RAYTOWN — Missouri Baptist congregations will have to formally vote during a church business meeting if they wish to protect their Cooperative Program gifts from being used to fund ongoing legal action.
Messengers to the 175th Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting adopted an Executive Board recommendation that establishes two Cooperative Program allocation plans. Plan A designates 3 percent of CP allocations to be used to pay costs incurred in the continuing legal battle against five formerly affiliated institutions.
The Executive Board included Plan A in its budget recommendations at its April meeting. When opposition to the plan surfaced, the board added an alternate allocation option – Plan B, which does not include a percentage for agency restoration. Instead, it increased allocations to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home by 1 percent and to Christian higher education operations by 2 percent.
CP money given through Plan A will help pay for legal action against The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist University the MBC filed in 2002 after the five refused to rescind charter changes that allow each entity to elect its own trustees.
At the annual meeting, the Agency Recovery Group (formerly the legal task force) reported that the convention has spent $5 million in legal costs since 2001. Church Mutual, the MBC’s insurance carrier at the time litigation was filed, covered $1.5 million. The ARG called use of CP funds to recover the five entities “reasonable.”
Mel Lance, a messenger from First Baptist Church of North Kansas City, argued against budgeting CP funds for legal action for three reasons. Churches can give to the agency restoration fund already in place, he said. Messengers to the 2003 annual meeting established the ARF to encourage churches and individuals to give to help defray rising legal costs.
“It’s not right or fair” for the churches to have to vote not to participate, he argued. And, he added, he is “distressed” by the idea of using CP dollars for the lawsuits. “It’s an insult to the purpose of the Cooperative Program,” he said.
An amendment that attempted to make Plan B the default allocation option failed. Executive Board member James Freeman told messengers that the MBC essentially has used Plan A as the default “for decades” because it has spent money on attorney fees in the past to pay for a variety of legal matters.