By Vicki Brown, Word&Way Associate Editor
Jefferson City — Members of which Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board should be allowed to represent messengers in the MBC's continuing legal conflict with five Missouri Baptist entities? That question could be settled at a hearing set for 9 a.m. on Dec. 15 in Cole County Circuit Court.
Attorneys representing the MBC, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home appeared before Judge Thomas Brown on Nov. 10 to determine next steps in a lawsuit the convention and six representative churches brought against the five entities in 2002.
In 2000, board members for The Baptist Home authorized changes in The Home's corporate charter to allow the entity to elect its own trustees. In the past, the convention had elected them. The other four institutions made similar changes in 2001.
After Judge Brown dismissed the case in March, the convention appealed his ruling. In August, a three-judge appellate panel returned the case to Cole County. The court supported Judge Brown's ruling that the six churches — Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield; Oakwood Baptist Church, Kansas City; Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City; and First Baptist churches of Arnold, Bethany and Branson — did not have standing, or the legal right, to represent messengers to MBC annual meetings.
Both Judge Brown and the appellate court recognized messengers as the MBC's members.
However, the court held that the Executive Board has the legal right to sue as the convention's representative because the board is composed of members, and members elect its officers.
The appellate court also did not determine members of which Executive Board would have legal standing — the current Executive Board, the 2002 board that authorized legal action be filed, or the 2000-01 board in place when the institutions changed their charters.
At the Nov. 10 hearing, Judge Brown said he understood the appeals court ruling means the Executive Board could represent the MBC. He added that the higher court's ruling did not determine exactly which individuals would represent the board.
The judge said he might interpret the appellate ruling to mean that because of the membership connection, the Executive Board itself could have legal status to represent messengers.
MBU attorney Clyde Farris reminded the judge that the MBC Constitution does not require board members to be messengers.
Attorneys will present arguments for and against certifying the Executive Board as the plaintiff in the case at the Dec. 15 hearing.
Five individuals — Robert Curtis, pastor of Ballwin Baptist Church and MBC president in 2002; Lyn Heying, messenger from New Oakland Baptist Church, Ralls County; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, and 2005 MBC president; James Moore, messenger from Concord Baptist Church, Festus; and James Plymale, messenger from First Baptist Church, Villa Ridge, and Franklin Baptist Association director of missions — filed a second lawsuit against the agencies in October 2004. That case was dismissed on Oct. 12, primarily because it duplicated the first lawsuit.
The five men and newly elected MBC president Ralph Sawyer filed a third petition on Oct. 26. However, the petition is not considered a separate lawsuit as was reported in Word&Way's Nov. 3 issue.
The six individuals filed a motion to intervene in the case on the same date. Missouri law requires a petition to be filed with the motion to show why the six men should be allowed to be included as plaintiffs.
The petition combines parts of the first and second cases and possibly could be used as an amended case if Judge Brown allows the six men to become additional plaintiffs, or if MBC lawyers file a request to amend the original suit and the judge approves. (11-16-05)