Missouri Baptist Foundation seeks peace, unity - Word&Way

Missouri Baptist Foundation seeks peace, unity

JEFFERSON CITY — Appealing to the biblical call to unity, Missouri Baptist Foundation trustees have issued an open letter to Missouri Baptists to call for an end to nearly 10 years of litigation.

And trustees are hoping messengers to the Missouri Baptist Convention will respond by ending legal action started on Aug. 13, 2002, when they gather at Tan-Tar-A Oct. 31-Nov. 2.

The MBC filed legal action against five formerly affiliated institutions — The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Word&Way and the Foundation — after the five changed their governing documents to allow each to elect its own trustees. The Cole County Circuit Court ruled in Windermere's favor, and the convention voluntarily dropped Word&Way from the litigation. The university, The Home and the MBF remain as defendants.

"Everyone wants this over, yet there is fear and concern that if the convention stepped away [from the lawsuit], there would be retaliation," noted MBF President Chris Calmer in an interview Oct. 28.

"With the convention starting next week, there would be the ability of the messengers to take action…. We believe messengers could take action [to end the lawsuit]…and we are trying to go on record to say that if this is the type of action the convention is willing to take, this is the action the Foundation is willing to take” — to negotiate cooperation and seeking no retaliation, he added.

Writing on behalf of the board of trustees, Chair Tom Ogle pointed out: "This path which all of the parties to the litigation are following will not result in any real victory for any one. Rather, the only people who will continue to benefit from the litigation are the legal counsel for both sides."

Even if the convention wins against the Foundation, two cases still remain against The Baptist Home and Missouri Baptist University. "The legal issues in those cases differ from those in the case against the Foundation, but the disputes will proceed for a long time into the future," Ogle wrote.

The trustee chair also assured readers that the Foundation would seek no retaliation if legal action is withdrawn, and calls on messengers to the annual meeting to "direct the leaders of the convention to sit down with the leaders of the three entities and agree to end this dispute."

MBC and entity leaders should then direct attorneys to take the necessary steps to finalize an agreement. "The future should be in the hands of Missouri Baptists, and not their lawyers," Ogle wrote.

Quoting 1 Corinthians 1:10, Calmer said he hopes Missouri Baptists on both sides of the issue would be willing to recognize that the mission of the three entities has not changed and that the nearly 10-year history bears that out.

"Now we have a history and people have been able to see that the entities are still fulfilling their mission," he said. "Early on, people might have believed that the entities would go away…but that has not been the case…. We are still serving Missouri Baptists…. How have we changed course, except to elect our own trustees?"

Calmer added that he is "committed to see this end…. I was raised a Southern Baptist…and I'm committed to see us work together, to cooperate together again."

Ogle pointed out that new leaders — a new convention executive director, a new MBF president — and the different make up of the MBC Executive Board and three entity boards since the litigation's beginning could mean a fresh attempt at cooperation.

"The time has come for the Convention and the three defendant institutions to agree that the litigation should stop," Ogle wrote. "There is no real victory available to either side. The corrosive effect of nine-plus years of litigation must end and the healing must begin."

Calmer noted, "It seems like I hear people saying they're nervous about what happens…if one wins, one loses…and they forget that God is so much bigger than this…and that it can be resolved Christian to Christian."