If there had been any lingering doubt as to the resolve of the Missouri Baptist Convention’s (MBC’s) executive committee to continue the legal battles with the five “renegade” agencies, as they are fond of labeling them, those uncertainties have all been dispelled by Executive Director David Tolliver’s most recent article in The Pathway.
The executive board voted to authorize an additional $500,000 line of credit to what has already been authorized to fund the ongoing lawsuits against The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist University, Word & Way newspaper, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and The Baptist Foundation.
While Tolliver reasserts that no Cooperative Program funds, which are given by churches to sustain ministries and missions efforts, have been tapped to date to fund the lawsuits (an affirmation that is certainly open to question as this article demonstrates), the proposal now is to do exactly that. Beyond extending the line of credit to the tune of an additional half-million dollars, the MBC is also proposing a new line item in the Cooperative Program budget to fund the lawsuits. Although Tolliver didn’t disclose that amount in his column, a separate article in the same edition reported that he new budget line being proposed is $469,000 – again almost a half-million dollars to sue fellow Baptists.
Through a lengthy bulleted list of what he labels principles that need to be acknowledged, Tolliver cites the example of the SBC itself and other state conventions that have spent CP funds to conduct lawsuits as well as suggesting that using CP funds for all kinds of purposes is just how the MBC does business.
The most disingenuous statement in his article has to be the following quote: “Maintaining, even recovering, lost institutions/agencies is a part of preserving the mission and ministry of that agency.” Tolliver completely ignores the undeniable fact that the five named agencies are continuing to conduct their ministries surprisingly well, especially given the fact that the MBC has systematically attempted to undermine their capacity to do so.
That, of course, is especially true of Word & Way, where not only were funds cut off from the agency but existing office space was taken away from them; LifeWay and other SBC advertisers were discouraged from using their services. The same could be said of Windermere, where the MBC not only cancelled all of the convention’s normal activities there but sought to influence individual churches to not utilize the facilities either. Clearly, the goal hasn’t been to maintain the mission or ministry of the agencies but to regain political control of them.
Tolliver claims to be theologically opposed to the lawsuits, but that doesn’t prevent him from encouraging churches to support the efforts. He repeatedly makes the claim in the article that the executive committee is merely carrying out the wishes of the churches as expressed in the 2001 annual meeting in Cape Girardeau. Tolliver acknowledges that the decision in Raytown this coming fall “will be emotionally charged for all of us” and says that he’s praying that Missouri Baptists will lay aside emotions and personal agendas.
I wholeheartedly agree with the part about personal agendas, but I pray on the other hand that some emotionally charged pastors and lay leaders will finally come to their senses and say that enough is enough of suing fellow Baptists and seeking to hinder their ministries. Maybe a bit of old-time emotion might convince those who have quietly acquiesced all along to the demands of a few that it’s high time to move beyond partisan politics to Kingdom causes.