JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. — In the face of tightened economic conditions, the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) will seek convention messengers’ permission to direct Cooperative Program (CP) gifts to fund ongoing legal action against five formerly affiliated institutions.
CP is the name of the unified budget of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and its affiliated state conventions. In April, MBC Executive Board members approved a $15.75 million CP allocations budget, which designates 3 percent of the total to the convention’s “agency restoration” fund.
Messengers to the 2003 MBC annual meeting approved establishing the fund to encourage churches and individuals to give to cover legal fees incurred in the seven-plus-yearlong legal battle with The Baptist Home retirement-home system, the Word & Way newspaper, the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University in suburban St. Louis and Windermere Baptist Conference Center on the state’s Lake of the Ozarks. However, convention leaders had resisted directing CP contributions — designed to fund missions efforts — to fund legal fees.
In 2000 and 2001, the five entities approved changes in their articles of incorporation that would allow each to elect its own trustees. The MBC filed suit in 2002 in Cole County, where the convention is headquartered, against the five in an effort to bring them back under convention control.
That case is still pending against The Baptist Home, Word & Way, the foundation and the university. The MBC lost its bid for Windermere after exhausting all appeal options. The Cole County case against the remaining four is on hold.
The convention is also paying for a separate lawsuit it filed against Windermere in Camden County, where the center is located, in November 2006. The MBC is appealing that case to the Missouri Appeals Court, Southern District, following a ruling in Windermere’s favor in Camden County Circuit Court in April.
Because the convention’s lawsuit fund — which had been accepting designated gifts from churches — apparently has been unable to keep pace with mounting legal fees, the board considered the CP funding option. However, opposition to using CP gifts to fund the lawsuits surfaced after the board’s April decision. In an effort to make the option more palatable to Missouri Baptists, board members also agreed to an alternate giving plan at their July meeting.
The alternative option allows churches to designate that the tagged 3 percent be distributed to the convention’s three remaining institutions — Southwest Baptist University, Hannibal-LaGrange College and the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home — instead of into ARF coffers.
According to the MBC’s in-house news journal, The Pathway, executive director David Tolliver told convention staffers in July, “You can say to people, if they have this question (regarding use of CP gifts), please tell them that it is a guarantee that their money will not go to lawsuits.”
Currently, the convention is holding spending at 90 percent of its budget, and may face dropping that percentage to 85 before the end of the fiscal year. CP projections indicate the MBC could end the year with $900,000 less in CP gifts than last year.
The choice of giving plans hinges on messenger approval of the budget at the annual meeting, scheduled for Oct. 26-28 at First Baptist Church in Raytown, Mo. If the budget is approved, each church will be asked to vote on which plan it will use for 2010.
(EDITOR’S NOTE — Brown is a news writer for Word & Way, which is affiliated with ABP through the New Voice Media partnership.)