December 16, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY — Two of the five breakaway Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) institutions – Missouri Baptist College and the Missouri Baptist Foundation – have filed counter-lawsuits against the MBC.
Named as defendants are the MBC and the six Missouri Southern Baptist churches that joined in the earlier declaratory judgment petition seeking to restore the five renegade agencies’ accountability to MBC churches. The counter-lawsuits, also filed in Cole County Circuit Court, alleges that the MBC nominating committee violated the MBC Constitution by announcing its guidelines for nominations.
"These guidelines sought to give greater representation among the churches by allowing a person to serve on only one agency board at a time and allowing a single church to have no more than two members serving on boards at one time," said Mike Whitehead, chief legal counsel for the MBC.
The guidelines also sought to select persons who would agree to be supportive of the SBC and the MBC.
"These guidelines did not change the Constitution, but announced how the committee had agreed to exercise its discretion. The nominating committee was free to nominate in this manner, and the convention was free to elect the trustees at its discretion," the attorney explained.
The school’s counter-suit contends that the nominating committee did not consult enough with the college as to its wishes for nominees. The suit also says the convention did not give enough deference to the college’s requests for nominees.
"This is alleged to be a breach of contract. It is not." Whitehead said.
"The convention did what it was clearly authorized to do – elect trustees after consultation. The fact that the college did not like the decisions of the convention does not make those decisions illegal and does not give the college the right to break their charter by electing trustees."
Whitehead said the legal team is pleased to see the college recognize that the MBC Constitution is a contract.
"We will ask the court to find that it is a contract which the college breached, and not the convention," he said.
The Missouri Baptist Foundation’s lawsuit asks the court to rule that everything the Foundation did in its breakaway activities was above board and legal.
The six churches were also named in the Foundation’s legal action.
"We claim that they did not satisfy Chapter 352 or Chapter 355 of the Revised Statutes of Missouri," Whitehead explained. "In any event, these two statutes form only a small part of the claim by the MBC that the Foundation acted unlawfully in amending its charter.
"The Foundation has asked for damages including attorney’s fees and costs to be paid by the convention. This is more than just defending themselves, they are counter-suing – plain and simple."
The Foundation’s suit describes current MBC leadership as "politically motivated Baptists" who have "exerted great influence over the Missouri Baptist Convention, causing great concern for many Missouri Baptists."
Whitehead said it is refreshing to see this admission about the primary motivation "for the corporate coup."
In a related development, W. Bart Tichenor, the former MBC attorney who is seeking to intervene on behalf of the agencies, has filed a motion objecting to the deposition he will be required to give on Dec. 17. Tichenor affirms in the motion that he at "no time advised or counseled the defendant corporations relative to taking actions to amend their charters in any form or fashion."
Tichenor charged that the purpose of his deposition is not to obtain admissible evidence but is "for the purpose of harassing" him because of his objection to the filing of the pending suit and because of his attempts to file an amicus curiae brief on behalf of the five agencies.