Editor's note: This fourth article in a series exploring issues surrounding the legal conflict between the Missouri Baptist Convention and five of its related agencies examines accountability.
By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer
Since The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist University, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Word&Way changed their charters to create self-electing trustee boards, are they accountable only to their own trustees?
MBC leaders have said they believe so. "The agencies' position is that no one has the right to question their actions or hold them accountable," MBC executive director David Clippard charged in an April 16 letter to Missouri Baptists.
Clippard's remark echoed a concept other convention leaders have expressed since trustees for The Baptist Home changed The Home's charter in September 2000.
At the 2000 MBC annual meeting, then-MBC president Jay Scribner characterized The Home's move as a violation of trust.
In 2001, a group was formed to study the relationship between the MBC and The Home. The group decided to recommend the two entities establish a covenant agreement. The agreement was later approved by both the MBC Inter-agency relations committee and the Executive Board.
In a Word&Way interview prior to the study group's April meeting, then-MBC president Bob Collins noted, "My concern out of that [a February] meeting was that we don't just walk into our next convention assuming that this is a done deal, and that we would somewhat carte blanche just hand them over $500,000 without some accountability and a trust factor."
Trustees of the other four institutions changed the entities' charters prior to the annual session.
Control and accountability were discussed at length at the 2001 annual meeting in Cape Girardeau. Messenger Gerald Davidson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Arnold, told messengers that year that the MBC had worked in a "spirit of cooperation" with the Southern Baptist Convention. Minutes recorded in the MBC 2001 Book of Statistics note that Davidson said trustees were elected "to control the agencies, and these are our agencies.... Now we have a handful of trustees who have taken upon themselves to say, 'These are ours and we will control and run them and you send money.'"
Messengers to the Cape Girardeau meeting turned down The Home's proposed covenant agreement.
Entity heads insist that they still remain accountable to all Missouri Baptists. Although the convention no longer elects the institutions' trustees, the entities' board members say accountability is built into the way those institutions conduct their ministries, and in some cases, is required by law.
The Baptist Home
"We are more accountable now than we have ever been," The Baptist Home president Larry Johnson said in an interview earlier this year. "We feel a greater sense of accountability to the churches and individuals.... They support us and do that willingly.
"The Baptist Home exists in relationship to hundreds, perhaps thousands, of churches and individuals.... I feel accountable to every one of them."
Johnson noted that The Home's new trustees attend an orientation session after being elected to the board. "Most of it is on-the-job-training," he added. "Most trustees say it takes about a year to really understand. We try to build a relationship between them and the ministry."
Accountability to all Missouri Baptists is the board's objective, Windermere chief executive officer Frank Shock insisted. The Missouri Baptist Convention does not represent all Missouri Baptists, he said. Windermere wants to include those who support other Baptist groups, including Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri and the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. The center also wants to minister to those who do not want to be aligned with any group, he said.
Accountability for the agency is built in, Shock said, because all trustees are members of Missouri Baptist churches. "We are accountable to Missouri Baptists because we have to be good stewards of the assets of the conference center," he added. "And we are all accountable to God."
"Word&Way is as accountable as it ever has been," news journal editor Bill Webb said, citing the newspaper itself as the entity's measure of accountability.
"I believe we have an accountability process that is week-in and week-out with the publication of the newspaper. Our readership is voluntary, and thus our readers evaluate it. [Readers] decide whether or not we have value and whether or not we are meeting their needs.... The nature of our agency is that...people evaluate us on the basis of what we produce. We are accountable by virtue of the product."
Webb also pointed out that Word&Way trustees and staff are accountable to God "not only for what we do, but for how we do it. Our trustees are people of such integrity that if there were failure at that point, of seeking accountability to God...they would take care of that," he said.
Missouri Baptist University
A private university, MBU must meet standards set by several groups, including the U.S. government. To continue its mission, the institution must continue to meet requirements of its accrediting agency, the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools. MBU's music program also is accredited by the National Association of Schools of Music.
The university is accountable to the U.S. government through its financial aid department because some students receive scholarships, grants and loans through federal programs. Administrators also answer to the institution's auditors and trustees.
"So colleges and universities are accountable to a whole host of constituent groups and always have been, not just the Baptist constituency," MBU president Alton Lacey explained. "But we do take that role seriously.
"We have a trustee board of 27 Baptists. The majority of our faculty [is] Baptist. The core group of our students [is] Baptist," he said. "In those ways, we become accountable to our Baptist constituency and to our churches."
Missouri Baptist Foundation
The Foundation maintains an accountability checklist for its staff and trustees as a reminder of the host of agencies and groups to whom each is responsible.
Foundation president Jim Smith noted that the entity is accountable to its individual and institutional clients. Institutions include churches, associations, higher education, benevolent care clients, and several institutions and ministries around the world - and the Missouri Baptist Convention. Clients receive written reports and account statements. Some personal reporting is provided to some boards and committees.
The Foundation also is accountable under state and federal regulations for the way in which accounts are handled. In addition to legal financial guardians, the Foundation answers to the Evangelical Council of Financial Accountability as a member of that organization.
The Foundation's professional staffers follow standards set by generally accepted accounting principles, the American Institute of Certified Public Accountants, the Certified Financial Planner Board of Standards Inc. and the Missouri Bar Association.
Although no longer allowed to present reports at the MBC Executive Board sessions or the MBC annual meeting, the Foundation still reports quarterly to the Executive Board's investment and finance committee.
Trustees are responsible for hiring the president and staff members who serve as corporate officers.
Smith also stressed that ultimately the Foundation is accountable to God.
Next week: Money
Often accountability is measured in terms of how money is used wisely. The next series article will take a brief look at money issues, including Cooperative Program and other donated funds, cost of the current legal battle, fundraising efforts and other aspects.
Additional links to the entire series:
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 1: Overview
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 2: Theology
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 3: Politics
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 4: Accountability
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 5: Assets
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 6: Insurance
Beyond Rhetoric, Part 7: Reconciliation