A March 11 ruling by a Missouri judge expressed that the Missouri Baptist Convention had no legal rights to assert its beliefs upon “breakaway entities.” The ruling came amid the MBC’s scuffle to seat the trustees to five breakaway groups in recent years.
"The judge has not denied that the convention has rights," said Gary Taylor, chairman of the convention's legal task force. "The judge did not rule on the key issue in the case -- whether these five corporations can violate the plain meaning of their own charters by denying the convention the right to select their trustees.
"The convention has directed that we get a final judicial ruling on that legal issue, and we are determined to honor the convention's mandate, even if that means going to the court of appeals," Taylor said.
The five breakaway groups include the Missouri Baptist College, the Word and Way newsjoural, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, Missouri Baptist Foundation and The Baptist Home. These groups altered their charters in 2000 and 2001 to select their own trustees and to remove themselves from MBC ownership.
The Judge Tom Brown in effect took away the “legal” rights of the MBC to seat the board. However, since the ruling deals with o Taylor said the legal process has not ended.
"We are disappointed but not deterred," Taylor said. "As we have said before, this is a procedural 'bump in the road,' not a roadblock."
The convention has until April 20 to seek reconsideration of the court's ruling or to file a notice of appeal to the Western District of Missouri Court of Appeals in Kansas City.
"The judge believes that the Missouri Baptist Convention should be represented in this case by messengers rather than by churches or the executive board," Taylor said. "We have proposed an amended petition which would name individual messengers in the case.
"This may require a mid-course correction in our plan but it does not change our goal. We remain committed to the goal of justice for more than 600,000 Missouri Baptists in more than 2,000 local churches who have given millions of dollars to build these institutions.
"Someone must speak up for their rights. If the courts require individual messengers, we will give the court individual messengers."
Mike Whitehead, lead attorney for the MBC legal team, was also optimistic despite Brown's ruling, which he called a “procedural” issue, which may require individual messengers to be named as representatives of the convention rather than the executive board or six named churches in the filing.
"The order granted a motion for summary judgment by the college and stated that the churches named as plaintiffs were not technically 'members' of the convention," Whitehead said. "The judge said that the MBC constitution means that individual messengers are the members."
The college issued a press release after the ruling, describing it as an action that "ends the dispute between the Convention and Missouri Baptist University over the University's ability to appoint trustees in a self-perpetuating manner."
"A shadow has finally been lifted from the University," the press release said.