What in the world is the Hill-Jester group thinking?
March 21, 2006
Just when I think I’ve seen it all, some Baptist does something shocking and appalling. Like the character Vizzini in the movie classic, The Princess Bride, I find myself uttering: “Inconceivable!”
That’s the way I felt when I heard that National City Bank has sold about 1,000 acres of Windermere land to a business connected to Jim Hill, Jerry Hill and Bill Jester.
Inconceivable! What are they thinking?
Do they think that setting up a new company named “Windermere Development Company, LLC,” will disguise the fact that the Hill brothers and Jester are involved?
Do they think the trial judge will allow this bogus deal to stand, giving away five-sixths of Windermere’s land while the judge is trying to decide who is the lawful board?
On the other hand, Missouri Southern Baptists never thought a handful of theologically moderate malcontents would try to walk off with their agencies, reject binding Christian arbitration and then use frivolous procedural tactics to force a protracted legal battle.
Do the Hills and their cadre of supporters think they can get away with this shell game? They will probably argue that the deed to National City Bank was already recorded before Cole County Circuit Court Judge Tom Brown slapped Windermere trustees with a temporary restraining order (TRO) on Dec. 19. The TRO prohibits them from further encumbering or selling any land that Missouri Southern Baptists have paid for through their tithes and offerings over the past half century. The fact that such a flim-flam maneuver would even be attempted, in plain view of God and everybody, is just, well, inconceivable.
Brown has already put defense attorneys on notice that if the MBC prevails in this court case, all the deeds and the debt they have created may be declared null and void. His warning should be a hint to all five breakaway agencies that the legal strategy may be going sour for the renegades.
In more bad news for the agencies, the MBC has won a summary judgment from the federal court in Kansas City which ordered Church Mutual Insurance Company to pay part of the MBC’s legal bills. That resulted in the MBC receiving a $320,000 check from Church Mutual for part of the past fees. There is every expectation that more, much more, is coming from Church Mutual.
This has happened just as a series of rulings by Brown have gone against the renegades. In recent weeks Brown has popped Windermere with the TRO and then denied the college’s discovery sanction motions, banning further Bible bashing by college attorney Clyde Farris. (I continue to refer to it as a college because I do not accept the action by the renegade trustees in making it a university.) Since the appeal, Brown has shown real determination to get to the key legal issues: Are the corporate charters enforceable contracts, which promised the MBC the right to elect trustees for the five agencies? Brown has made it clear in recent hearings that he is determined to finish discovery, rule on some legal motions, and set a trial date this fall. His action signals that he is in no mood for further stalling tactics and that the case is headed for final judgment as soon as possible.
So what are the renegade trustees thinking? Do they realize the risk of personal liability for their wrong-doing if they lose the legal case? Oh, they have no doubt been told that non-profit directors are immune from personal liability for negligent acts. But have they been warned they may be personally liable for intentional wrong-doing? That means they could be forced to foot the entire legal bill for the MBC as well as pay off any remaining mortgages related to their shenanigans.
These trustees might not be faulted for listening to their lawyers early on, but after all that has happened – the appeal, the recent court rulings against the defendants – these trustees know better now. They have personal culpability now. Now is the time for some trustee to have the courage to say: “I am not risking my home to help the lawyers win. We were wrong to break away and it’s time to make it right.”
Meanwhile, Missouri Southern Baptists continue to be harassed by fundraising letters from Word & Way (don’t feel like the Lone Ranger, I’m getting them, too.) while Baptist General Convention of Missouri (BGCM) representatives prowl around the state in search of MBC churches to lure away. They have been embarrassingly unsuccessful (one recent report said the BGCM has 125 churches, but in reality the number is probably closer to 25). One of the more interesting developments from all this is that Missouri Southern Baptists can now see clearly that such behavior is obviously condoned by the BGCM’s old friend, the shrinking Baptist General Convention of Texas (BGCT).
I suppose it is no surprise, certainly to Missouri conservatives, that the Hills’ scheme to snatch much of Windermere comes just as the BGCM formalized what has been an informal, but comfy partnership with the theologically moderate BGCT. BGCT leaders have beaten a path to Missouri ever since they realized that the overwhelming majority of Missouri Southern Baptists are conservative and that they were fed up with the MBC’s liberal drift under Hill and a handful of like-minded pals.
BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade, who has been up to his eyeballs in Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF) ties and activities, was a key speaker at the BGCM’s organizational meeting. For Wade to agree to a partnership with the BGCM just as its executive director and business associates are grabbing Windermere adds insult to injury. If anyone has doubts about where Wade and the BGCT stand with regard to the BGCM, recent developments make it crystal clear. Texas Baptists need to take a real hard look at their leadership – and some Texas Baptists may decide to join that other Texas convention, the fast-growing Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.
BGCT meddling in the affairs of Missouri is likely to worsen as a result of its new “partnership” with the BGCM. For example, in its most recent edition, the newspaper of the BGCT, The Baptist Standard, declared that “the institutions affiliated with the Baptist General Convention of Missouri have been embroiled in a prolonged legal dispute with the Missouri Baptist Convention.”
Really? Last time I checked their affiliation was the subject of a legal case, the outcome of which is yet to be determined.
Along those same deceptive lines, the BGCM continues to claim that Southwest Baptist University and Hannibal-LaGrange College are affiliated organizations. The presidents of both schools have said they are not. That’s like the claim on Jim Hill’s RDI Web site that his clients include Windermere and – the MBC.
What is conceivable is that the truth will prevail, justice will be done, and the agencies will be restored to the MBC family.