Leaders of the Missouri Baptist Convention disputed a moderate Baptist website’s report that the convention quietly settled a lawsuit last year and did not disclose it to messengers at the state convention’s annual meeting that fall.
EthicsDaily.com, website of the Baptist Center for Ethics in Nashville, Tenn., reported July 7 that convention officials agreed to pay $500,000 to the estate of a deceased businessman who countersued Missouri Baptists in a dispute over ownership of Windermere Baptist Conference Center located in central Missouri on Lake of the Ozarks.
The story referenced legal documents showing a settlement was reached by Oct. 12, 2012, adding “but MBC leaders did not mention the settlement in their legal update report at the annual meeting later that month.”
“MBC leaders have not mentioned the settlement since then, despite publicly claiming for years that the lawsuit had no merit and they would easily win the case,” the story continued.
Rob Phillips, communications director for the Missouri Baptist Convention, said the story “misrepresented numerous facts and maligned the motives” of convention leaders.
Phillips said last year an insurance company decided unilaterally to make a settlement payment to a deceased developer’s probate and bankruptcy estates, and the estates dropped counterclaims in return.
“MBC leaders disagreed with the settlement payment, but had no control over it under the terms of the policy,” Phillips said in a statement published in the state convention newspaper, The Pathway.
EthicsDaily.com said the settlement itself is sealed, but the amount showed up in bankruptcy proceedings for William Jester, who died in June 2010. Jester’s lawsuit was one of a number of complaints in a long-running legal battle since Missouri Baptists sued in 2002 trying to reclaim five former ministry organizations that switched to self-perpetuating trustee boards.
One of the five entities, Windermere, mentioned the Ethics Daily.com story in a July 8 press release addressing reports “that the MBC has been placed in a situation where it cannot stop the litigation without risking countersuits from Windermere.”
“Windermere’s Board wants to be clear: our desire is to resolve this matter without further litigation by any of the parties,” the statement said. “Certainly, any discussions on ending the litigation would protect the convention from the threat of further legal action. We believe the various issues can be resolved in a manner that benefits all Missouri Baptists. However, should this litigation continue, Windermere’s Board has legal and fiduciary duties to take action to protect the organization from these continued expenses and injuries.”
The statement said Windermere officials hoped to place the open letter in The Pathway to address a wider audience, but the newspaper did not respond to inquiries about purchasing advertising space.
Phillips said all funds expended on legal action have been approved by convention messengers at annual meetings. “Missouri Baptists would welcome settlement and the return of Windermere to the MBC,” Phillips said. “However, the WBCC refuses to engage in serious settlement talks involving the parties and their attorneys.
“Missouri Baptists authorized litigation as a last resort, and we continue to pursue the return of Windermere at their request,” he said.
The Baptist Center for Ethics, a ministry partner of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, published a follow-up article July 12 standing by the original report.