Jefferson City – The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) has dismissed its legal effort to recover the Word & Way, Inc., one of five corporations which broke away from Convention control in 2001. Attorneys for the Convention filed the “voluntary dismissal” in Cole County Circuit Court on April 23 pursuant to prior direction by the Executive Board.
The “voluntary dismissal” ends the convention’s legal action against the former MBC newspaper. The dismissal became effective immediately upon filing, and did not require any action by the court.
According to a statement released by MBC legal counsel Michael Whitehead, the Executive Board remains convinced that the Word&Way breakaway was dishonest and wrong, whether or not it was legal. The Executive Board has concluded, however, that it is in the best interests of the MBC to stop the legal effort to recover the newspaper at this point. This conclusion does not diminish the Board’s resolve to recover the other agencies and assets.
The MBC statement went on to say that now the MBC’s news journal is The Pathway, so there is less reason to continue to pursue the former newspaper assets. In 2001, the Executive Board transferred a mailing list and some 2001-era computers to Word&Way before it broke away. The current value of those assets does not warrant the costs of additional legal action to recover them. The dismissal does not, however, signal a change of opinion about the wrongness of Word&Way’s conduct, and does not affect the MBC efforts to recover the other breakaway corporations.
Word&Way was incorporated in 2000 by former executive director Jim Hill at the same time as Windermere, and with similar charter language. In 2009, the Missouri Court of Appeals ruled that MBC cannot recover the Windermere corporation, because the charter did not contain the phrase, “MBC must approve charter amendments.” The Word&Way charter did not contain this clause either, and therefore a similar court decision was likely.
Three other breakaway agencies had the MBC approval requirement in their charters: Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home, and the Missouri Baptist College. MBC attorneys are asking the trial court to enforce this requirement in the three charters. A hearing is set on that issue on May 11 before Judge Paul Wilson in Cole County, regarding Missouri Baptist Foundation.
“Some people have asked why MBC took up the Windermere case first, since Windermere corporation did not have the MBC approval requirement in its charter,” the MBC statement noted. “The answer is that only Windermere was being subjected to huge mortgages, major construction projects, timber harvesting, conveyances of 5/6 of the land to private developers, and other actions which threatened to change dramatically the character of the ministry. We asked the court to take up Windermere first because of these ‘emergency circumstances.’
“Even though the court said MBC cannot get the Windermere corporation back, MBC is still trying to get the land back, through other legal arguments in Camden County. In Cole County, the MBC will continue to seek to recover the Missouri Baptist Foundation, Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Homes.”