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Missouri board retains attorney for opinion on self-perpetuating boards

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–The Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive board voted Dec. 11 to hire an attorney and obtain a legal opinion on whether trustees of five MBC entities acted illegally in voting to give themselves the power to appoint their successors.

The action, taken in response to a motion passed overwhelmingly by messengers at the Oct. 29-31 MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau, came just one day after letters from the rival Mainstream Missouri Baptists organization were mailed throughout the state announcing it is closing its doors effective Dec. 31 in view of a breakaway state convention “on the horizon.”

The MBC executive board vote is the convention’s latest reaction to votes by moderate trustees — several have ties to the Mainstream Missouri, Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) of Missouri, and the national CBF organizations — at The Baptist Foundation, Windermere Conference Center, Missouri Baptist College, the Word & Way state news journal, and The Baptist Home to become self-perpetuating, thus removing any meaningful MBC involvement with each agency.

“We are appointing a subcommittee to retain legal counsel and a legal opinion with the emphasis on restoration and reconciliation and to include Christian arbitration,” said Bill Curtis, MBC president and pastor of First Baptist Church, Ballwin.

“We’re trying to work this out in a Christlike manner.”

The subcommittee, chaired by Gary Taylor, pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, is expected to report to the full board at its next meeting in April at the Windermere Conference Center, although Curtis said a special meeting could be called before then if needed.

The board also took several other actions in response to motions passed at the October MBC meeting:

— A subcommittee was formed to study the feasibility of starting a new MBC newsjournal. The action follows the vote by messengers at the October state convention to escrow more than $2 million to the five agencies whose trustees voted to become self-perpetuating. Among the escrowed funds is $450,000 earmarked for 2002 for the Word & Way. The escrowed funds will be released only if trustees rescind their votes.

Trustees for The Baptist Home hired a St. Louis law firm that threatened to bring criminal trespassing or civil action against any MBC-elected trustees attempting to take their board seats. However, MBC-elected trustees attended the Dec. 4 board meeting of The Baptist Home without incident, although none were seated as trustees and all were refused committee appointments. MBC-elected trustees were treated similarly at a board meeting of Missouri Baptist College.

— Another subcommittee will review the contractual and lease agreements the MBC has with The Baptist Foundation, the Word & Way and Windermere. The Baptist Foundation leases space in the MBC’s Baptist Building in Jefferson City, while the Word & Way maintains offices in the building rent-free. Contracts, like the one that calls for the MBC executive board to hold its April meeting at Windermere, also will be examined, Curtis said.

— An 11-member search committee will begin to seek a new MBC executive director to replace Jim Hill, who resigned in October. Hill said he could no longer work with conservatives who hold a majority on the MBC executive board. The committee chairman is Kenny Qualls, MBC vice president and pastor of Spring Hill Baptist Church, Springfield. The committee is composed of one representative from each of the state convention’s eight regions and includes three executive board members, two directors of missions as well as laypersons and pastors. Two members of the committee are women.

“A process will be put in place and solicitations will be made and received in and out of state,” Curtis said. “Kenny will be systematic in his approach — including getting input from Missouri Baptists. This will take time. It is not going to happen overnight,” he added, noting that it was about 18 months before Hill was hired.

“I went into the executive board meeting prayed-up,” Curtis said. “You hear all kinds of rumors about people being angry and mad. Yes, there were disagreements, but even amidst the disagreements there was a sweet and congenial spirit. No one left mad. I think we have a great executive board and a great state convention staff. We’re all excited about the future.”

Meanwhile, Doyle Sager, president of Mainstream Missouri Baptists and pastor of First Baptist Church, Jefferson City, announcing in a Dec. 10 letter the group’s decision to close its doors, said it comes “with great sadness, but with a great deal of gratitude to God and our supporters … .

“A new Missouri Baptist Convention is on the horizon, free from Fundamentalist domination,” Sager writes. “Many of our beloved Missouri Baptist institutions have become free from Fundamentalist control. One of those autonomous institutions is Word & Way, thus guaranteeing a free Baptist press for all Missouri Baptists.”

Sager also encourages Missouri Baptists to utilize the new giving plans endorsed by state moderates last month. It asks Southern Baptists to give through the Missouri Baptist Foundation, a move viewed by conservatives as a step toward a new, de facto state convention.

“Missouri Baptists now have new giving options, including plans through the Baptist Foundation and through CBF of Missouri (these new, expanded options offer nearly everything MMB has offered in our three plans),” Sager writes.

Sager recommends that donors contact Drew Hill, pastor of First Baptist Church, Sedalia, who is spearheading the new three-option giving plan. Hill, the brother of Jim Hill, also has run as a CBF/Mainstream-supported candidate for state office at past conventions. Hill’s church hosted a Nov. 17 meeting of about 20 churches supportive of the new giving plan.

“In short,” Sager continued in the letter, “we’ve accomplished our goal — a climate of freedom in Missouri Baptist life. So, we are stepping aside so that more permanent options in Missouri Baptist life may come to the forefront without confusion or duplication.”

He said MMB will close its offices Dec. 31, and will return mail and gifts after March 31, noting that it will take some time and money to close the operation.

Conservatives in the state have anticipated the dissolving of MMB prior to the creation of a new, moderate-led state convention. Expectations to that end were raised earlier this year when MMB Executive Director Rob Marus, an outspoken critic of the SBC’s conservative leaders, abruptly quit and took a job as a reporter in the Washington bureau of Associated Baptist Press, a CBF partner organization.

“This is not a surprise at all and it should be noted that this will be the first state convention where moderates were the ones to split off,” said Roger Moran, research director the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association and a member of the SBC Executive Committee. Previously, it was conservatives who left moderate-controlled state conventions in Texas and Virginia to form new state conventions more supportive of the SBC.

“Mainstream Missouri Baptists is closing its doors because it hopes to reopen in 2002 as a new state convention. However, Missouri Baptists need to understand that these people are attempting to build a new convention on a foundation of deceit and deception.

“They are trying to portray themselves as Southern Baptists when in fact they are anti-SBC and pro-CBF. Obviously their hope is to start this new convention with five partnering institutions that hard-line moderate trustees ‘stole’ from the MBC,” Moran said.

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  • Don Hinkle