JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)–Self-perpetuating trustees of The Baptist Home, a collection of three retirement facilities with a $30 million endowment and $10 million in assets, say they will bring criminal trespassing charges and civil legal action against the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) and 7 trustees elected by the convention at its annual meeting if they try to assert their trusteeship.
MBC leaders and the trustees-elect decried the warning, some calling it “un-Christlike” while the MBC president vowed to attend the trustee meetings anyway. It also raised the specter of costly — and perhaps lengthy — litigation as conservatives, now in control of the state convention, spar with moderate and liberal Baptist trustees over ownership of five Missouri Baptist entities, including The Baptist Home.
“Please be advised that the purported trustees elected by MBC are not legally entitled to be present at any TBH Board of Trustees’ meeting,” states the Nov. 21 letter written by the St. Louis law firm of Guilfoil, Petzall, & Shoemake.
“Any attempt by such purported trustees to attend a duly called and scheduled trustees meeting shall constitute, in our opinion, civil and criminal trespass as we, on behalf of TBH and its Board of Trustees, are specifically instructing such individuals not to appear at said meeting. Such actions would be unlawful and ill advised, and any attempt by any person to assert trusteeship or otherwise interfere with the affairs or business of TBH or its duly elected trustees will be dealt with swiftly and severely.
“We have drafted legal documents and stand prepared to vigorously and expeditiously pursue legal action against any individuals personally who attempt to interfere with TBH and any entity responsible for appointing those individuals,” the letter states.
The trustees are scheduled to meet Dec. 4 at the downtown Drury Inn in St. Louis. MBC President Bob Curtis, pastor of First Baptist Church of Ballwin, will attend under the threat of arrest.
“We’re seeking to resolve this in a Christ-like manner,” Curtis said.
“Any Missouri Baptist has a right to attend any trustee meeting of any entity whether they are an elected trustee or simply a concerned Southern Baptist,” Curtis said. “To deny by implication — or edict — to any Missouri Baptist church member the right to attend is censorship. It is not being open, not being Christ-like, and not following the tradition of all Missouri Baptist agencies. It seems arrogant.”
It is not known whether all seven — or some — of the trustees elected overwhelmingly by messengers at the MBC meeting in October will attend the Dec. 4 TBH trustee meeting.
“It’s disappointing they think it would be a criminal act to do what the state convention has elected us to do,” said Paul Pope, pastor of Sonrise Baptist Church in Bonne Terre. “The convention still believes The Baptist Home belongs to the MBC.”
“It’s sad to say, but we will probably end up in court if they are not willing to recognize the trustees elected by the convention,” he said.
Roger Moran, a member of the SBC Executive Committee and research director for the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association that has spearheaded the election of conservative MBC presidents at each of the last four state convention meetings, was more blunt:
“When the convention’s democratic process no longer produced the results desired by the Mainstream/CBF moderates that dominated the boards and agencies of the MBC, they simply voted to ‘steal’ the institutions.
“To hide the politically motivated ‘theft’ of the convention’s agencies, the trustees hired lawyers and declared that their ‘fiduciary responsibility’ suddenly required the actions they took. We have watched in dismay as hard-line moderates have used their evaporating majority-status on the boards and agencies of the MBC to systematically dismantle this convention.”
MBC messengers overwhelmingly voted in October for the executive board to seek legal advice to determine if the self-perpetuating trustee boards were legal. The executive board is expected to take up the issue at its Dec. 14 meeting.
The threat of legal warfare has been building since moderate and liberal trustees, who oppose the conservative direction of the SBC and MBC, started voting 14 months ago to become self-perpetuating. In addition to TBH, four other MBC entities now have self-perpetuating boards: the Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, and Word & Way, the state convention’s weekly news journal.
Messengers to the MBC’s October meeting responded to the trustee actions by voting by more than 3-1 to escrow approximately $2 million earmarked for the five agencies.
Moderate and liberal trustees have defended their action, saying it was taken to protect the MBC from ascending liability and to shield the five entities from political flak.
Randy Fullerton, trustee chairman for Missouri Baptist College told messengers at the October MBC meeting that the state convention had examined the ownership of agencies on three occasions, and each time concluded that the trustees are the legal owners of the agencies.
Fullerton, who did not return a call from Baptist Press on Thursday, told convention messengers in October that, “I am sure that we can get many legal opinions. 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.”
But conservatives countered, saying moderates and liberals were the first to seek legal advice on their self-perpetuating votes.
There had been speculation that some Missouri Baptist College trustees might reverse their self-perpetuating votes at their Nov. 15 meeting. The issue never came up, said Curtis, who along with two MBC-elected trustees, attended. Both of the MBC trustees were not recognized as trustees and were refused committee appointments by Fullerton. However, the two were allowed to watch and listen to the proceedings.
“They were kind and gracious,” Curtis said, regarding his treatment and that of the two MBC trustees by Fullerton and the board. “They thanked us for our interest. It was handled in a Christ-like manner.
“We’re not wanting to hurt people,” he said. “We just want our agencies restored to their original covenantal relationship with the MBC.
“We seem to disagree in a non-disagreeable way. It’s sad because it reflects a spirit of disunity and lack of cooperation. It tries to divert attention from our emphasis on starting new churches and revitalizing existing churches.
“Four years ago we’d vote and even if we disagreed we all left as family. Now I guess the wrong family is in charge and they want to change the rules.”