Legal Update


June 26, 2002

JEFFERSON CITY Presidents and trustees from the five Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) agencies whose boards voted to give themselves sole authority in picking their successors, thus removing Missouri Baptist churches from the process, have not agreed to binding Christian arbitration by the June 21 deadline as requested by MBC leaders.

Meanwhile, the MBC continues to explore legal remedies even as they seek yet another meeting with leaders of the five entities sometime during — or around — the next MBC Executive Board meeting set for the Baptist Building July 8-9.

"We received a joint response from the five agencies on June 21 indicating they would like to meet and asking us to answer in writing — a series a questions," said Bob Curtis, MBC president, member of the Executive Board Legal Task Force, and pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church, Ballwin.

"We are in the process of trying to get back in touch with them to arrange a meeting that would hopefully answer those questions," he said, adding that any such meeting would include all eight members of the Legal Task Force, the five agency presidents and their trustee chairmen.

"Our legal counsel continues to examine our legal options and the Legal Task Force will be giving a report to the entire Executive Board at its next meeting," Curtis said.

The effort by MBC leaders to meet with the presidents of the five agencies Missouri Baptist College, Windermere Conference Center, The Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home, and Word & Way is the latest of several attempts they have made in search of reconciliation and restoration with the renegade agencies now controlled by moderate trustees who oppose the conservative direction of the MBC and the Southern Baptist Convention.

The MBC has obtained legal opinions from three prestigious Missouri law firms, all of which reached the same conclusion independently that the five agency boards acted illegally in amending their charters to become self-perpetuating. The five entities are said to have combined assets worth nearly $100 million.

MBC leaders have told the presidents and trustees of the five agencies that any reconciliation must include the sitting of trustees elected by messengers at the 2001 MBC meeting in Cape Girardeau.

Messengers to the state convention’s annual meeting Oct. 31, overwhelmingly (by more than 70 percent) approved a motion instructing and authorizing the MBC president and Executive Board to "employ legal council to secure a legal opinion in reference to the actions taken" by the trustees of the five entities. The motion further stated, "if the legal opinion indicates their actions were improper, then we further instruct the Executive Board to take any and all steps necessary to restore them to their former relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention."

That action came after messengers by the same overwhelming majority voted to escrow approximately $2.1 million earmarked for the five agencies.

On June 6 the Executive Board authorized the Legal Task Force "to take all legal steps necessary to restore the five agencies to their former legal relationship with the Missouri Baptist Convention." The Executive Board also said it remains "ready at any time to submit this legal dispute to binding arbitration before Christian persons mutually agreed upon by the parties."

On June 10, Curtis and Gary Taylor, chairman of the Executive Board Legal Task Force and pastor of First Baptist, O’Fallon, wrote a letter to the five agency presidents requesting a meeting with them and their trustee chairmen. Also included was a document for them to sign with a June 21 deadline — agreeing to binding Christian arbitration.

While the five agency presidents did not agree to arbitration by the June 21 deadline, Curtis and Taylor believe the door is still open to arbitrate the dispute.

"We are open to meet with the agency presidents and trustees at anytime in the process, but that will not stop any legal remedies we may be investigating or may come to fruition," Curtis said. "We will continue down both paths," he added, referring to the legal path and the reconciliation and restoration path.

Taylor said he liked some of the language used by the five presidents in their June 21 response letter. The presidents used phrases like "continuing dialogue" and "important first step" to describe the last face-to-face meeting with Curtis and Taylor. That meeting May 28 — produced no change in either party’s position.

"I think as long as we’re talking there’s hope we can resolve this, but we have legal opinions that say the law has been broken," Taylor said. "Giving written answers to questions is not going to help, so let’s just sit down and talk."

Curtis said he was "encouraged" by the overwhelming number of Missouri Baptists and fellow Southern Baptists from across the nation at the SBC meeting in St. Louis who expressed support for the way the MBC has handled the situation with the five agencies.

"There are a lot of people watching to see what happens in Missouri," he said.

The moderate trustees, some with ties to the new Baptist General Convention of Missouri as well as the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF), both of which are hostile to the SBC, have said they amended their charters because of liability concerns and to shield the entities from convention politics.

MBC leaders say the trustees took their illegal action because they didn’t want to lose their seats to the growing number of conservatives being elected by the churches. MBC leaders also note that the MBC Constitution and Financial Plan prohibits giving money to agencies in which Missouri Baptists have no say in the election of trustees.