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Mo. budget proposal redirects funds from 5 entities asserting independence

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Five Missouri Baptist Convention entities — where trustees voted to become self-perpetuating — will lose all of their nearly $1 million in the proposed 2003 Cooperative Program budget to other MBC organizations, according to a recommendation adopted by the MBC executive board July 9.

Frustrated executive board members — who for months have sought reconciliation, restoration and even binding Christian arbitration with the five estranged entities — voted 31-15 for a budget stripping them of the $953,750 of funds for which they had been earmarked. Instead, that money will go to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Hannibal-LaGrange College, Southwest Baptist University, William Jewell College, Executive Board Strategic Initiatives, and The Pathway, the MBC’s new official newsjournal.

The executive board’s action is the latest in the continuing conflict between majority conservatives and minority moderates in the state over who controls the picturesque Windermere Baptist Conference Center with its lucrative timberland and lake-front acreage; the Missouri Baptist Foundation, an organization that manages funds with a market value of approximately $131 million; The Baptist Home, which operates retirement facilities at three separate locations and is believed to have more than $50 million in endowments and assets; Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis; and the 106-year-old Word & Way newsjournal. The five institutions are said to have a combined worth of almost $100 million.

Over the past two years, disgruntled moderate trustees opposed to the conservative direction of the SBC and the MBC and mindful of a growing number of conservative appointees in their midst have seized control of the five entities by amending their charters, giving themselves the sole authority in selecting their successors.

The trustees have said they took action to protect the entities from convention politics and liability concerns. Conservatives, now firmly in control of the state convention after winning four consecutive presidential elections, have said the action was a power grab tantamount to theft and vowed to get the entities back.

Messengers to the MBC’s annual meeting in Cape Girardeau last October voted by more than 3-1 to escrow approximately $2 million in 2002 CP funds appropriated for the five entities after trustees refused to rescind their actions.

Since then, according to the Pathway, designated giving by churches and individuals to the five entities has amounted to about $77,500. Through July 9 The Baptist Home had received $26,894; Missouri Baptist Foundation $8,151; Missouri Baptist College $35,837; Windermere $8,273; and Word & Way $18,429.

It is widely believed that most of those funds came from a handful of churches loyal to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and the new Baptist General Convention of Missouri, both formed by moderates in reaction to the conservative direction of the Southern Baptist Convention and the MBC. To date, less than 20 of Missouri’s nearly 2,000 Southern Baptist churches have publicly declared a switch in their affiliation to the CBF and BGCM.

Missouri Baptist College and Word & Way appear to be the hardest hit by the escrowed funds. As of June 30, approximately $353,000 was held in escrow from the college, while $154,370 was withheld from Word & Way. Executive board members have said if any entity returns to the MBC and seats the trustees elected by MBC churches last October, then the escrowed funds could be released — pending a vote by convention messengers. Only the convention can authorize the release of the escrowed funds. In fact, the board, by common consent, added a notation at the bottom of the budget that stated, “until such time as they return.”

Messengers to the 2002 convention also voted by a more than 3-1 margin to give the executive board the authority to seek legal remedies — if necessary — to restore the historic relationship between the five entities and the state convention. Earlier this year the board sought — and received — legal opinions from three law firms. All three opinions, reached independently, determined that the trustees at the five entities broke Missouri corporate law when they voted to become self-perpetuating. Lawyers representing the moderate trustees have disputed those opinions.

Some had speculated that the executive board’s legal task force might reveal July 9 if — and when — the convention will file legal action against the five entities. While that did not happen during a called executive session, the board did vote to prohibit the five entities from having exhibit space at this year’s state convention in Springfield Oct. 28-30. It also voted not to accept advertisements from the five entities for the Daily Bulletin and Book of Reports.

Lawyers representing the trustees have twice threatened legal action against MBC leaders despite constant pleas from the MBC to reconcile or submit to binding Christian arbitration.

Moderates have rejected all such entreaties and indeed two of the five entity presidents — Frank Shock of Windermere and Larry Johnson of The Baptist Home — squarely told the executive board July 9 that their entities have no intention of returning to the MBC.

Their remarks came as no surprise, but set the stage for an anticipated response from the executive board, in the form of the amendment cutting both of them — and the other three institutions — out of the proposed 2003 CP budget.

“There are three reasons we should take this action,” said Kevin Smith, MBC board member and pastor of Highview Baptist Church in Chillicothe, who made the motion to amend the budget.

“This is in response to the cries of Missouri Baptists about their concern over the escrowed funds. They want the money they give to be ‘at work’ in ministry.

“This will also reward those agencies that have stayed with us and it gets The Pathway, our new publication, out quicker and better,” Smith said.

The amended budget must still be approved by messengers to the MBC’s annual meeting in Springfield. It shifts the $175,000 earmarked for The Baptist Home to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home. The $148,750 that would have gone to Windermere and the Missouri Baptist Foundation will be diverted to the Executive Board Strategic Initiatives fund and will be specifically set aside for church planting. The $192,500 budgeted for Word & Way will now go to The Pathway, giving the new publication additional funds to go with another $100,000 already appropriated for 2003.

The $437,500 that was to go to Missouri Baptist College will go instead to the convention’s Christian higher education operations budget, boosting it to $3.41 million. That money will be distributed according to a prescribed formula to Hannibal-LaGrange College, Southwest Baptist University and William Jewell College.

The amended budget also cuts the five entities out of receiving money from the supplemental state missions offering — the Rheubin L. South Missouri Missions Offering (MMO).

The amendment passed on a 30-16 vote after several minutes of spirited debate.

Robert Collins, director of missions in West Central Baptist Association, said, “I really don’t want to have to answer all the questions about the ministries that are being done in” with the amended budget. He said cutting the entities out of the missions offering would send “mixed signals” when it came to the convention’s commitment to state missions.

Kenny Qualls, MBC first vice president and pastor of Springhill Baptist Church in Springfield, had a different view of what constituted “mixed signals.”

“I really believe mixed signals began being sent in our state when the five institutions became self-perpetuating,” he said. “It breaks my heart because of the process that it could take us to get them back, but we are going to get them back.

“The convention, which is the scriptural authority [over the trustees], spoke clearly in Cape Girardeau that it was overwhelmingly opposed to giving funds to someone who no longer has any accountability.

“My heart is broken over this,” Qualls said, “but my heart is steadfast that this is what we need to do. We are not initiating action. We are responding as a convention to the actions of five institutions who voted to become self-perpetuating.”

The executive board went on to propose a 2003 CP Allocation Budget of $17.5 million, down from the proposed 2002 budget of $19.2 million. Cooperative Program giving is down about 11 percent through the first six months of this year, prompting the convention to initiate budget cuts and a hiring freeze. No ministries have been cut as a result of the decline in giving and the executive board stressed that no current CP funds have been used to pay the $60,000 worth of legal fees amassed thus far. The 2002 budget has been revised down to $16.5 million. Spending remained less than CP receipts through June 30.

The CP budget proposal’s allocation breakdown for MBC and SBC ministries remains unchanged from 2002. The proposed 2003 budget designates 64.25 percent for MBC causes and 35.75 percent for SBC causes.

The board also recommended that the 2003 MMO goal be set at $750,000 and that the 2002 MMO budget be revised from an original goal of $850,000 to $725,000.

Other recommendations passed with little or no opposition by the executive board included:

— Ending the MBC’s official 10-year partnership with the Belarus Baptist Union at the end of 2003. Citing that most of the goals have already been accomplished, the recommendation recognizes that “some individual Missouri Baptists and some Missouri Baptist churches will choose to continue partnership-type things in Belarus, and we will seek to do what we can to meet the needs of such individuals and churches after 2003.”

— Establishing a three-year partnership with the Baptist Union of Romania and the Hungarian Baptist Convention of Romania beginning in 2004. The nature of the partnership will primarily be in church planting and evangelism.

— Striking “Word & Way” from executive board bylaws. Earlier this year the board stripped Word & Way of its title as “official newsjournal” of the MBC. The bylaws will instead say, “the official newsjournal of the MBC.”

— Allowing present members of the legal task force to remain on the task force until their work is complete, even if it is after their term on the executive board has expired.

— Forming a multicultural initiative to provide leadership on how to reach the rapidly growing multicultural groups in the state. Mauricio Vargas, leader of the MBC staff’s west central team, will serve as coordinator. He will remain on the west central team as a church planter, with a vacancy in the team leader position.

Citing the MBC’s current financial situation and hiring freeze, the board recommended combining the northwest and west central regions. J.C. Beckner, currently serving as team leader of the northwest region, will become team leader of the west region. The board noted that the merger may only be temporary, depending on future CP receipts.

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  • Don Hinkle