JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Missouri Baptist Convention leaders say three new giving plans offered by a group of disgruntled churches will undercut Cooperative Program giving and create needless friction among Southern Baptists in the state.
MBC leaders criticized the use of the Missouri Baptist Foundation by about 20 churches to disperse the funds, saying it is a step toward the formation of a new state convention and that the giving plans resemble those promoted by anti-Southern Baptist and pro-Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) supporters in other states like Texas and Virginia. The alternative giving plans and use of the foundation to disperse funds collected from those plans are the latest in a series of political maneuvers between the pro-SBC majority in the MBC and their opponents.
“These plans are very similar to ones that have been circulated by [pro-CBF] ‘Mainstream’ organizations for the last two years,” said Jay Scribner, pastor of First Baptist Church of Branson, chairman of the MBC executive board’s administrative committee and a past MBC president. “Once again they are trying to undermine the Cooperative Program and create division among Missouri Baptist churches.”
The three new giving plans were revealed in a news release in late November and highlighted in the Dec. 6 edition of the MBC’s newsjournal, the Word & Way. The giving plans were developed by “Mainstream” supporters dismayed at the MBC’s move to escrow $2 million earmarked for five convention agencies. Messengers to the MBC’s Oct. 29-31 annual meeting voted overwhelmingly to escrow the funds after trustees of the five agencies voted in recent months to amend articles of incorporation, taking away final approval of trustees from MBC messengers and giving it to themselves. The five entities and the amount they stand to lose are the Missouri Baptist College, about $1 million; Word & Way, $450,000; The Baptist Home, $400,000; the Missouri Baptist Foundation, $200,000; and the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, $150,000.
MBC leaders said the trustee actions are tantamount to stealing, while trustees — cognizant of an ever-growing number of conservative appointees in their ranks — claim their actions were taken to protect the agencies from politics and liability concerns.
“Mainstream/CBF moderates in Missouri have focused heavily on the overwhelming vote by the messengers to escrow funds from the five agencies,” said Roger Moran, research director for the Missouri Baptist Layman’s Association, a pro-SBC group whose “Project 1000” campaign has been successful in getting conservative candidates elected to state convention offices in each of the past four elections.
“What they haven’t been so willing to talk about has been the politically motivated ‘stealing’ of those agencies by hard-line moderates. But at some point, Mainstream/CBF moderates in Missouri are going to have to concede that the decision of the messengers to escrow funds came after — and as a direct result of — the decision of the trustees to steal the five MBC agencies from the Missouri Baptist Convention,” Moran said.
The three new giving plans were formulated at a Nov. 17 meeting at First Baptist Church, Sedalia. Drew Hill, pastor of the church, told the Word & Way the meeting was prompted by discussions among fellow pastors during and following the MBC’s October meeting in Cape Girardeau.
“In conversation with fellow pastors before the convention, there was an unbelieving sense that surely they won’t do what they had threatened to do in terms of escrowing funds, escrowing Missouri Missions Offering funds, threatening litigation and the unseating of messengers,” Hill said. (Drew Hill is the brother of Jim Hill, who resigned in October as MBC executive director when he found himself at odds with the conservative majority on the MBC’s executive board.)
Drew Hill characterized the convention’s actions as “an all-time low moment as Missouri Baptists.”
The group at the Nov. 17 meeting asked the Missouri Baptist Foundation to receive and disperse funds given through the three new plans. That should be no problem since self-perpetuating trustees now control the foundation. However, it creates an irony: Since the Missouri Baptist Foundation is located in the MBC’s Baptist Building in Jefferson City, it would mean that moderates would be using free office space for which the very conservatives they oppose have responsibility. It is likely to be a topic when the MBC executive board meets Dec. 11.
The three giving plans are structure as follows:
Under Option One, or the Institutional Plan, churches or individuals may give to the five agencies. Noting that the escrowed funds amount to about 11 percent of the state’s Cooperative Program goal for 2002, the plan allows churches to set aside that percentage or any amount for distribution to the five entities. The distribution percentage is Missouri Baptist College 45.75 percent; The Baptist Home, 18 percent; Windermere, 6.75 percent; Missouri Baptist Foundation, 9 percent; and Word & Way, 20.5 percent, according to details of the plan outlined in the Word & Way.
Option Two, called the Convention Plan, allows churches to send all of their Cooperative Program funds to the Missouri Baptist Foundation for what would be called the “Missouri Mission and Ministry Fund.” Under this plan the funds will be distributed according to the pre-escrow budget originally submitted to MBC messengers: Southern Baptist Convention causes, 35.75 percent; The Baptist Home, 2 percent; Baptist Children’s Home, 2.1 percent; Missouri Baptist Foundation, 1 percent; Christian higher education operations, 20.5 percent; Windermere, 0.75 percent; Word & Way, 2.25 percent; MBC executive board strategic initiatives, 32.55 percent; and SBC annuity and insurance programs, 3.1 percent.
Option three, called the Designated Plan, allows churches and individuals to designate funds as they wish to the entities listed in Option Two.
“I’m disappointed they taken this action, but it’s not surprising,” said Bob Curtis, the MBC’s president and pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballwin. “There have been rumors that they might do this for the past year.
“I believe in a sovereign God and he will provide for all our needs, whether we have 1,800 churches in the Missouri Baptist Convention or 18,000. I’m not discouraged, I’m encouraged about the future of the MBC.”
Hill told the Word & Way that the 20 churches which met on Nov. 17 also discussed the possibility of forming a new state convention. He said churches in such a convention could continue to support MBC institutions as well as the Cooperative Program and the SBC.
Moran remains skeptical, saying, “Since the very beginning of Project 1000, the battle in Missouri has been about whether we as a convention would continue our historic relationship with the SBC or whether we would go the way of Texas — gradually severing our ties with the SBC and gradually forging new partnerships with the CBF. Pro-SBC conservatives won the battle in Missouri,” he said.
“But now, the anti-SBC/pro-CBF moderates who lost, are promoting a new alternative ‘giving plan’ to support the MBC, the SBC and the Cooperative Program. But the question arises: Why would any Missouri Baptist church want to support the MBC and the SBC through channels set up by a group of disgruntled Mainstream/CBF moderates who are working fervently to form a new state convention specifically because of their deep-rooted opposition to the MBC and the SBC?”
Hill said the group will conduct an “information and planning meeting” Jan. 17 at a time and place to be determined.
Meanwhile, the MBC executive board at its Dec. 11 meeting will consider possible legal action against the trustees of the five agencies that voted for their boards to become self-perpetuating. The board is also expected to discuss the MBC’s relationship with the Word & Way.
“I think it’s a shame our editor would think that these new giving plans are worthy of front-page coverage because it will undermine the Cooperative Program,” Scribner said. “The executive board will begin a review of what our relationship is — and needs to be — with regard to the Word & Way.”
Following the Word & Way trustees’ Oct. 19 vote to become self-perpetuating, editor Bill Webb said the paper would continue to support the Cooperative Program and that the trustee change was neither an “anti-MBC” nor “anti-SBC” decision.
The weekly newsjournal presently has rent-free office space in the MBC Baptist Building. Scribner said one of the issues that may be discussed is the Word & Way’s “usage of [MBC] facilities.”
In a related matter, trustees elected by messengers at the MBC October meeting were not seated at the November board meeting at Missouri Baptist College. Attempts by the trustees-elect to secure committee appointments were also rebuffed by board chairman Randy Fullerton. However, they were allowed to stay in the meeting.
Also, trustees elected by MBC messengers in October showed up in St. Louis for the Dec. 4 board meeting of The Baptist Home. A St. Louis law firm hired by the trustees of The Baptist Home issued a letter Nov. 21 threatening any MBC-elected trustee with criminal trespassing and possible civil litigation if they attempted to attend. The MBC trustees attended — without incident. They were not seated as trustees, but were allowed to observe and listen.