November 19, 2002
JEFFERSON CITY — A Missouri circuit court judge has taken under advisement a motion to dismiss legal action against five breakaway Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) agencies.
Judge Tom Brown of the Cole County Division II Circuit Court here listened to arguments for and against the motion Nov. 19. The judge hinted at the close of the hearing that he will render a quick decision.
"I’m going to take this under advisement, and I’ll get back with you within a few days," Brown told attorneys at the close of the hour-long hearing.
At stake in the case is the destiny of the five MBC institutions – The Baptist Home, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist College and the Word & Way newspaper – all with a net worth said to be more than $200 million.
Trustees of the five entities have changed their corporation charters to make each of the boards self-perpetuating. After failed attempts to persuade the institutions to settle the disagreement with Christian arbitration, the MBC filed a declaratory judgment petition, asking the court to determine if the boards violated state corporate law by changing their charters without MBC approval.
A packed gallery was present to hear the pleadings, including MBC Executive Director David Clippard; Kenny Qualls, MBC President-elect and pastor of Springhill Baptist Church, Springfield; and Monte Shinkle, MBC first vice-president-elect and pastor of Concord Baptist Church, Jefferson City. Also present was former MBC Executive Director Jim Hill, who has signed on as a supporter of the five breakaway agencies.
Very little new information was presented at the hearing. The only hint of controversy came when attorneys for the MBC challenged the right of attorney W. Bart Tichenor to get involved in the hearing for motion to dismiss (See related story.)
James Freeman III, a Kansas City attorney and member of the MBC legal team, led the challenge against Tichenor, citing Missouri court rules which require that motions not dealing with evidence be presented to the court on a regularly scheduled Law Day.
Attorney Michael Whitehead, who heads the MBC legal team, joined in the protest. He told the judge it is improper for Tichenor to be involved as an attorney on the side of the agencies because he has access to information from the time he worked as an attorney for the MBC and prior to the resurgence by Baptist conservatives in the state.
"Mr. Tichenor has access to information and, in fact, may be a material witness in this case if it continues on," Whitehead said, adding that Tichenor was part of a 1978 MBC committee that rendered a report being used by agency attorneys in their arguments that the case should be dismissed.
Judge Brown overruled the MBC team’s argument and permitted Tichenor, who is not among the attorneys hired to represent the five agencies, to present his case as to why the lawsuit should be dismissed. However, the judge is considering a request by MBC attorneys to subpoena Tichenor, a known leader in the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) and the new Baptist General Convention of Missouri.
Attorneys representing the agencies were: Lawrence Tucker of Kansas City (Baptist Foundation), Douglas Copeland of Clayton (Missouri Baptist University) and Jim Shoemake of St. Louis (Baptist Home, Windermere and Word &Way).
Shoemake renewed the argument that MBC had no standing to bring suit against the agencies because the agencies’ charters say the corporations "will have no members." He said the MBC is an association of individual messengers and not an association of churches. According to the defense team, the six churches that joined in the suit are not "members" of the MBC and, therefore, are not proper parties to represent the MBC.
MBC attorneys countered that the convention is an association of churches, not individuals, and it is proper for six churches to serve as plaintiffs, representing other churches in the MBC.
Freeman told The Pathway that the defendants are making a fundamental interpretive error in their reading of governing documents.
"The defendants fail to acknowledge that, in Missouri Baptist vernacular, the word ‘convention’ has at least two meanings," he said. "Sometimes the word ‘convention’ is used to refer to an event, the annual meeting of messengers from member churches. At other times, ‘convention’ is used to refer to the entity, the association of member churches and to its on-going, year-around work of ministry through its agencies."
Freeman urged the judge not to dismiss the legal action which, he said, would "slam the door to the courthouse" for the MBC.