Clippard firing: Just desserts or raw deal? - Word&Way

Clippard firing: Just desserts or raw deal?

The David Clippard era ended abruptly on April 10 and — as of press time — the firing of the Missouri Baptist Convention executive director may have left more questions than answers.

bill_webbSome are asking if Clippard’s termination actually was the result of poor job performance or bad behavior, or whether he simply was a high-profile casualty in what Roger Moran recently characterized as a “civil war” among conservatives jockeying to control the MBC. Moran is the layman whose group, the Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association, launched the successful Project 1000 campaign to take over state convention leadership in Missouri.

Few people who have observed the deposed executive director very closely over the past four years were very surprised at the firing. Critics and some supporters realize he has given the Executive Board enough ammunition to terminate him. For some time, observers predicted the Executive Board had enough votes — and probably the will — to fire him.

The 44-7 vote was more lopsided than most would have guessed, suggesting the findings of the Executive Board’s blue ribbon investigative committee were significant. One Executive Board member described the report as “devastating” as he emerged from the closed session.

For most of Clippard’s tenure as executive director, critics cited a discrimination complaint by former controller Carol Kaylor, poor relationships with more than one constituent group, duplicity and disagreements with some of the most influential people in the Project 1000 ranks.

Clippard began his MBC tenure in an apparent effort to carry out the mandate of those who had brought him to power, immediately criticizing his predecessors, embracing a lawsuit against five entities and criticizing the five regularly, firing a host of carry-over staff members and threatening to drop the Missouri Woman’s Missionary Union from the MBC budget if members did not make a charter change.

In those respects and others he carried out the will of those who had brought him in as the executive director. Project 1000 leaders and adherents praised him for it. At state convention annual meetings and events like the state evangelism conference, speakers singled out his leadership for praise.

When complaints began to surface, top leaders defended Clippard and heaped on more praise, even when they knew the complaints had merit. That tide of unquestioned support may have begun to turn when Clippard disagreed with a decision to pump $100,000 to $150,000 in MBC funds into a lobbying effort to defeat a stem-cell initiative ultimately approved by voters.

Clippard reportedly disagreed with decisions to make two $100,000 gifts to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary to develop an undergraduate program, even though a pair of Missouri trustees on Midwestern’s board — David Tolliver, the interim executive director, and Jay Scribner, chair of the Executive Board’s administrative committee — pushed hard for the gifts.

On the other hand, in the wake of its firing of the executive director, the Executive Board is facing questions about its handling of the matter.

For instance, why wasn’t Clippard given a chance to be present when the report was presented to the Executive Board? Why was he given no chance to defend himself against charges regarding his own performance and conduct, especially with his job on the line?

Why did the Executive Board feel the need to establish an ad hoc committee to “investigate” Clippard when it already had a board mechanism for regular evaluations? Why have two or more years elapsed without action since some of his infractions were committed? Why did Project 1000 insiders defend Clippard in the face of questionable behavior and decision-making and now criticize him?

Some of those questions began to emerge during last year’s MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau with charges that Moran and his Missouri Baptist Laymen’s Association were leading the effort to unseat Clippard. Speakers suggested the executive director was being victimized by that organization’s continued efforts to determine who would serve the convention and who would not.

Did David Clippard get his just desserts or did he experience a raw deal when he was terminated last week? The answer is probably both.

During the traumatic MBC power shift, the new leaders needed someone willing to do what Clippard did. But it was obvious from the start that they were not hiring a statesman. In retrospect, the state convention would have been better off had Clippard either resigned or had been called to greater accountability by the Executive Board much earlier in his tenure. If the findings against him were “devastating,” he should have been gone long ago.

For his part, Clippard learned firsthand that while he wore the executive director name tag, he was not ultimately Missouri Baptists’ top leader. The power witnessed in the takeover prior to his hiring is not the kind readily relinquished.

Some may well attempt to make Clippard the scapegoat for most of the turmoil among current leaders in the MBC, but that would be disingenuous. His firing does not solve the overarching problem of control. What to many seemed great from the outside looking in is becoming distasteful to many up close.

Some Missouri Baptists will be angry over the firing of David Clippard; others will feel just the opposite.

But surely there is one response every Missouri Baptist can agree upon. Jim Hill, Clippard’s predecessor, offered appropriate advice to messengers gathered at last weekend’s Baptist General Convention of Missouri annual meeting, “I want you to pray for the MBC and David Clippard and the people in our sister churches.” (4-19-07)