A lot of questions have emerged on the heels of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s voluntary dismissal of its nearly eight-year legal action against Word&Way. Most of them stem from a basic question: “What does this really mean for Word&Way and its future?” It has been suggested to us that readers, advertisers, donors and other supporters might benefit from a question-and-answer exchange. Here are a few questions and my thoughts as Word&Way’s editor. My apologies in advance: Some responses are short and sweet but others require more detailed answers.
Q: How much has the lawsuit cost Word&Way over the past seven-plus years?
A: The vast majority of our legal fees have been paid by our insurance carrier. In fact, Word&Way has been liable for less than $10,000 in direct payments to our attorneys during these years. Of course, we have continued to pay insurance premiums.
Q: What has been the lawsuit's effect on the operation? (time, ministry, relationships)
A: This is a multi-part question. The time consumed is difficult to gauge. In the earliest days of the legal action, I attended a good number of meetings with attorneys and leaders of partner institutions. Our trustees consulted regularly with legal counsel as well. Many of us were called to give depositions to the court. The MBC and each of the entities all lost valuable time that could have been better used to benefit our ministries.
From a ministry standpoint, Word&Way is a leaner organization these days. Our staff is smaller than it was eight years ago, and we constantly find ways to do more with less. We have been slow to update office equipment, but we have tried to adapt new technology that will make us more effective and become better stewards of our resources. More limited resources have required us to be more focused in our work. In many ways, our staff feels more appreciated than ever before. I work with staff members who are at Word&Way because they believe they are serving God by serving our constituents. Still, service under these circumstances has not always been easy.
Because the Christian life is foremost about relationships, perhaps the most tragic casualty of all has been the loss of trusting relationships. Conflict has cost friendships and created enmity in Missouri Baptist life. Word&Way has lost its share of friends in the form of subscribers, advertisers and others, often because some pastors and churches felt pressured to discontinue sometimes long-standing relationships.
I would quickly add that we have discovered significant partners in the form of churches, institutions and individuals who have championed our effort at being a free and responsible communications presence in Missouri. We will forever be indebted to them.
Q: Will Word&Way start receiving Cooperative Program funding again?
A: No, at least not from the Missouri Baptist Convention. The MBC has made this clear.
Q: What income sources has Word&Way relied upon throughout the legal problem?
A: Since its start almost 114 years ago, Word&Way has depended upon income from advertising and paid subscriptions. We still do. Advertising is one way we have received support from fellow Baptist institutions. In addition, since 2001, many churches have stepped up to assist us on a regular basis, and we have appealed to subscribers and other individuals to undergird our work through direct contributions. We will continue to need this kind of help in the future.
Word&Way receives cooperative support through the Baptist General Convention of Missouri in the form of budgeted gifts and income for the provision of services. The same is true of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri. This help is small compared to CP funds we received through 2001 from MBC, but it has made a critical difference in our ability to continue our work at a high level. We are deeply grateful.
Q: What income sources will Word&Way need to rely upon now?
A: We will continue to look to the sale of advertising and paid subscriptions to our print edition for a portion of our income. We know that in the confusion of a decade of conflict in Missouri, many Baptists in Missouri need to be encouraged to take a fresh look at our print edition, our e-newsletter (Between the Lines) and our website (www.wordandway.org). Some churches are not familiar with our church newsletter print editions and the potential for conserving their own funds.
We also are aware that we must continue to rely upon institutional and other organizational partners if we are to move forward. We believe collaborative relationships with partners are key to our future.
Finally, we are hopeful that congregations will find ways to lend support and encouragement to our work, even beyond the purchase of subscriptions. Many have done so generously and faithfully over the past eight years. That need continues. We have many individuals, couples and families who have been wonderfully supportive. We certainly still need them. We will soon launch a campaign to increase such gifts and to encourage supporters to consider Word&Way and its future in their estate plans. Some of us already have done that.
Q: What is Word&Way’s relationship to the MBC now that its case has been dismissed?
A: Several years ago the MBC launched its own publication, The Pathway, and designated it as the convention’s official news journal. Even so, Word&Way has continued to cover the work of our constituent churches and the conventions, fellowships and institutions to which they relate, including the MBC. Many of our readers are extremely interested in the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention. They invest heavily in funding that work and pray faithfully for it.
The MBC Executive Board recently took action to prohibit Word&Way from attending its committee or full-board meetings for the foreseeable future. For the previous eight years we were denied attendance because we were litigants.
Q: What is Word&Way's relationship to other Baptist groups and organizations?
A: I have already alluded to important collaborative relationships with BGCM, CBF of Missouri and all the benevolent, educational and other institutions across the spectrum of Baptist life in Missouri. We function as a free and independent operation, obligated to no one.
We also relate to the agencies of the Southern Baptist Convention, the national Cooperative Baptist Fellowship and its partners, the Baptist World Alliance and the worldwide family of Baptists. As long as our readers and other supporters are interested in these varied ministries, we will relate to them.
Since 2008, Word&Way has been part of the New Voice Media Group, a collaboration between Associated Baptist Press and sister state papers, the Baptist Standard of Texas and the Religious Herald of Virginia. This partnership has strengthened the appearance of each print publication, enhanced the stories we collaboratively produce and strengthened our websites. This partnership has fostered new and longstanding peer relationships as well.
Q: Since the legal action ended "without prejudice," what can the MBC still do?
A: Generally, we understand that the MBC has about a year if it should decide to re-file its case against us. We are hopeful that will not happen. MBC legal counsel has suggested they are no longer interested in pursuing control of Word&Way because they believe our resources are paltry and are of limited value to the convention.
Bill Webb is Word&Way's editor.