Legal fees vs. children's home, colleges - Word&Way

Legal fees vs. children’s home, colleges

The clock is winding down on 2009. Churches across Missouri have been deciding their response to a measure approved by Missouri Baptist Convention messengers to allow Cooperative Program funds to be used to pay fees incurred in legal action against five entities.

Bill Webb

Since 1925, the Cooperative Program has been a successful channel whereby Southern Baptist churches have funded missions, education, benevolent and other ministries within respective state conventions and nationally and internationally through the Southern Baptist Convention.

Word&Way is among the five entities being sued in addition to The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and Windermere Baptist Conference Center.

Cooperating MBC churches have been given a choice between having the undesignated funds they send to convention headquarters in Jefferson City applied through Plan A or Plan B. Messengers voted to require each congregation to take a vote in business session to decide between the two.

Plan A includes a provision to apply 3 percent of a congregation’s undesignated gifts toward legal fees. If the MBC’s budget goals are met, up to $448,113 could be applied to legal fees in 2010.

Churches have another option — Plan B. This plan ensures none of a church’s CP gifts will be applied to legal fees involving action against the five entities. Instead, that 3 percent share would go to the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Hannibal-LaGrange College and Southwest Baptist University.

If every church used Plan B (no legal fees) and the MBC reached its budget goals, the children’s home would receive $425,708 already budgeted for its ministries plus an additional $149,371. Between them the two schools would receive $1,792,455 already budgeted plus an additional $298,742.

Each church reportedly will be required to check either Plan A or Plan B on the remittance form they use each time they send funds to Jefferson City or mark their preference on the check they send. Failure to do either means the default — Plan A — kicks in and 3 percent of those gifts go to legal fees.

Many Missouri Baptists are unhappy with the decision to include legal fees in the CP budget at all. Obviously, a majority of messengers voted in favor of at least giving churches the option to do so. Others are none too pleased that the default favors CP missions money paying MBC lawyers and other legal fees.

Most churches will not have much trouble figuring out that if they decide to fund lawyers and fees, they will be denying needed funds to the children’s home and its ministries to youngsters and families and to Christian training for college students on two campuses.

How will your church invest its mission offerings?