center from LifeWay last September.
Federal magistrate Robert Hayes Scott, in a 79-page document for the U.S. Federal District Court in Albuquerque where the lawsuit was filed, found no evidence of misconduct in the Glorieta sale.
The magistrate’s recommendations “could not be more positive,” said Thom S. Rainer, LifeWay’s president and CEO. “We are particularly gratified the magistrate says the plaintiff’s charges of misconduct by LifeWay, the SBC and Glorieta 2.0 ‘have no basis in fact,’ leaving no doubt of our integrity throughout this entire process.”
The lawsuit was filed by Kirk and Susie Tompkins of Little Rock, Ark., who were at the time leasing a lot at Glorieta. Their suit claimed that the 2,400-acre property located east of Santa Fe was not properly transferred and that leadership staff of LifeWay, the SBC Executive Committee and Glorieta 2.0 were deceptive and fraudulent in the sale.
Scott, in his role as a magistrate for the federal court, disagreed with the couple’s contentions in his recommendations to dismiss the Tompkins’ lawsuit.
“The transfer of Glorieta by LifeWay was not fraudulent,” Scott wrote. “… [A]llegations of fraud and misconduct are baseless and have no foundation in the evidence.” Scott also wrote that Tompkins had “flung around vague accusations” of misconduct.
The magistrate’s filing states that Tompkins had “no legal interest” in the sale of the property and “has not suffered any harm” as a result of the sale. Scott recommended that all claims be dismissed “with prejudice,” which means they should not be re-filed with any court.
To rule in the Tompkins’ favor, the magistrate wrote, the court would “have to determine that LifeWay’s, the SBC’s, and the SBC Executive Committee’s interpretation of their own charter, constitution, and bylaws was somehow incorrect. The First Amendment bars this Court from second-guessing these religious entities’ interpretation of their own ecclesiastical rules.”
The magistrate gave the Tompkins 14 days to reply to his findings before the recommendations are sent to the federal district judge who will issue the final ruling.
Rainer said he is “looking forward to the court’s final ruling and an end to this frustrating, painful and costly process.”
In June, Rainer reported to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that Glorieta leaseholders had a year-to-year lease and that Glorieta 2.0 offered to extend the leases or purchase buildings built there for up to $100,000. Those were fair offers for structures on leased land, Rainer said, especially since neither LifeWay nor Glorieta 2.0 had any obligation to make those offers, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.
The magistrate’s recommendations addressed clearly Tompkins’ allegation they were harmed by denial of access to the leased lot stating: “Plaintiffs have not offered any evidence they were denied access … (and) even their right to remove the improvements expired on March 31, 2014; the improvements now belong to LifeWay.”
Rainer also told SBC messengers: “We’ve handled this in a Christ-like way and are grateful Glorieta is continuing to see people won to Christ.”
Marty King is director of communications for LifeWay Christian Resources.