LifeWay cites support, lawsuit for pulling entity exhibits at event - Word&Way

LifeWay cites support, lawsuit for pulling entity exhibits at event

By Vicki Brown, Word&Way News Writer

Pending lawsuits between the Missouri Baptist Convention and five of its related entities is the primary reason LifeWay Christian Resources pulled invitations for three of those institutions to exhibit at the national Senior Adult Convention April 25-26.

LifeWay notified The Baptist Home, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Windermere Baptist Conference Center by fax on April 15 that although they had requested space more than a year ago, they are being removed because of the current conflict with the MBC. Frank Fain, senior adult specialist for The Home, had asked for booth space on behalf of all three entities. LifeWay responded with letters of invitation earlier this year, and the three sent in registration forms and deposits.

In his fax, LifeWay director of adult events and services Gary Aylor explained that LifeWay pulled the three entities because of MBC lawsuits still pending against them and because of "LifeWay's long-standing partnership with the Southern Baptist Convention."

The MBC filed its first legal action against the three entities, Missouri Baptist University and Word&Way in August 2002, seeking to force the five institutions to rescind changes to their charters that allow each to elect its own trustees. That case is currently being appealed. The convention filed a second lawsuit in October 2004.

Aylor told Fain by phone on April 18 that he had been unaware of the specific exhibitors until April 12. He noted that LifeWay's policy is not to get involved in state convention conflicts.

In a telephone interview on April 20, Aylor reiterated that LifeWay did not want to be involved in politics.

Larry Cannon, LifeWay's director of legal services, pointed to the organization's support of the SBC as a primary consideration.

"We don't want to give the impression that we are supportive of groups that are trying to break away," he said by phone on April 21. "We don't want to appear to be supporting entities in conflict with a state convention."

He added that LifeWay "is probably going to try not to deal" with the five institutions "not to hurt the groups, but so as not to appear that we aren't supporting the convention."

LifeWay director of corporate communications Rob Phillips also focused on cooperation. He noted by e-mail that LifeWay ministers to churches "regardless of their affiliation."

However, he added that the organization cooperates with "associations and state conventions that are recognized by the Southern Baptist Convention," including the Missouri Baptist Convention.

"The reason we are distancing ourselves from the five breakaway entities is that they are involved in litigation with the MBC and we do not want even the appearance that LifeWay is entering into that legal battle," he wrote.

Phillips acknowledged that invitations for booth space at the senior adult convention should not have been sent to The Home, Windermere or the Foundation. "We were at fault, and we're sorry for the inconvenience it caused these organizations," he wrote.

The three entities already had begun preparing for the event. The Baptist Home promoted the LifeWay event all year, Fain said, and did not plan a spring retreat for Missouri seniors so that they could attend the national meeting. The Home also created a brochure just for the event.

LifeQuest Ministries president Cavin Harper had planned to fly from Colorado to represent Windermere's Grand Camp for adults and their grandchildren. "The majority of Dr. Harper's travel expenses have already been incurred, even though the primary purpose of his trip has been cancelled," Windermere chief executive officer Frank Shock said in an April 18 e-mail.

LifeWay already had begun to limit its dealings with the five Missouri entities. In December, LifeWay canceled its CentriKid camp that had been scheduled for June 13-17 at Windermere. The conference center hosted the LifeWay camp in 2002, 2003 and 2004.

LifeWay also had curtailed advertising in Word&Way.

The five entities have continued to promote LifeWay events and services. Missouri Baptist University subscribes to LifeWay's curriculum products to stock the university's large Sunday School laboratory used to train students.

The Foundation promotes LifeWay if a client wishes to donate. Word&Way promotes LifeWay events and includes adult Sunday School lessons based on LifeWay's curriculum lines. (04-22-05)