Mo. Baptists give suit discretion to Exec. Bd.
Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press
October 29, 2009

Mo. Baptists give suit discretion to Exec. Bd.

Mo. Baptists give suit discretion to Exec. Bd.
Vicki Brown, Associated Baptist Press
October 29, 2009

RAYTOWN, Mo. — The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) broadened authority of its Executive Board to resolve ongoing lawsuits against five formerly related entities at the convention’s 175th annual meeting Oct. 27.

Messengers at First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo., voted 764-226 to authorize the Executive Board “to make any and all decisions and to take any and all actions with respect to the legal proceedings which, in its sole discretion, are reasonable and prudent, and in the best interests of the convention and our stewardship duties to the past, present and future generations of donors to the Lord’s work” in between annual meetings.

The additional authority extends to ending the lawsuits, if the committee deems such action in the convention’s best interest.

Word&Way, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University (MBU) and The Baptist Home changed their charters in 2000 and 2001 to allow each to elect their own trustees. The MBC filed suit against the five in Cole County in August 2002. The MBC filed additional legal action against Windermere in Camden County in 2006.

The MBC’s Agency Recovery Group (formerly the legal task force) suggested that because they and the Executive Board were privy to confidential information protected by attorney-client privilege, the two groups were in a better position to make critical decisions about the lawsuits than messengers. In its motion, the Agency Recovery Group (ARG) indicated such information was necessary to make “informed” decisions.

MBC lead lawyer Michael Whitehead said because the convention had chosen to stream the annual meeting live, he could not protect the attorney-client privilege during the business session.

In his presentation, ARG chair Randy Comer said the motion would simply provide the Executive Board the authority to accomplish the “mandate” convention messengers have given board members since 2001 — to take all steps necessary to “recover” the five institutions.

Messenger Jesse Barnhart of First Baptist Church of Mayview, Mo., said he didn’t wish to tie the Executive Board’s hands but added, “I hesitate to place this much authority in the Executive Board, especially to drop it.”

Scott Gordon of Claycomo Baptist Church in Kansas City, Mo., called the action “a step away from accountability to the messengers.”

Messengers voted down an amendment by Frank Whitney of Union Hill Baptist Church in Holts Summit, Mo., to grant the Executive Board the power to act but only to end the litigation.

In a video presentation, Whitehead indicated that the MBC would pursue recovery of Windermere land at the appellate level. He acknowledged that judges in both the Cole County and Camden County cases have ruled that Windermere did have the legal right to change its charter.

However, Whitehead said, the MBC will argue that Windermere’s land should be returned because former executive director Jim Hill “tricked” the MBC into excluding a provision in Windermere’s charter that would have retained the convention’s right to reject any future charter changes by agency trustees. The convention is pursuing fraud claims against Hill in Camden County.

Whitehead noted that earlier governing documents for the Baptist Home, MBU and the Foundation contained the clause that required MBC approval before their charters could be changed. The MBC will file motions in the Cole County case to move forward against the three.

Word&Way became a separate entity in January 2001 when Windermere did. Its charter does not contain the restricted clause. The ARG did not indicate what the MBC plans to do regarding the case against the news journal.

(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brown is associated editor of Word & Way.)