November 5, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY—An attorney who opposes the theologically conservative direction of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has filed an amicus curiae brief in Cole County Circuit Court, seeking permission to intervene in the MBC’s declaratory judgment request against five breakaway agencies.
But the significance of the filing may lay in the identities of the churches and individuals supporting it rather than in its legal arguments because for the first time Missouri Baptists get a peek at the depth and breadth of support of the theologically moderate movement in Missouri.
Judge Tom Brown has not indicated if he will or will not consider the brief submitted by W. B. (Bart) Tichenor of Columbia. Judge Brown told The Pathway he has not looked at the brief and will not before the first court hearing, set for Nov. 19.
"It was my understanding that Mr. Tichenor was going to file an amicus brief motion. If the motion is denied, the material will never be read," Brown said. "I expect it to come up at the same time the case is set for hearing. If both parties agree, I can’t imagine the court saying no. But it is at the discretion of the court."
Brown said the filing of an amicus brief is "rare" at the trial level, but not uncommon at the appellate level. The amicus curiae, or "friend of the court" brief asks permission to advise the court on matters pertaining to the MBC case. Tichenor is not part of the legal defense team hired by the trustees at the five renegade agencies that will argue the case.
Along with the filing are the names of 35 Baptist churches in Missouri that elected to join Tichenor’s brief:
First Baptist, Steelville; First Baptist, Cape Girardeau; Kingshighway Baptist, St. Louis; First Baptist, Montgomery City; Wornall Road Baptist, Kansas City; Overland Baptist, Overland; Rock Falls Baptist, Orrick; First Baptist, Trenton; First Baptist, Jefferson City; First Baptist, Smithville; Winnwood Baptist, Kansas City; First Baptist, Hamilton; Liberty Baptist, Warrensburg; First Baptist, Chamois.
Wyatt Park Baptist, St. Joseph; First Baptist, Savannah; Fee Fee Baptist, Bridgeton; Olive Branch Baptist, Sedalia; Holmeswood Baptist, Kansas City; University Heights Baptist, Springfield; First Baptist, Peculiar; Swope Park Baptist, Kansas City; First Baptist, Farmington.
Third Baptist, St. Louis; Spring Creek Baptist, Rolla; Solid Rock Baptist, Rolla; Little Bonne Femme Baptist, Columbia; Joplin Heights Baptist, Joplin; Friendship Baptist, Joplin, Prairie Grove Baptist, Columbia; Second Baptist, Liberty; First Baptist, Bonne Terre; First Baptist, Ironton; Susquehanna Baptist, Independence; and Kirkwood Baptist, Kirkwood.
According to the MBC annual church profile, some of the churches supporting Tichenor have or will soon—sever ties with the MBC or have aligned loosely with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of Missouri and/or the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) at the national level. The CBF, like the new Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM), was formed by moderates miffed over the theologically conservative direction of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
Keith Herron, senior pastor at Holmeswood Baptist, issued a press release announcing that the church would disaffiliate from the MBC Nov. 18.
"The church has reaffirmed its commitment to partner with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship for state and national ministries," Herron said.
"A new direction is required and our affiliation with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship will give us that new direction. It’s a great day to be an autonomous Baptist church."
He added that Holmeswood’s decision "follows similar actions taken at Second Baptist, Liberty and other Baptist churches such as First Baptist Church, Columbia, Wornall Road Baptist Church, Kansas City, and Kirkwood Baptist Church, St. Louis."
At least 13 of the churches FBC, Jefferson City; FBC, Cape Girardeau; Susquehanna; Holmeswood; Kirkwood; Second Baptist, Liberty; Olive Branch; University Heights; Winnwood and Third Baptist St. Louis are listed as partners with the CBF, according to the CBF Internet site.
Several other listed churches supporting Tichenor’s brief were instrumental in the formation of the new BGCM, including the church of BGCM President Dick Lionberger, pastor of First Baptist, Savannah.
Missing from the list, however, were such CBF-aligned churches as Memorial Baptist, Columbia; Tichenor’s home church; Webster Groves Baptist; FBC Columbia; FBC Lee’s Summit; and Cornerstone Baptist, Columbia.
FBC Lee’s Summit voted recently to cut off mission offerings to the MBC and divert the offering to the BGCM. Nationally, the Lee’s Summit church voted to send 50 percent of its cooperative money to the CBF and 50 percent to the SBC.
Nine of the 35 churches filed no reports with the MBC last year: Kingshighway; Wornall Road; Winnwood; Third Baptist St. Louis; Friendship Baptist; Prairie Grove; Second Baptist Liberty; and Kirkwood. Second Baptist Liberty sent messengers to the 2001 MBC annual meeting, but the messenger credentials were pulled because it had withdrawn from the SBC.
Several of the churches listed have pastors considered among the founding leaders of the BGCM. They include: Kirtes Calvery, Swope Park; Randy Fullerton, Fee Fee (Fullerton is trustee chairman at Missouri Baptist College, one of the five breakaway agencies); Bill Miller, FBC Farmington; Jimmy Albright, Wyatt Park; Doyle Sager, FBC Jefferson City; Barry Pennington, Susquehanna, and Herron.
Tichenor’s filing also included the names of 2,485 members of Baptist churches who, the lawyer said, have given written authorization to be identified with the amicus brief. An examination of the names reveals that many are affiliated with churches sympathetic to the new state convention and the CBF.
For example, six of the names are members of the BGCM Board of Directors: Wanda Haworth, FBC Centertown; Richard Manley, Joplin Heights Baptist; L.D. Silvey, FBC Bolivar; Paulina Scott, Fifth Street Baptist, Hannibal; Don Allee, FBC Independence; and Glen Haddock, FBC Rolla.
Churches on the list affiliated with the CBF, Missouri CBF and the BGCM account for hundreds of the individuals listed. For example, three CBF-affiliated churches—University Heights, Holmeswood and Second Liberty account for more than 320 of the individuals. Churches cooperating with the Missouri CBF including FBC Jefferson City, FBC Columbia and Third Baptist St. Louis contributed more than 250 names to Tichenor’s brief. FBC Farmington, which is aligned with the BGCM but continues to send money to the SBC, contributed 128 to the list. Some of the 35 churches had only one or two members among those listed.
Also among the individuals listed are two former MBC Executive Directors, Donald Wideman and Jim Hill. One of the churches listed, FBC Smithville, is pastored by Hill’s brother, Pete. In addition, Harlan Spurgeon, who was the unsuccessful Mainstream Missouri Baptists’ candidate for MBC president in 2000, appears on the list. Mainstream Missouri Baptists was the political arm of the national CBF before it lost four straight MBC presidential elections and closed up shop in 2001.
Tichenor, once a parlimentarian for the CBF and moderator of the Missouri CBF, said in his filing that only by the amicus brief "can the interests" of the listed churches and individuals "be fairly and adequately represented."
According to the attorney, the six MBC churches listed as plaintiffs in the suit "have not been authorized to represent the Amici or to bring the action on behalf of the Amici."
The six MBC churches to which Tichenor refers FBC Branson; FBC Bethany; FBC Arnold; Oakwood Baptist, Kansas City; Springhill Baptist, Springfield; and Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City are listed as churches representative of the MBC on the MBC’s declaratory judgment petition. MBC churches represented at the 2001 MBC annual meeting in Cape Girardeau voted by more than 3-1 to authorize any action necessary to restore the five renegade agency’s accountability to MBC churches.
Tichenor argues that the MBC actually consists of "duly enrolled messengers." He said messengers are natural people, therefore, churches cannot be messengers and the MBC Executive Board cannot be a messenger. Only messengers, he said, could bring the suit, according to the MBC constitution.
In addition, Tichenor says the motion that was made at the 2001 MBC annual meeting, authorizing the legal action, was "critically and fatally defective."
The MBC legal team, Tichenor said, argues that the motion made at the convention was the vehicle to authorize a lawsuit. "The word ‘lawsuit’ is not set forth in the motion," Tichenor said in his brief. "Plaintiffs apparently interpret the phrase ‘any and all steps’ to mean authorization for litigation. There is no way to determine whether the messengers would have adopted the motion if the motion had specifically instructed the bringing of a lawsuit."
"Dr. Monte Shinkle stated it was not his desire or intent to drag a brother into court," Tichenor said, referring to the pastor of Concord Baptist Church who made the motion at the 2001 convention. "During earlier debate Dr. Shinkle explained his motion by declair that it was an effort to determine legal standing.
"It is certainly reasonable based upon these declarations by the maker of the motion messengers may have been falsely led to believe no lawsuit would result from the adoption of the motion," Tichenor added. "It is quite possible if the motion had simply stated the Executive Board and the six Plaintiff Churches were authorized to file suit against the Defendant Institutions, the messengers might have rejected that motion for any number of reasons."
The assertion that messengers might have rejected the motion because they did not understand it may not withstand scrutiny. The overwhelming passage of the motion indicates messengers knew what they were doing and subsequent actions seem to affirm such a conclusion. So far 13 Missouri Baptist associations throughout the state, representing more than 350 Missouri Baptist churches with a combined membership of approximately 54,000, have passed resolutions in recent months expressing support for the MBC action. An unknown number of individual churches have done the same. The six churches listed as plaintiffs on the MBC petition have a combined membership of more than 10,000.
Attorneys will argue a motion to dismiss the suit on Nov. 19 at Judge Brown’s court in Jefferson City.