Talk to a child for very long and you will hear a question. Then you will probably hear a follow-up question. And then another. Those little inquiring minds want to know. “Why?” “How?” “I don’t understand; explain that to me.” They are like little scientists, or perhaps junior reporters.
With a pair of significant related issues before Missouri Baptists heading into the Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting next fall, asking questions would seem to make a lot of sense. Perhaps rank-and-file Baptists should be more like children and ask, “Why?” and “How?” and “I don’t understand; explain that to me.”
Two notions about Cooperative Program funds in Missouri are floating around. One is that the various Baptist institutions around the state owe their beginnings, their development and their continued existence to CP funds. Yet another is that CP funds have never been used to pay legal fees in the MBC’s lawsuits against five institutions — but why shouldn’t they?
Is it really true that Cooperative Program funds built most of the buildings on the campuses of the four Baptist colleges and universities in our state? Is the Cooperative Program really responsible for all those housing options on each of three campuses for retirement-age-and-above seniors? What about the children’s home facilities that have been developed through the years? Are the spacious lodges, comfortable dining room and camp facilities at Windermere Baptist Conference Center what my CP gifts built?
Missouri Baptists are being led to believe that the answers to the questions in the preceding paragraph are “yes,” “without a doubt,” “definitely” and “you bet.” But the honest answers are “almost none of them,” “no,” “no” and “no.”
In order to gain messengers’ explicit approval to spend Cooperative Program funds to pay millions in legal fees, it might well be possible to convince a majority at this fall’s annual meeting that CP funds built the five institutions in question and others in Missouri Baptist life. But that wouldn’t be completely true.
If Missouri Baptists are being misinformed about the impact of CP gifts on institutions, they may be inclined to wonder if other things they have been told about how CP funds are being used or have been used are accurate. They need to ask specifically because a lot of unanswered significant questions remain.
The follow-up question to “Is the MBC paying legal fees with CP funds?” — which leaders have already answered absolutely not — would logically be: “Then how has the convention paid its attorneys and other costs related to nearly seven years of litigation?” The convention can easily verify its answers by producing its independent audits and bookkeeping records. Why not put that issue to rest?
Another pertinent question might be: “Exactly how much has been contributed to the Agency Relief Fund established to allow churches and individuals designate funds to pay MBC legal expenses?”
Yet another: “Exactly how much Cooperative Program money has been channeled to Missouri Baptist institutions through the years and how does that compare with overall institutional budgets during the same time period?”
The material on page 5 of the print edition is intended to shed some light on the matter of Missouri Baptist Convention funding — Cooperative Program funding — of four of the five entities and who actually started those institutional ministries. (Word&Way is the fifth one; the other four are listed in stories on pages 2 and 5 .)
The truth is that it would be virtually impossible for the Missouri Baptist Convention with its institution-rich heritage to provide through the CP pipeline the lion’s share of support for four colleges, two large benevolent institutions, a top-notch conference center, a Baptist foundation and a Baptist newspaper.
Without a doubt, providing 5 percent of an institution’s operating expenses (the average CP gifts for the five defendant institutions the last time they were included in the MBC budget) would help each of them extend their ministries. But that level of support obviously will not sustain an institution like a college, home for seniors, sprawling conference center or growing foundation.
Baptist institutions thrive by providing needed ministries, in some cases recouping funds for services provided and by cultivating donors wanting to maintain worthy ministries and institutions. Those entities continue to provide services to the broad Baptist constituency, even when that constituency is bitterly divided. Baptist institutions place ministry first.
Missouri Baptists are obligated as good stewards to ask questions and insist on receiving clear answers.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.