Questions and Answers
From Dr. Bob Curtis
President, Missouri Baptist Convention
August 13, 2002
1. Why did Missouri Baptists file a petition in court?
The Executive Board is trying to do what Missouri Baptists told them to do. By an overwhelming vote of church messengers at the November 2001 annual meeting, Missouri Baptists said: "take all steps necessary" to recover the five corporations that were wrongfully removed from Missouri Baptists' accountability.
2. Who are the five corporation defendants?
The five agencies include The Baptist Home, Missouri Baptist College, Missouri Baptist Foundation, Windermere Baptist Conference Center, and Word and Way newspaper.
3. What did the corporations do that was unlawful?
The five corporations are agencies of the MBC which has historically provided funding and required accountability. The five corporate charters gave Missouri Baptists the right to elect agency trustees. The corporations unlawfully changed their charters to elect their own trustees, without Missouri Baptist approval. The corporate charters are legal contracts, promising to operate under the authority of the MBC. The agencies breached their contracts when they secretly amended their charters and sought to disenfranchise Missouri Baptists.
4. Did MBC try to resolve this matter out of court?
Yes. For nearly a year, Missouri Baptist leaders have spent many hours in numerous meetings and countless phone calls, trying to get the five corporate agencies to rescind their unlawful actions, or to submit the dispute to binding arbitration before Christian persons we would mutually agree upon. All five agencies have repeatedly rejected these offers. They have clearly indicated they will never arbitrate and will not come back under Missouri Baptists' accountability. When they refused a Christian arbitrator, they were, in effect, choosing a civil judge.
5. What kind of petition has been filed in Court?
The Missouri Baptist Convention has filed a petition for declaratory judgment in the Cole County, Missouri, circuit court. The petition asks the court to declare the "rights, status and legal relations among the parties." The petition alleges that the corporate charters constitute a legal contract between the agencies and Missouri Baptists. Agencies breached the contract by changing the charters without Missouri Baptists' approval, and trying to disenfranchise the donors who have built the agencies.
6. What is a Declaratory Judgment petition? Is it like a normal damages lawsuit?
A declaratory judgment petition is different from a normal lawsuit for injury or damages. It asks a court to apply the law to the facts in a dispute in order to declare who is right and who is wrong about the law. The agencies claim they acted lawfully. MBC lawyers say the boards acted unlawfully. We simply need a third party to read the corporate statutes and read the charters and decide whether the action was unlawful.
7. What does Jesus teach about such cases?
In Matthew 18:17, Jesus says a wrongdoer should be confronted, first in private, then with witnesses. "If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector." In other words, since the agencies have rejected the collective authority of Missouri Baptist churches and they will not consider Christian arbitration, it is proper to appeal to the civil authority regarding violations of civil and criminal law, the same as would be done for unbelievers.
8. Is it biblical to file a lawsuit against a religious corporation?
Yes. Christian author Larry Burkett writes in his book, Business by the Book:
"Since there were no corporations in existence when the Bible was written, the best we can do is relate the principle to the closest parallel of that time: a government agency. (Acts 16:37) …"A corporation or business is also an entity, not a person. Although the entity may be controlled and often is solely owned by a person, it appears that a corporation or business has no rights under biblical guidelines, except the rights of prevailing law. Therefore, to sue a corporation in order to require that it meet its legal responsibilities is not unbiblical."
Thus, Mr. Burkett reasons, a Christian may "go to law" regarding a corporation's legal duties, even a religious non-profit corporation. Non-personal complaints about violations of corporate statutes are in Caesar's jurisdiction, and it is not wrong to render to Caesar the things that are Caesar's. We are not asking the secular court to interpret John 3:16,but to interpret and apply the secular laws like Section 355.066, which makes MBC the sole member of these agencies, with the right to approve charter amendments. As stewards for Missouri Baptists being served by these agencies, MBC has a duty to require accountability for the spiritual content of each ministry. As stewards of donated dollars, MBC has a duty to require financial accountability; we must speak for the donors who cannot speak for themselves. Justice demands that we not cover up or ignore corporate law-breaking, but submit the matter to the civil authorities.
9. Did MBC go to court first?
No. One agency secretly went to court in 2001 to change its charter without MBC approval. Now MBC must go back to the same court, asking the judge to set aside his earlier order, and to restore MBC's lawful right to elect trustees. Other agencies "went to law" when they went secretly to the Secretary of State and filed their unauthorized amendments, disenfranchising Missouri Baptists. Now the MBC must get a court order so the Secretary of State can correct the record and restore Missouri Baptist accountability over these donated dollars.
10. Is MBC suing individual Christians?
No. The MBC petition names only the five corporations as defendants, and the Office of Secretary of State as official custodian of corporate records
11. Is the MBC seeking money damages from individuals?
No. We are seeking a decision about the law, and about ownership. The petition alleges legal damages in a manner required by court rules, but this is not about money. In this case we do not seek to collect one penny of any individual's money or property. We seek to recover the agencies that are lawfully Missouri Baptists'.
12. Why did the MBC vote to "escrow" funds in the 2001-2002 budget year?
The MBC governing documents required it: "The Board shall have general oversight over all educational and benevolent institutions which shall place themselves under its supervision and accept the conditions set for the in the bylaws of the Board….The Board shall not extend any financial or other assistance to any of such institutions whose property and funds are not safeguarded to the Baptist denomination." (Articles of Executive Board of MBC, Section 10.)
13. Is the MBC spending the "escrowed funds" for legal fees?
No. The money is being held in an interest bearing account, until the agencies rescind their unlawful actions, or until the MBC messengers reallocate the funds to other ministry purposes in October 2002.
14. Will MBC escrow funds in the 2002-2003 budget year, too?
No. The Executive Board recommended a budget that puts ministry dollars to work immediately in agencies accountable to the MBC.
15. What will happen to the $2.2 million dollars that was escrowed in the 2001-2002 budget year?
That is up to the Convention at the annual meeting. It is anticipated that the escrowed funds may be re-allocated among loyal organizations. If the court restores the agencies to Missouri Baptist accountability, it is expected that the Convention would once again include the agencies in the MBC budget.
16. What is the "covenant relationship" proposed by the agencies?
The agencies have proposed that they enter a "covenant relationship" with the MBC, whereby MBC will not contest the unlawfulness of the agency actions, but will agree to fund the agencies but without legal accountability that defined our previous relationship. Missouri Baptists have a covenant relationship, which the agencies should honor. The Executive Board has no right to discuss such a covenant relationship with the agencies, since that would be directly contrary to what the Convention told us to do: restore the agencies to their former relationship of accountability to Missouri Baptists.
View PETITION FOR DECLARATORY JUDGMENT, DAMAGES FOR BREACH OF CONTRACT, AND FOR INJUNCTIVE RELIEF