Messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting at First Baptist Church of Raytown this fall will have to vote against the proposed 2010 Cooperative Program budget to avoid using CP funds to pay mounting legal expenses (see “MBC Executive Board proposes using CP gifts to pay legal fees” ).
The MBC Executive Board unanimously approved a $15.75 million Cooperative Program budget during its April 14 meeting. And one line item of $468,957 is expressly earmarked for legal expenses in the convention’s nearly seven-year court battle against five Missouri Baptist entities.
Leaders now say using CP gifts from churches to press their case against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way only makes sense. All five have received CP support, therefore all are CP ministries. It only makes sense to use CP funds to recover CP entities, they say.
Convention leaders claim that, to date, no Cooperative Program funds have been used to pay legal expenses that have added up to millions of dollars. Whether or not that is true is currently being debated. At least one writer claims the MBC’s own audits suggest otherwise; others wonder how the MBC has serviced loans to pay legal fees over the past seven years if not from monies that are — or have been — CP funds.
At any rate, the matter of whether or not to use undesignated gifts from churches with convention approval will confront messengers in Raytown Oct. 26-28 head on. If reports of the vote of the Executive Board are any indication, its members fully support a notion that leaders tiptoed around only a few years ago.
Executive Board chair Bruce McCoy has been quoted as saying he believes the cause of “recovering” the five institutions is a righteous cause and that Missouri Baptists will get on board behind the budget and its provision to use CP funds. He challenged members to get the word out among Baptists across Missouri.
Executive director David Tolliver will press the case in a series of information-sharing and listening session across the state.
One can only hope that any decision of such importance will be made with the benefit of accurate and truthful information. Over the last several years in Missouri Baptist life, we’ve heard statements such as, “These five agencies were all birthed by the Missouri Baptist Convention and started with CP dollars.” A cursory examination of Missouri Baptist history would reveal that statement not to be true for at least three of the five institutions.
We could all hope that as the case for funding lawsuits with Cooperative Program funds, every effort would be made for leaders to be informed and accurate in whatever they say. To be informed requires a little work, but the effort helps ensure accuracy and decisions based on sound information.
Don’t expect a rumble in Raytown over this issue. Not much opposition to using Cooperative Program funds to pursue the five institutions seems to remain. Most messengers have been willing to press forward with litigation; they will be inclined to fund that effort with the only real means available to them after seven years. We expect messengers will continue to hear hopeful reports about MBC legal efforts and will be convinced to keep up the fight.
Losses on the CP issue will likely not come come at the annual meeting. Churches that object to having their gifts used to fund the MBC lawsuits will vote monthly. Some will decline to send CP dollars to the MBC, choosing instead to designate everything they send to specific causes. Others may be inclined to bypass the state convention altogether.
That type of response has a precedent.
Some messengers and some churches couldn’t get beyond the 1 Corinthians 6 admonition for Christians not to sue other Christians when messengers originally discussed the possibility of filing lawsuits against the entities. They didn’t go along with invoking the Baptist-entities-are-only-corporations clause some used to trump Paul’s teaching.
The MBC lost some churches with that decision, prompting many to pull back from support of the convention and begin designated support of the defendant entities. Some apparently swore off Missouri Baptists completely.
Baptists and Baptist churches have a knack for making responses they regard as appropriate.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.