SBU, MBC Tussle over Trustees - Word&Way

SBU, MBC Tussle over Trustees

SBU entrance photo

As the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting starts today (Oct. 28), leaders are at odds with a Baptist school in the state. While the MBC demands Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, adopt changes to its governance documents, the two groups are disagreeing about trustees for the school.

SBU entrance photo

Southwest Baptist University photo

During an Oct. 22 meeting of the SBU Board of Trustees, the trustees voted to remove Kyle Lee as a member of the board. In January, the board censured Lee for violating the board’s conflict of interest policy in the handling of claims by Clint Bass, a theology professor fired for violating SBU’s faculty handbook. Lee and Bass served as elders together at a church in Bolivar. In November, Bass was fired, in part, after secretly meeting with Missouri Baptist Convention leaders to allegedly drive out other theology professors. SBU Board Chair Mark Rains explained the censure in January gave Lee an opportunity to rebuild trust and answer questions about his actions.

“After much prayerful discussion, the board determined there was a breach of confidentiality that irreparably eroded our trust and ability to work together,” Rains said in an SBU statement to Word&Way on Oct. 22. “The board voted, consistent with SBU’s charter and bylaws, to remove him from the SBU Board of Trustees.”

The chair of the MBC Executive Board’s Entity Relations Committee, however, disputes the right of SBU trustees to dismiss a trustee. Linda Welch sent a letter on Oct. 21 to SBU leaders requesting Lee’s censure be removed so he could fully participate. Welch called the censure “improper.”

“We believe that MBC entities do not have the authority under our governing documents to exclude an MBC-elected trustee from performing his duties, and certainly not for an indefinite period of time, possibly years, subject only to the discretion of the entity board or its executive committee,” she wrote.

SBU’s charter, however, includes a provision for removing a trustee “for gross misconduct, neglect of duty, or for any cause in the wisdom of [SBU’s] Board” as long as a majority of the trustees agree.

After Welch sent her letter and Lee offered comments in an MBC publication claiming he had been instructed by SBU’s attorney to share documents with Bass and others, Rains rebutted the claims. In an Oct. 25 SBU statement to Word&Way, Rains noted “Lee admitted to a breach of confidentiality that violated the trust of the rest of the board.”

“Confidentiality and trust are necessary for any relationship, especially for a trustee of any institution,” Rains added. “[Lee] rejected the training he received, claiming that he was instructed to breach confidentiality immediately after the same meeting in which he received specific training about maintaining confidentiality as a trustee. Mr. Lee’s statement was contrary to the statements of several witnesses and the explicit training he had received. The board overwhelmingly did not accept his assertions of having received permission to violate his duties.”

Concerns Over New Trustees & Governing Documents

SBU’s Oct. 22 statement also expressed concern about the MBC’s nominating process for new trustees ahead of the MBC’s annual meeting the next week. Noting that the trustees during the meeting talked with MBC executive director John Yeats, SBU’s statement publicized a key complaint.

“The board expressed concern that, to date, the University has not been notified of nominees to be put forth at the MBC annual meeting next week,” the statement explained. “This is an unprecedented action on the part of the nominating committee, and the SBU board of trustees desires for this to change in the future.”

SBU’s board also set up a working group of trustees at its October meeting to study changes demanded by the MBC to SBU’s charter and bylaws. The MBC previously instructed six Baptist institutions to make two changes to governing documents: adopt the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith & Message 2000 and name the MBC as the “sole member” of the corporation.

The other five institutions — Hannibal-LaGrange University, Missouri Baptist Children’s Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University, and The Baptist Home — all adopted the two changes prior to the MBC’s Executive Board meeting in August. At that meeting, MBC board members granted SBU an extension to adopt the two changes by Mar. 1, 2020.

MBC messengers will be asked at the annual meeting to approve a recommendation from the MBC Executive Board that the MBC “directs” SBU’s trustees to approve the “sole member” change before March. The Southern Baptist Convention, in contrast, routinely rules motions out of order if they direct an affiliated institution to take an action as opposed to requesting such an action.

“Avoid any language in your motion that could be construed as mandating action by an SBC entity. These are typically held out of order for legal reasons,” the SBC’s 2019 guide on submitting motions explained. “Instead, frame such motions as requests to the entity or entities. Such motions are usually referred to the entities for study and subsequent report back to the Convention.”

If SBU does not comply by March, the MBC might cut funding or initiate litigation. In 2002, the MBC filed lawsuits against five Baptist institutions in 2002 — including Word&Way — and later sued several financial institutions and individuals. All of that litigation ended earlier this year after nearly 17 years with the MBC losing its claims against most of the defendants they sued.

On Oct. 24, SBU sent an email to alumni urging them to “pray for unity and cooperation between SBU and Missouri Baptists.” And in addition to inviting people to visit SBU’s booth and alumni reception at the MBC annual meeting, the email also encouraged messengers to back SBU.

“Wear purple on Tuesday at the MBC annual meeting to show your support of SBU,” the email urged. “Be prepared to support SBU with your vote.”