JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) — Three messengers to the most recent Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting who seek to end a seven-year legal struggle between the convention and five formerly affiliated entities were given a chance to air their views Dec. 15.
Frank Whitney, pastor of Union Hill Baptist Church in Holts Summit; Mike Monahan, a deacon at First Baptist Church in Hermann; and Mel Lance of First Baptist Church in North Kansas City met with the MBC Executive Board at its December session at the Baptist Building in Jefferson City, Mo.
Each gave reasons why they believe the convention should end lawsuits first filed against the Word & Way newspaper, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist Home retirement-home system, the Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist University in 2002.
MBC president Bruce McCoy invited the three men to attend the Executive Board meeting after confusion at the MBC annual session earlier in the year ended opportunities to present motions related to the lawsuits.
At that meeting, messengers broadened the Executive Board’s authority to deal with legal issues involving the entities — including the possibility of ending the legal action. They voted down Whitney’s amendment to grant the Executive Board the power to act, but only to end the litigation.
Once the original proposal passed, McCoy moved to other business. The committee on order of business determined that any additional motions regarding the lawsuits would have been out of order.
Had he been allowed, Monahan said, he would have made a motion to instruct the convention to discontinue legal action as the plaintiff. The Hermann congregation had voted at a church business meeting to bring the motion to the convention.
In a brief interview after they spoke at the board’s December meeting, Monahan and Whitney said they believe the lawsuits should end now.
“I’m hoping they will re-examine the original movement toward lawsuits and am hoping they will resolve the legal issues this year,” Monahan said.
Whitney said both sides are at fault and that the Bible is “clear” in its admonition against legal action.
“I’d like to see the convention … and the agencies come to the point of repentance for … taking a legal response,” he said. “I believe the agencies erred in stepping over their charters, and I believe the convention erred in taking it to court.”
He added that he asked the MBC to “lay down the lawsuits with no concessions…. If someone files something against us, I’m ready to take the harm.
“I lay no blame here…. We as a convention voted overwhelmingly to pursue lawsuits [in 2002]…. We need to step away, then the agencies can respond,” he said.
Both Monahan and Whitney said they felt that board members listened and seemed to understand.
“I believe they seemed receptive,” Monahan said. “Their primary focus seems to be on regaining unity…. I feel that’s a goal we can all agree on. I think as we get the litigation settled, after that point, we can reopen frank and direct discussions” between the MBC and the entities.
Judges in both Cole County — where the original legal action was filed — and in Camden County — where the MBC filed a second lawsuit against Windermere — have ruled in the conference center’s favor. Windermere also won an MBC appeal of the Cole County ruling.
The convention has filed an appeal in the Camden County case, as well. The Missouri Court of Appeals for the Southern District will hear oral arguments on Jan. 15 in Springfield.
Vicki Brown is associate editor of the Missouri Baptist Word & Way.