New petition by Mo. Convention filed against breakaway entities

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)--Attorneys for the Missouri Baptist Convention have filed a new petition in the legal effort to reclaim five breakaway entities, with assets of $250 million, that changed their charters to elect their own trustees, rather than the convention.

The new declaratory judgment action names five messengers as representatives of the convention, as suggested by the former judge on the case, Tom Brown.

Earlier this year, Brown dismissed the MBC’s first petition on procedural grounds, ruling that the MBC executive board and six churches listed on the suit did not have standing to represent the unincorporated association known as the Missouri Baptist Convention in legal action against the entities.

State law requires that “members” of an association be the legal representatives in a legal action, and the judge said he interpreted the MBC constitution to mean that messengers are “members.” MBC attorneys had argued that messengers from affiliated churches are members of the annual meeting, but that the executive board and churches that send messengers can represent the convention through the year.

Before Brown’s dismissal, MBC attorneys asked to amend the first petition to add messengers as parties, but Brown instead dismissed the petition and suggested that a new petition be filed with messengers’ names. MBC attorneys are appealing the judge’s refusal to permit an amended petition in the Western District Court of Appeals in Kansas City.

Meanwhile, MBC attorneys filed the new petition in Cole County Circuit Court in order to keep the case moving toward a final ruling.

The new petition, dated Oct. 25, names five individuals as plaintiffs. Each person has been a messenger at MBC annual meetings since 1999 and is a convention-elected trustee for one of the five breakaway entities. Two of the five persons also have been convention-elected officers during the past five years.

The five plaintiffs are Robert Curtis, pastor of Ballwin (Mo.) Baptist Church and the convention’s 2002 president who would have been an ex officio member of the Windermere conference center board under the original charter; Mitchell Jackson, pastor of Miner Baptist Church in Sikeston and the convention’s new president who has been elected by the convention to The Baptist Home retirement facility’s board; James Plymale, a messenger from First Baptist Church in Villa Ridge, who was elected by the convention to be a trustee for Missouri Baptist College prior to 2001 and voted against the self-perpetuating charter change; Lyn Heying, a messenger from New Oakland Baptist Church in Ralls County, who was elected by the convention to be a trustee of the Word & Way newsjournal; and James Moore, a messenger from Concord Baptist Church in St. Louis who was elected by the convention to be a trustee of the Missouri Baptist Foundation.

Michael Whitehead, MBC lead attorney, said state law “permits naming a few members who will adequately represent the other members of the unincorporated association.”

“It is something like a ‘class action’ rule, which permits the court to certify a few members to represent the interests of all the class members. We have filed a motion asking the judge, first thing, to certify these five messengers as proper representatives under Rule 52.10.

“We fully expect the opposing attorneys to try to ‘flip flop’ now, and to argue that messengers are not proper representatives either,” Whitehead said. “But the judge has previously said that the [five entities] can’t have it both ways.

“We will seek an early ruling by the court that the messengers have standing, so we can proceed to the heart of the case: Do promises in the [entity] charters that MBC shall elect or appoint trustees constitute a contract which is legally enforceable by the convention? If so, then the agencies’ unauthorized amendments to become self-perpetuating breached the contracts.”

Each agency charter contained the right of the MBC to elect or appoint trustees. For example, the Baptist Home charter said: “This Corporation shall be affiliated with and subject to Missouri Baptist Convention. The members of the Board of Trustees of this Corporation shall be nominated and elected by Missouri Baptist Convention at the Annual Meeting of said Convention and shall automatically be removed upon withdrawal of the Approval by Missouri Baptist Convention or the Executive Board of Missouri Baptist Convention.”