October 21, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY — Cole County Circuit Court Judge Tom Brown has set Nov. 19, as the date to hear the first round of arguments in the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) suit for declaratory judgment against five breakaway agencies.
Attorneys representing both the convention and the agencies will tell the judge why he should or should not dismiss the action. Attorneys for the five agencies filed motions Oct. 14, asking Judge Brown to dismiss the case.
Agency lawyers contend that the MBC "lacks standing to sue and are not real parties in interest in this action as they have no special interests in or separate interests."
The main question in the court case is who has the right to appoint trustees for the five agencies – the MBC or the individual boards of trustees. The MBC contends that the five boards illegally altered their corporation charters making it possible for the boards to become self-perpetuating.
The five agencies are the Missouri Baptist Foundation, with managed assets of approximately $131 million; The Baptist Home, a multi-facility retirement center with an endowment in excess of $35 million; Windermere Baptist Conference Center with it’s lucrative timberland and scenic acreage adjoining the Lake of the Ozarks; Missouri Baptist College, historically regarded as a theologically conservative institution located in St. Louis; and the 106-year-old Word&Way news journal.
"Over the years, thousands of Missouri Baptists have entrusted millions of dollars to (these) five agencies of the Missouri Baptist Convention, relying on their contract promises to remain agencies accountable to the convention," the petition states.
"When their cumulative assets totaled about $200 million, the five agencies tried to amend their charters in order to steal themselves away from convention governance. Their actions broke trust with Missouri Baptists who have given the money to build the institutions for all these years. The five non-profit corporations had charters that guaranteed the convention’s continued right to govern via the exclusive right of the convention and/or the Executive Board of the MBC to elect agency trustees."
The petition also asks for an injunction to protect nearly $200 million in Missouri Baptist ministry assets connected with the five agencies. The MBC Executive Board has stressed that the petition is not directed at individual Christians and does not seek monetary damages The MBC contends that accountability is the key issue. The agencies disagree, arguing that the MBC Executive Board is interested only in "control."
The motions to dismiss also challenge the rights of six Missouri Southern Baptist churches to participate in the suit. "The six churches are not members of the Missouri Baptist Convention and are not proper representative parties of the Missouri Baptist Convention," the motion argues. "Therefore, the churches have no legally recognizable interest in the matter at issue and no standing to bring this lawsuit."
The MBC legal team also has asked the court to require the agencies to provide documents for examination. But the agency attorneys have responded by asking the court "to grant a protective order, directing that defendants need not respond to … the first request for production of documents until defendants’ motion to dismiss have been ruled upon.
"The defendants have filed motions to dismiss this action, which if the courts grant, will obviate the necessity of answering these discover requests," defense attorneys said. In order to avoid undue annoyance, burden or expense to the defendant, the court should enter this protective order… ."