The lawsuits filed by the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) against five institutions that began selecting their own trustees in 2000 and 2001 have gone on for about seven years now.
Only the one against Windermere Baptist Conference Center appears to have been settled. With continuing delays, amended filings and appeals, they could continue another seven years. The estimated cost so far is about $10 million.
Even though the suits are still ongoing, I am ready to definitively declare who are the winners and losers. Here is the scorecard:
Winners of the lawsuits:
- Lawyers. The vast majority of the $10 million spent has gone to attorneys. The attorneys who advised the MBC to sue, the attorneys who predicted the suits were winnable, the attorneys who pressed the cases and churned them through amendment after amendment and appeal after appeal, and the attorneys that had to be engaged by the defendants. These are the only winners.
Losers of the lawsuits:
- The non-believing world that has watched a steady stream of news about self-proclaimed followers of Jesus Christ fighting with each other in the public square. These are souls driven that much further from Christ because of the negative image Christians create for themselves. I list these persons first because Baptists have always claimed to have a primary concern for lost souls.
- The Missouri Baptist Convention has lost in so many ways it is hard to list them all. Here are a few:
- The MBC has lost its biblical integrity by directly violating the clear instruction of scripture in 1 Corinthians 6. The denomination that prided itself in a belief in biblical inerrancy and literal interpretation conveniently rationalized its actions in suing fellow believers.
- The MBC has lost the financial support of many of its churches and many individual Missouri Baptists as it has spent huge amounts of money on the suits. The argument about whether Cooperative Program money technically has or will be used for the suits is pointless. The plain fact is that almost every dollar that comes to the MBC is the result of the sacrificial giving of Missouri Baptists and their churches, who are motivated by a love for missions. Whether the immediate source of the funds was an equity line against the Baptist Building or a rebate from Guidestone Financial Services, the origin of the money was the tithes and offerings of God’s people.
- The MBC has lost the respect of other state conventions. Around the Southern Baptist Convention, they look at Missouri as the bad example of how conventions handle disputes with their affiliated institutions.
- The MBC has lost in court one ruling after another. In spite of continuous rosy predictions from the attorneys and their elected leaders, the convention has lost every significant ruling, every amended filing and every appeal to date. (One appeal was sent back to the lower court for reconsideration, but the outcome turned out the same.)
The MBC has lost its passion for evangelism and mission. In the process of devoting time, energy and money to the lawsuits, the calling of Christ to fulfill the Great Commission in the spirit of the Great Commandment has been sorely neglected.
- Rank-and-file Missouri Baptists have lost the services and benefits offered by the five institutions. By the decisions made by the MBC, many do not feel they can enjoy the beauties and inspiration of Windermere, read the news and information provided by an independent Word & Way or utilize the services of the Missouri Baptist Foundation, The Baptist Home or Missouri Baptist University. The five institutions have continued to strive to serve all Missouri Baptists in the same ways they have since their founding. The banning and boycotting by the MBC has certainly hurt the institutions, but it has hurt Missouri Baptists even more by pulling them away from places and institutions they loved.
- The five institutions that have been sued have lost. Even if they prevail in court eventually, they have lost precious time stolen by the court cases, precious resources paid for legal expenses and energy that could otherwise have been devoted to the fulfilling of their missions. They have had to live with seven years of stress and undergo the pain of having misinformation and attacks directed their way. They have been accused of “stealing” the institutions when the only action they took involved who would elect their trustees so that they would not be caught up in and undermined by convention politics.
- Churches and religious organizations that buy liability insurance in the future. One particular insurance company covered the MBC and several of the agencies. That company has been out millions in claims, and that cost will be passed on to future policy holders in increased premiums.
It would be wonderful if these suits would end right now, but whether they do or not, both the MBC and the five sued institutions have lost. They have lost things, both tangible and intangible, that may never be recovered.
Bob Perry is the leader of the Congregational Health Team for the Baptist General Convention of Missouri. He is the founder and president of Organizational Health Associates. This column appeared first in Word & Way.