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Mo. Baptists to vote on litigation funding

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in October will vote on a recommendation from the convention’s executive board to spend Cooperative Program dollars to fund future litigation against five breakaway entities.

The executive board unanimously approved a line item of $468,957 for legal fees in a proposed $15.75 million 2010 budget during its April 14 meeting in Jefferson City.

“CP dollars purchased, built, established and maintained these five institutions,” MBC Executive Director David Tolliver said. “In the fall, messengers will decide whether or not CP dollars will be used to recover the agencies.”

The executive board’s action came just days after erroneous reports claimed that it had broken a promise to the convention by using CP money to fund the legal battle to retrieve Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word & Way newsjournal, The Baptist Home retirement center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist College.

Messengers to the 2001 annual meeting overwhelmingly voted to direct the executive board to take all steps necessary to recover the entities. The original motion has been enthusiastically affirmed by messengers at annual meetings since. It contains no prohibition against using CP money.

“I believe that the five agencies whose trustees voted to break away from our convention are Missouri Baptist Convention Cooperative Program ministries,” said Randy Comer, chairman of the MBC’s Agency Restoration Group and pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Chillicothe.

“For the past 40 years, I have given financial support to the MBC’s ministries through the Cooperative Program. We should use CP money to restore these ministries that we have supported through the years if we believe that they were and are MBC Cooperative Program ministries. I believe that they are and we should,” Comer said.

MBC leaders note that CP funds have always been used for a variety of purposes besides missions, ranging from buying light bulbs and brooms to purchasing telephones and computers. They also point out that this is not the first time CP money has been used to pay legal fees. CP money has paid for legal representation for Southwest Baptist University on at least four occasions. In Georgia, all funds spent by the state convention for legal fees for reclaiming a breakaway college were approved by the convention. In Tennessee, the state convention approved a line item in their budget for legal costs involving a college’s decision to no longer appoint convention-approved trustees.

“When we get to the salient points of why and what we are doing, folks will get behind this, because it is a righteous cause,” said Bruce McCoy, MBC president and executive board chairman and pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in St. Louis.

The amount of CP money Missouri Baptists have poured into Windermere between 1971-2001, for example, was more than $2.5 million, according to Jay Hughes, MBC associate executive director. He said Missouri Baptists have invested about $24.6 million in all five breakaway entities during the same period.

“We now have a responsibility as board members to help get the message out to the folks,” McCoy said after the executive board vote.

Tolliver said he also will help educate Missouri Baptists on the matter. He is about to embark on several “listening sessions” at various locations throughout the state in an effort to inform messengers and hear their views. Dates for the sessions will be announced soon.

In a related action, the executive board also unanimously voted to encumber $500,000 from convention reserves as collateral for obtaining an additional $500,000 line of credit from a Jefferson City bank largely for the purpose of repaying a bridge loan of $346,000 incurred this past year in the legal battle.
Reported by The Pathway, newsjournal of the Missouri Baptist Convention.

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