Let’s talk plainly about our legal matters
Can we talk? Do you remember Joan Rivers? I don’t mean to imply that Joan Rivers is no longer with us—but when I was a young man, Joan Rivers was famous for beginning her comedy routines with the question, “Can we talk?” And, Missouri Baptists, we need to talk.
I have just come from the spring meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board. It was a great meeting. Missouri Baptist Evangelist Jim McNiel set the tone with a Scriptural monologue that edified the members of the Executive Board and exalted the Lord Jesus Christ. Thank you, Brother Jim, for ministering to us. Unity was the order of the day. While the discussion was frank, the mood was cooperative. Not every decision was unanimous—but most were. It is also true to say that the Executive Board had to grapple with some very complicated issues and make some difficult decisions.
Last week, the board made two very important and difficult decisions concerning the ongoing Convention legal action. First, the board elected to authorize an additional $500,000 line of credit for use by the Agency Recovery Group (ARG) to continue to fund the lawsuits, until the messengers can make certain decisions about future funding for the legal action. The other very significant decision is that the Executive Board approved, and will recommend to the messengers participating in the 2009 annual meeting, a Cooperative Program (CP) allocations budget including a line item for Agency Restoration. Stated plainly, the messengers at the 2009 annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention will be asked to adopt a budget that utilizes CP dollars to fund the lawsuits.
That’s what I want us to talk about.
I want to reiterate some things that I have said repeatedly over the last several years. First, I am theologically opposed to the lawsuits. If you are some of those Missouri Baptists who believe that I Corinthians 6 prohibits the MBC from being plaintiffs in a lawsuit with other Christians—I agree with you. But, if you agree with me concerning the lawsuits, I hope you will also agree with me when I say that some of the most godly men and women I know differ with us concerning our interpretation and application of I Corinthians 6.
I do not know a single person either on the ARG or on the Executive Board who enjoys the legal battle. The ARG and the Executive Board are simply carrying out the wishes of the Convention as a whole. In the year 2001, the messengers met in Cape Girardeau. At that meeting they instructed the Executive Board to “…take any and all steps necessary” to recover the agencies. It should be noted that the Executive Board does not have the authority to undo an action of the Convention messengers. Additionally, messengers in at least seven subsequent convention meetings have overwhelmingly affirmed the decision to seek a legal remedy for the improper action of the five breakaway boards. So, it was in compliance with the desire of MBC messengers, and following repeated attempts to arbitrate our differences, that the Executive Board authorized the Agency Recovery Group to file lawsuits naming the breakaway agency/institution boards as defendants.
Although, the Executive Board was never prohibited from utilizing CP dollars—to date, no CP dollars have been spent to fund the lawsuits—now the Executive Board will ask the messengers attending the 2009 annual meeting of the MBC to make that decision. A few principles need to be acknowledged:
• Anything and everything that Missouri Baptists elect to do ought to be funded through the CP—that’s how we do business;
• Missouri Baptists and Southern Baptists regularly spend CP dollars for things that are not purely missional. Just like your Missouri Baptist church, we purchase office supplies, pay utility bills, hire staff, maintain parking lots and buildings, and buy insurance including malpractice insurance in case we are ever involved in legal matters—all funded through the CP;
• Maintaining, even recovering, lost institutions/agencies is a part of preserving the mission and ministry of that agency. The five breakaway agencies/institutions were purchased, built, and otherwise established with CP dollars, and, through the years, they have been maintained with CP dollars. Now the messengers will decide whether or not to utilize CP dollars to preserve the mission and ministry of those same agencies/institutions;
• This is not the first time—nor will it be the last time—that Missouri Baptists and Southern Baptists are involved in lawsuits. The Southern Baptist Convention keeps two attorneys on retainer because of constant legal issues. Those attorneys have always been paid using CP dollars;
• Other states have been through the same kind of legal battles we are currently involved in, and every one of those other Conventions have resolved their legal matters using CP dollars.
I understand that the ongoing legal battle is an emotional matter for many Missouri Baptists. It is for me as well. I have already stated that I would prefer personally that we not be involved in lawsuits. You should also know that I do not come at my position lightly. I have significant history with each of the breakaway agencies/institutions:
• My grandfather served as a member of the founding committee for St. Louis Baptist College—later called Missouri Baptist College, now known as Missouri Baptist University;
• As a boy, our family often used Windermere Baptist Assembly as the location for our family vacations. Frankly, as a mission pastor in Dubuque, Iowa, when all the Southern Baptist churches in Iowa were missions of Missouri Baptist churches, a few days at Windermere was the only vacation we could afford;
• Myra and I took our honeymoon at Windermere;
• I recall with great fondness the many times our church spent the day at the Missouri Baptist Home for the Aged in Ironton. We personally visited with several residents of the “Home” who were members of our church. Because of the sweet spirit of the residents—even the cooperative spirit of previous administrators—I always enjoyed leading worship services at the Baptist Home;
• I remember well when Word & Way was my source of information concerning the work of the Missouri Baptist Convention. Even when I was serving in the military overseas, my father would periodically send me an envelope filled with several issues of the Word & Way;
• Although my family never had much, at least some of the money that my grandparents and parents had was invested and given away to missions and ministry through the Missouri Baptist Foundation.
Without question, this decision will be emotionally charged for all of us. I am praying that Missouri Baptists will lay aside emotions and personal agendas. Let’s all pray with sincerity that the Spirit of God will lead us all as we make this very important decision in the 2009 annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention. I am guessing that come October I will see many of you in Raytown.
In the meantime, can we talk … and pray?