Lawsuits are nothing new to MIssouri moderates
Don HinklePathway Editor
May 11, 2004
The congregations of churches affiliated with the Missouri Baptist Convention, assembled in convention in November 2001 overwhelmingly voted to authorize the Missouri Baptist Convention Legal Task Force to “take all steps necessary” to recover the five renegade entities that were wrongfully removed from Missouri Baptists’ accountability, are not the first to file lawsuits against Southern Baptist entities.
At the 1985 Southern Baptist Convention’s annual meeting in Dallas, a moderate, James Slatton, made a motion to amend the Committee on Committee’s report by substituting present state convention presidents and state WMU presidents as a “more inclusive and representative group to serve Southern Baptists as the Committee on Boards.” The move was designed to slow the conservative resurgence in the SBC since the Committee on Committees appointed people to the Committee on Nominations, which in turn, appointed people to the trustee positions of all SBC entities.
The election of Charles Stanley, pastor, First Baptist Church , Atlanta , to the SBC presidency marked the sixth straight year conservatives had won the presidential election, and in turn, the right to appoint people to the Committee on Committees. The moderates were in serious trouble and Slatton’s amendment was just one example of how desperate they were.
When Stanley ruled Slatton’s motion to be out of order, three disgruntled moderates, including Henry Cooper of – you guessed it – Windsor , Mo. , filed a lawsuit against Stanley, the SBC and the SBC Executive Committee. Their petition, filed in federal district court in Atlanta , charges that the plaintiffs were “irreparably harmed” by “erroneous rulings” of Stanley as a representative of the SBC. They charged that Stanley violated their “rights” by “depriving” them “of the opportunity … to vote” on matters relating to the Committee on Committees.
Cooper was joined in his lawsuit by Robert S. and Julia Crowder of Birmingham , Ala. The Crowder’s went so far as soliciting help from famed Hannibal journalist and scholar James Hefley, asking for his help in penning their concerns. Interestingly, Hefley says in his multi-volume series, The Truth in Crisis, that the Crowders came to him following a suggestion by an unnamed state newspaper editor. I assure you, it wasn’t me or any other conservative editor, which at that time, were as rare as a rose in Siberia .
Cooper and the Crowders asked the court to declare the election of the Committee on Nominations invalid, and to allow “any individual or a slate of individuals” to be nominated by messengers in opposition to persons offered by the Committee on Committees. The plaintiffs were hopeful that the court were force two Committees on Nominations be voted on the next year in Atlanta . It is interesting to note that Cooper and the Crowders named the SBC Executive Committee as a defendant in the case because it voted to affirm Stanley ’s ruling and the vote by messengers in Dallas .
The SBC took no chances, hiring former Attorney General Griffin Bell as its defense attorney. Hefley reported that legal expenses were expected to top $250,000 and could run considerably higher if the court’s decision was appealed. And guess what? All the expenses from the lawsuit filed by moderates had to be paid from – you guessed it – Cooperative Program funds.
At the time Cooper was a deacon of First Baptist Church , Windsor , He was there at a time when it was pastored by Pete Hill, brother of former MBC Executive Director Jim Hill, who was recently named the interim executive director for the moderate-led Baptist General Convention of Missouri . Pete Hill, pastor, First Baptist Church , Smithville, is a member of the Missouri Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) Coordinating Council and formerly served on the national CBF Coordinating Council. The CBF was begun by moderates/liberals who opposed the conservative resurgence in the SBC – and the MBC for that matter.
Of course moderates had no problem defending the lawsuit. For example, Hefley reports that David Sapp, a Georgia pastor, said “we should not allow our objections to the lawsuit to obscure the wrong that was done in Dallas . Every Baptist should ask what has driven a fine Christian like Bob Crowder to such an action.” Former SBC Second Vice-President Gene Garrison, pastor, First Baptist Church, Oklahoma City (a church that defied its local association and ordained women as deacons), “understands Bob Crowder’s frustration … The abuse of parliamentary procedure and the totalitarian tyranny of the presidential chair is probably the most frustrating thing I have ever experienced at any meeting of any kind.” In the end, however, Garrison felt the lawsuit would cause too negative a reaction and “was not the way to go.”
Of course Bell and James Guenther, long-time SBC attorney, argued in court that the courts had no jurisdiction over the Southern Baptist Convention on religious matters. As detailed by Jerry Sutton in his fine book, The Baptist Reformation, on May 5, 1986, the U.S. District Judge in Atlanta found in favor of the SBC, saying that the first amendment prevents intrusion of secular courts into internal church disputes.
What is obvious from all this, is not just the hypocrisy of moderates when it comes to legal action, but that at least some of them will even sue individuals. The MBC has always pointed out that its legal action is against entities, not any fellow Christian individual, which Scripture clearly forbids. But I guess you can do just about anything you want when, like moderates, you don’t accept the infallibility and inerrancy of God’s Word.