By Vicki Brown
Jefferson City (ABP) — In a split 44-7 vote, the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board fired its top administrator, David Clippard, April 10.
Clippard, who assumed duties as executive director Sept. 9, 2002, was terminated in a four-hour, closed-door session — the culmination of a growing rift between two conservative factions within the state convention.
According to people in the meeting, convention attorney and spokesman Michael Whitehead summed up the reason for Clippard’s termination as a lack of confidence in his ability to continue in the top position. The attorney said that although the decision did not come as a complete surprise to the executive director, Clippard was still “hurt and shocked” by the outcome.
A meeting of the board in September turned into a showdown between Clippard and Roger Moran, leader of the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, which is credited with steering the Missouri convention's rightward shift.
Convention president Michael Green, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Republic, Mo., referred all questions to Whitehead. The attorney would not release information about a severance agreement. He noted that an official statement was to be offered later that evening.
An edited version of the committee’s report was to be released before the end of the week. Individual names and sensitive personnel and legal information will be removed from the report, Whitehead said.
In a brief meeting with reporters, the attorney characterized board members as “very passionate” but “respectful” during the executive session.
Before closing the meeting to outsiders, Green reminded board members that he would not tolerate rude and disrespectful behavior, referring to the raucous September session concerning Clippard, in which members shouted at one another.
“We are not going to act like a bunch of monkeys in the St. Louis zoo…. I am not going to let people get away [with similar behavior]…. We have got to work together,” the president said.
Board member Don Denney urged the Executive Board to override Green’s decision to close the meeting to the public. But after Whitehead reminded them that personnel issues, including a legal contract, were involved, board members affirmed the chair.
Associate executive director David Tolliver was named as interim executive effective immediately. A search committee for Clippard's replacement was not named.
Tolliver met privately with convention staffers for about half an hour to inform them of the board’s decision before the announcement was made public in an afternoon open session. Although open to other news writers, an Associated Baptist Press representative was not allowed to remain in that meeting. Word&Way editor Bill Webb was told to leave the morning session.
Some 25 to 30 Missouri Baptist pastors, directors of missions and laypeople in attendance were not allowed to speak before the meeting was closed, even though board member Wayne Isgriggs urged Green to allow them to do so. The board also did not give them an opportunity to speak during the open session.
Clippard had been at odds with some Executive Board members for more than a year. Some Clippard critics were upset that the executive director opposed an Executive Board decision last April to tap reserve funds for a $200,000 contribution to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Some were reportedly upset that Clippard also opposed the board’s commitment of up to $150,000 for the convention's Christian Life Commission to oppose a stem-cell-research amendment to the state’s constitution, which Missouri voters ap proved in November.
The executive director also drew ire for allegedly firing Bob Baysinger, managing editor of the convention news journal, The Pathway, after the paper revealed details of a secret contingency contract to sell the Baptist Building property to Cole County in August 2004 for the site of a new justice center. The deal fell through when county voters overwhelmingly turned down a proposed tax increase to fund the project.
Last April, the Executive Board stripped Clippard of supervision of The Pathway editor Don Hinkle, placing him under board control.
Settlement of a harassment suit filed by former convention controlle r Carol Kaylor in 2003 and misunderstandings with Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union also contributed to Clippard’s firing.
According to several sources, battle lines between Clippard and Moran supporters became more apparent following Clippard’s 2006 evaluation in July. The evaluation committee called for a meeting between the executive director and Moran, who served as chair of the convention’s powerful 2006 nominating committee.
Billed as a “unity and reconciliation meeting,” Executive Board members and a few selected former convention presidents met with Moran and Clippard behind closed doors Sept. 22.
The growing rift between conservative factions took a public turn at the 2006 annual meeting in Cape Girardeau in October when a move was made to replace outgo ing president Ralph Sawyer, a nominating committee selection to the Executive Board, with former convention president Gerald Davidson.
Although Davidson removed his name from consideration, he later called for an end to Moran’s Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, the organization credited with the convention’s conservative turn through its Project 1000 campaign.
Despite his termination, board members credit Clippard with restructuring and streamlining convention operations, with improving the convention’s financial position and with focusing on evangelism and church planting.
In a brief interview, Tolliver said he plans to continue the evangelism and church planting focus.
“This is another time of life that I feel like … I’m not ready for the task,” he said. “My goal is to have staff and convention unification, to unify the staff and to work for unifying the convention.” (4-11-07)