JEFFERSON CITY — In the face of tightened economic conditions, the Missouri Baptist Convention will seek convention messengers’ permission to direct Cooperative Program gifts to fund ongoing legal action against five formerly affiliated institutions.
In April, MBC Executive Board members approved a $15.75 million allocations budget, which designates 3 percent of the total to the convention’s agency restoration fund.
Messengers to the 2003 annual meeting approved establishing the ARF fund to encourage churches and individuals to give to cover legal fees incurred in the seven-plus-year-long legal battle with The Baptist Home, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Windermere Baptist Conference Center.
In 2000 and 2001, the five entities approved changes in their articles of incorporation that would allow each to elect its own trustees. The MBC filed legal action in Cole County against the five in August 2002, seeking to bring the five back under convention control.
That case is still pending against the Home, Word&Way, the Foundation and the university. The MBC lost its bid for Windermere after exhausting all appeal options. The Cole County case against the remaining four is on hold.
The convention is also paying for a separate lawsuit it filed against Windermere in Camden County in November 2006. The MBC is appealing that case to the Missouri Appeals Court, Southern District, following a ruling in Windermere’s favor in Camden County Circuit Court in April.
Because the ARF fund apparently has been unable to keep pace with mounting legal fees, the board considered the CP funding option. However, opposition to using CP gifts to fund the lawsuits surfaced after the board’s April decision. In an effort to make the option more palatable to Missouri Baptists, board members also agreed to an alternate giving plan at their July meeting.
The alternative option allows churches to designate that the tagged 3 percent be distributed to the convention’s three remaining institutions — Southwest Baptist University, Hannibal-LaGrange College and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home — instead of into ARF coffers.
According to the MBC news journal, The Pathway, executive director David Tolliver told Baptist Building staffers in July, “You can say to people, if they have this question [regarding use of CP gifts], please tell them that it is a guarantee that their money will not go to lawsuits.”
Currently, the convention is holding spending at 90 percent of its budget, and may face dropping that percentage to 85 before the end of the fiscal year. CP projections indicate the MBC could end the year with $900,000 less in CP gifts than last year.
The choice of giving plans hinges on messenger approval of the budget at the annual meeting Oct. 26-28 at First Baptist Church, Raytown. If the budget is approved, each church will be asked to vote on which plan it will use for 2010.