News Articles

Mo. Baptists to seek legal counsel about independent trustee boards

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo. (BP)–A motion to seek legal advice concerning trustee actions to become self-perpetuating at five Missouri Baptist Convention entities passed by a 3-1 margin at the MBC annual meeting Oct. 31.

The action came a day after a vote to escrow more than $2 million earmarked for the five entities was approved by at least 75 percent of the approximately 2,100 registered messengers at the Oct. 29-31 MBC sessions in Cape Girardeau.

Both votes were victories for conservatives who also won every office election and virtually every vote on motions and resolutions during the three-day meeting at the Show Me Center at Southeast Missouri State University.

“Everyone is watching Missouri and this convention spoke in every possible way that the trustee votes to become self-perpetuating are unacceptable,” said Roger Moran, research director for the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association which spearheaded Project 1000, a five-year plan to elect conservatives loyal to the Southern Baptist Convention to state convention offices.

“It is a new day in Missouri,” Moran said. “Project 1000 is about to begin its fifth and final year and we want it to end on a peaceful note. The battle is basically over and it’s time to cast a vision for the future.”

However that future may include protracted and costly legal action.

The five entities at the center of the firestorm are The Baptist Home for senior adults, the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis and Word & Way, the state convention’s weekly newsjournal. All have trustee boards that have voted in the past 13 months to become self-perpetuating.

In terms of the financial stakes involved, for example, The Baptist Home has a $40 million endowment, while Windermere, with its 3.5-miles of lakefront property along the Lake of the Ozarks, is valued at more than $8 million, according to its July 2001 balance sheet.

The motion to seek legal counsel triggered about 30 minutes of spirited debate between a dozen or so messengers after it was introduced by Monte Shinkle, pastor of Concord Baptist Church in Jefferson City.

A separate motion was made to amend Shinkle’s motion authorizing the MBC executive board to seek legal advice. The separate motion would have prohibited the convention from suing any of the agencies, however, and was soundly defeated.

“We don’t want to sue anyone,” Shinkle said. “I don’t want punitive damages, I don’t want revenge. I want our agencies back. A legal opinion is needed. These organizations belong to the MBC.”

Some messengers who spoke against the motion stated that legal action is unbiblical.

“This is not the way we do things,” said Randy Fullerton, pastor of Fee Fee Baptist Church, Bridgeton, who is also chairman of the Missouri Baptist College trustees and an MBC executive board member. Fullerton said the convention has examined the ownership of the agencies on three occasions, and each time concluded that the trustees are the legal owners of the agencies.

“I am sure that we can get many legal opinions,” Fullerton said. “I am sure there are many unemployed lawyers around who would like to take our money. I would urge our convention to seek reconciliation rather than lawsuits.”

Shinkle disagreed.

“We’re not the first to hire the lawyers,” he said, referring to the legal advice sought by the trustees. Conservatives question, for example, the trustees’ stated concerns over potential liability issues facing their entities as a cover for removing the entities from the MBC and positioning them for a relationship perhaps with a new state convention founded by the anti-SBC Mainstream Missouri Baptists and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri.

The motion to seek legal advice states: “That the Executive Board be instructed and authorized, under the direction of the president of the convention, to secure a legal opinion in reference to the actions taken by The Baptist Home, Windermere and Missouri Baptist College, or any other institution which may become self-perpetuating, and if the legal opinion indicates their actions were improper, then we further instruct the Executive Board to take any and all steps necessary to remedy the improper actions, which may include Christian reconciliation and arbitration or any other steps the Executive Board may deem proper.”

Bill Vail, pastor of First Baptist Church, Poplar Bluff, told fellow messengers he fears what would happen with other agencies if the MBC did not take action against the trustees’ votes to become self-perpetuating.

“If we don’t do this, what we are saying is that [agency boards] can take action without any legal consequences,” Vail said. “What message would we be sending to our other boards and agencies?”

Another messenger said if these trustees can get away with this, what’s to prevent trustees at individual churches from taking over Southern Baptist churches?

The messengers’ approval of the motion by at least 3-1 was on a raised ballot vote.

It came just 24 hours after messengers — by about the same margin — voted to escrow $2 million earmarked for the five agencies until their trustees rescind their action and return the responsibility of naming trustees to the MBC. The convention also passed a resolution calling for the five agencies’ trustees to rescind their actions and take any necessary steps of reconciliation to rebuild “broken trust.”

Messengers also rejected a proposed covenant agreement between The Baptist Home and the MBC under which The Baptist Home board would continue to elect its own members and receive funding. In return, The Baptist Home would have agreed to give consideration to trustee recommendations by the MBC and other Missouri Baptists.

The motion to escrow funds was introduced by David Sheppard, pastor of First Baptist Church, St. Charles, and a former Missouri Baptist College trustee who resigned in protest after the trustee board voted Aug. 23 to become self-perpetuating.

“Under the guise of protecting their institution and agencies from political control, the trustees of The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist College, Windermere Assembly, the Baptist Foundation and Word & Way have themselves taken control of these entities and ignored the will of the majority who have attended and voted at the Missouri Baptist Convention in recent years,” Sheppard said.

“They have done so in violation of the Missouri Baptist Convention constitution, bylaws and business and financial plan which prohibits charter changes without the recommendation of the MBC executive board and the approval of the MBC. In at least some cases they violated the charters of their own entity by such action.”

Other messengers were more blunt.

“The thief has come, and it’s time for us to wake up and get out of bed,” said messenger Tim Willoughby in supporting the escrow of funds.

Gerald Davidson, a pastor who spoke in favor of escrowing, said only a handful of trustees have said, “`These institutions are ours. Missouri Baptists, you send us your money and we’ll run your institutions for you. You’ll have absolutely nothing to say about them.'” He went on to characterize the trustees’ actions as “absolutely repulsive.”

Messengers voted by more than 3-1 Oct. 30 for an amended $19.2 million convention budget beginning in January 2002 (in addition to an $800,000 Cooperative Program challenge budget). The approved budget includes the escrowed money. The amendment stated that funding would not be restored until the five entities agreed to rescind their previous actions and allow MBC messengers to elect their trustees.

If trustees do not rescind their actions, then in January 2002, $400,000 will be withheld from The Baptist Home, $150,000 will be withheld from Windermere, $450,000 from Word & Way, $200,000 from the Missouri Baptist Foundation and $950,000 from Missouri Baptist College.

Conservatives have not given up hope some trustees may change their mind.

“I have heard from one trustee, and have heard there are at least two or three other trustees who voted for the August amendments who would favor returning to our previous policy,” said James Plymale, director of missions for Franklin County Baptist Association, in an Oct. 26 letter to all Missouri Baptist College trustees. Plymale was one of the 10 Missouri Baptist College trustees who voted in August against the board becoming self-perpetuating. Sixteen trustees voted in favor of electing their successors. One trustee did not vote.

Plymale, a 1975 graduate of the college, hopes that the needed five trustees will change their mind so he can introduce at the board’s Nov. 15 meeting an amendment rescinding the trustees’ earlier vote.

“I talk with pastors and church members from all over our state, and it is clear that 90 percent plus are opposed to the actions our trustees took unilaterally without any concern for convention input or approval,” Plymale writes.

“I believe we were misguided and took hasty actions in August. No effort was made to survey students, faculty or local pastors as to their preference and suggestions. Of many of these I have talked with, the great majority are strongly opposed to the actions we took. Many parents and pastors who have students currently, or were planning to send their students to MBC, have told me they will send them elsewhere, if we do not reverse our August decision. How can we have the gall to suggest our actions were in the best interest of the college, while under our former policy our college has grown stronger than ever?”

Missouri Baptist College, known as a theologically conservative school, has about 3,000 students.

Conservatives also won all officer elections for the fourth straight year and now hold a majority on the MBC executive board and have control of the powerful nominating committee that recommends trustees.

The convention’s first vice president, Bob Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church, Ballwin, was elected president. Curtis defeated Mainstream Missouri Baptist candidate Martin Barker, pastor of Bethany Baptist Church, Marceline, by a vote of 1,486 to 517.

Also elected were Kenny Qualls, Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield, first vice president; Pam Mason, Green Valley Baptist Church, St. Joseph, second vice president; and David Tolliver, pastor, Pisgah Baptist Church, Excelsior Springs, recording secretary.

Curtis pledged to make evangelism and church planting priorities during his tenure as president.

“I hope to keep the state convention on track as to starting new churches and doing a better job of communicating the gospel of Jesus Christ as the only way, the truth and the life. That is my commitment,” Curtis said.

Messengers overwhelmingly approved the nominating committee report reflecting a change in the selection guidelines earlier this year.

Nominating committee chairman Jeff Purvis told messengers before explaining the three new guidelines followed by the committee, “Yes, I hate to say it, but in the eyes of many there has been a good ole boy network, and we believe it’s time for that network to be shut down.

“To give you one example, in just my association in St. Louis, one certain church has seven people serving in eight different positions. Another church has five people serving in six different positions. And by the way, it so happens that those five people serving from Fee Fee Baptist Church are all on the five boards of trustees that have gone self-perpetuating in the last 13 months.

“There is a total of 24 churches, during this past year, which has at least two serving on various boards, agencies or commissions,” Purvis said. “We have 1,885 churches in our Missouri Baptist Convention, made up of 623,546 members. Surely there are thousands of others within our convention who are as qualified as those who are presently serving. Why can’t we broaden the tent of participation and let more Missouri Southern Baptist churches and more Missouri Southern Baptists be involved in serving our Lord and building His kingdom?”

The three new guidelines are:

— No person shall be eligible to serve on more than one of the boards, institutions, commissions or the executive board of the MBC at a time.

— Each MBC church will be allowed a maximum of two persons on the boards, institutions, commissions or the executive board.

— All Missouri Baptists serving on the various boards, institutions, commissions and executive board of the MBC be supportive of both the MBC and the SBC, unless otherwise provided by the charter or constitution of that entity.

In other action taken at the convention:

— Messengers unanimously voted to hold next year’s Oct. 28-30 convention in Springfield.

— A partnership between the MBC and the Puerto Rico Baptist Association was approved. The Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association will take the lead in developing a response to the needs in Puerto Rico.

— The convention referred to the executive board a motion by Rodney Albert of Hallsville Baptist Church to appoint a committee to “investigate the feasibility and procedures of publishing a periodic news journal that is directly accountable to the Missouri Baptist Convention.” The motion also would authorize convention leaders to secure funding to begin immediate publication and distribution “until such time as the Word & Way restore its previous relationship” to the state convention.

Other motions were referred to various entities for later action. Among them:

— That the new MBC executive director be hired from outside the state. The motion was referred to the executive board for further review.

— That every eligible Southern Baptist church in the state be entitled to one messenger for every 100 members and that no church be entitled to have more than 15 messengers. The motion was referred to the MBC Committee on Continuing Review for further action.

— That the executive board not grant severance pay to MBC employees who voluntarily resign their positions. The motion was referred to the executive board for further review.

— That the official MBC calendar recognize four additional days: National Day of Prayer, Pornography Awareness Week, America’s Christian Heritage Week and Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church. The motion was referred to the executive board for review.

— That the MBC annual convention date be moved one month earlier so the convention may have the opportunity to respond to election issues. The motion was referred to the Committee on Continuing Review.

— That the Christian Life Commission be given the authority to present resolutions to the MBC resolutions committee and that the CLC chairman serve on that committee. The motion was referred to the Committee on Continuing Review.

— That the convention approve an expanded role of the Christian Life Commission to help local churches interact with cultural challenges. The motion was referred to the executive board for review.

Messengers also passed a resolution in response to the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks on America. Missouri Baptists pledged “hearty prayer and unreserved support” for President Bush, his advisers, Congress and the members of the armed forces. Missouri Baptists also committed themselves to render material assistance and to pray that the Lord “will extend His grace, comfort, and healing” to those injured in the attacks and to their loved ones.

Outgoing MBC President Bobby Collins in his farewell message called Missouri Baptists to a “deliberate devotion to the Word of God.” He said there are churches and perhaps even a convention full of people who say they believe the Bible. But only when folks quit saying they believe it and start living it will their lives make a difference in the Kingdom of God.

Collins pointed out that in the New Testament, people never heard Jesus without forming an opinion.

“They either decided or they divided. They loved him or hated him.” He said preachers today have lost the decisiveness of their preaching of the cross.

“We want everyone to love us,” he said. “They’re not going to.”

Collins suggested a “good Greek word” for the opinion of critics who say Southern Baptists elevated the Bible above Christ in the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message. The word is “nonsense.”

Jesus described himself as the truth, Collins noted, and the Bible states, “Thy Word is truth.” He said the incarnate Word, Jesus, cannot be separated from the written Word.

Other speakers at the convention included SBC President James Merritt, SBC Executive Committee President and Chief Executive Officer Morris H. Chapman, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Phil Roberts, and Terry Eades, pastor of First Baptist Church, Scott City, who delivered the annual sermon.

    About the Author

  • Don Hinkle