JEFFERSON CITY – Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) leaders discounted a mass emailing by the Missouri Baptist Foundation (MBF) on Oct. 9, as a public relations strategy just days before the MBC annual meeting in St. Louis.
For the second year in a row, Foundation leaders have emailed an estimated 2,200 copies of a letter just before the Convention, addressed to ”Dear Missouri Baptist Leader.” The letters have generally proposed that both parties drop the legal action regarding the MBF’s breakaway and find ways to minister together.
The MBC won a court judgment last year, finding that MBF trustees broke the law in 2001 when they “deliberately, repeatedly, and surreptitiously ignored the Convention’s right [to approve charter changes] solely for the purpose of … eliminating it. … cheat[ing] the Convention out of its rights.” The trial court ordered the breakaway board to be removed and replaced with an MBC-elected board of trustees, returning control of $148 million in assets under management to the MBC. The court also ordered MBF, or its insurer, to pay MBC for all legal fees and costs it has incurred in the 10-year-old legal case. The judgment will be supplemented by a hearing to set the amount of the legal fees award before final review by the court of appeals.
This year’s letter was signed by Chris Calmer, longtime staff member and MBF president since August 2011. Calmer said he knew that some people suspected the MBF was seeking to end the litigation only because MBF had lost at trial, but he said that was not the case. “Our legal counsel has continued to express confidence in our legal position,” he said. “The point of this letter is simply requesting an open dialogue among Christian brothers and sisters, to determine ways we can bring this litigation to an end.”
The letter contained no specifics about what ways Calmer has in mind to end the litigation. The letter inferred that MBF would not be willing to obey the court order to change its charter back, to allow MBC to elect its trustees.
In a prepared statement, MBC Communications Director Rob Phillips responded:
“Chris Calmer’s letter Oct. 9 raised many good questions but failed to raise the best question: What is right for Missouri Baptists?
“The Missouri Baptist Foundation ultimately belongs to the Lord and was established by the Missouri Baptist Convention to be “the trust services agency of the MBC.” Because it was the MBC’s foundation, the MBC controlled the charter and elected trustees to be Godly stewards. The trustees, in turn, agreed to be governed under bylaws they subsequently violated. This is not merely a legal breach; it is an ethical lapse from which they have refused to repent despite our repeated efforts to resolve this matter without involving the courts.
“The MBC has a moral and fiduciary responsibility to protect the assets of all Missouri Baptists. We agree with Chris that the legal action is time-consuming and costly, but in fact the length of the legal action is entirely in the foundation’s control.
“There is indeed “common ground” to which Chris appealed in his letter. It is the bylaws by which the trustees bound themselves when they joined the board. Simply put, the litigation would end today if the trustees agreed to follow the bylaws they pledged to uphold –specifically to allow those elected by the MBC to be seated on its board. This is a simple, biblically sound and morally right solution that we proposed 10 years ago.
“That’s what the trial judge ordered when he called the foundation’s actions “simply unconscionable.” The MBC cannot and will not abrogate its responsibility to Missouri Baptists – or dishonor their generous gifts over generations – just because it is difficult. Doing what’s right often is neither quick nor easy.
“Chris writes, ‘I do believe there are ways to address everyone’s concerns and end this litigation.’ If he is sincere, he could tell the Executive Board his proposal for compromise, rather than send mass emails just prior to the annual meeting two years in a row.
“Lastly, it should be acknowledged that legal action should never be the first response of a believer. Rather, all issues should be resolved, if possible, at the most personal and private level; that has been our approach all along and continues to be our preference. However, when fellow believers entrusted with the assets of others violate the very principles they have pledged to uphold, and when they refuse Christian arbitration, it is our duty to right this wrong in a Christ-like spirit by whatever just means are necessary.”
Rob Phillips’s statement is posted at MoBaptist.org.
MBC legal counsel Michael Whitehead confirmed that the Foundation had acted first in 2001, going to Cole County court to change its charter. In 2002, the Convention had to file a petition in the same court, asking for an order to change the charter back.
Whitehead said MBC officers Robert Curtis and the late Gary Taylor pled with leaders of the Foundation in 2001 and 2002 to use Christian arbitration through Peacemakers Ministry, but the MBF and other breakaway agencies refused. MBC then filed its petition in Cole County, asking for a court order changing the charter back so that MBC would elect the board of trustees. Judge Paul Wilson finally issued the requested order on Dec. 31, 2010. Wilson is now a candidate for a vacancy on the Missouri Supreme Court.
“Judge Wilson’s condemnation of the treachery by these trustees was scathing and well-reasoned,” Whitehead commented. “If MBF trustees want to meet with MBC officers to take responsibility for what the court condemned, and to make things right along the lines of what the court ordered, then their fine lawyers know how to schedule such a meeting with us.”
“Mass mailings may be good for public relations spin, but they are not well-suited for peace-making,” Whitehead concluded. “The time for posturing is past. Today is always a good day for repentance.”
Randy Comer, chairman of the Agency Restoration Group, told The Pathway he agreed. “MBF and its attorneys continue to use every legal procedure they can think of to try to prolong this litigation and make it more costly for everyone,” he said “Yet they act like we are the ones prolonging it. We asked their attorneys to make an offer, a compromise, on the amount of attorneys fees their insurer should pay to the MBC. That way we all could avoid more legal fees for depositions and hearings. But MBF refused and said they owe MBC nothing, and they want depositions on the issue of attorneys’ fees. So who is dragging things out?”
“They act like Judge Wilson’s blistering court order doesn’t matter,” Comer concluded. “But they lost. Maybe people who received the email letter will write the MBF, remind them of Judge Wilson’s ruling, and tell them to do the right thing and restore the MBF to the MBC family . Then we can talk about personal reconciliation.”