SPRINGFIELD – Messengers at the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC) annual meeting here Oct. 26 overwhelmingly defeated a motion to drop the MBC’s lawsuits against Windermere Baptist Conference Center, The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist Foundation and Missouri Baptist College.
The motion, defeated by a secret-ballot vote of 753-199 (79 percent to 21 percent), was brought by Mike Haynes, director of missions, Greene County Baptist Association. Haynes’ motion would have the Convention direct the MBC Executive Board to “immediately end the lawsuits” against the four convention agencies.
His motion was made following a video report from the Agency Restoration Group (ARG) Chairman Randy Comer, director of missions, Barry County Southern Baptist Association and Michael Whitehead, MBC lead attorney.
Haynes noted that the MBC’s budget has dropped from $19.2 million the year before the lawsuits were filed, to its current level of $15.1 million.
“We’ve spent $5 million on these lawsuits, $2 million is owed and we’ve only been reimbursed $333,000 from insurance,” Haynes said while making his motion.
Comer responded that Haynes was mistaken about the amount the MBC had been reimbursed by the convention’s insurance carrier, Church Mutual, noting that the net amount the MBC received was $1 million. He also noted that the convention’s legal costs had dropped in 2010 in large part because the MBC has been awaiting rulings and “waiting does not cost us any money.”
Comer warned messengers that if the motion passed it could expose the convention to millions of dollars of claims that could bankrupt the MBC.
“Some people have suggested that the MBC should just dismiss its lawsuits and hope that the other side would dismiss their lawsuits against us,” Comer warned messengers. “Unilateral dismissal could expose the MBC to the risk of millions of dollars of legal claims. The size of the damages that have been claimed could literally bankrupt the MBC if we just defaulted and walked away.”
In the video report, Whitehead stressed two developments this year: 1) The MBC victory in an appeal to the Missouri Court of Appeals in Springfield, which ruled that the MBC may continue its quiet title action in Camden County, aiming to recover 1,300 acres of Windermere land; and 2) A critical ruling which is pending before Cole County Circuit Court Judge Paul Wilson on the MBC case against the Missouri Baptist Foundation. Whitehead said a ruling on the Foundation could come at any time.
MBC Second Vice President and Executive Board Member Mitch Jackson, pastor, Miner Baptist Church, Sikeston, also warned the messengers that dropping the lawsuits could expose the MBC to claims that could bankrupt the convention.
“You do not have the whole story,” Jackson warned. “We (the MBC Executive Board) are interested in ending all the lawsuits, too, but not this way. I love and know these board members and they have the best interests of the convention at heart.”
David Daughenbaugh, member, Cornerstone Baptist Church, Lamar, also opposed the motion, calling the continuation of legal action “a matter of stewardship.”
Following defeat of the Haynes motion, the Convention voted to adopt the ARG report and authorize the Executive Board to procede as outlined in the report.