As a journalist, there are stories I love to write. Like the stories from the annual gathering of the Baptist World Alliance last month in Bangkok, Thailand. These types of events inspire me and deepen my faith, so I’m excited to share them with others.
There are other stories I feel a responsibility to write about, even though I wish the issues I must address did not exist. For instance, the litigation among Missouri Baptists over the past 15 years has wasted millions of dollars of missions money and has damaged the witness of Baptists. I wish the litigation did not exist. But since it does, we must cover it at Word&Way.
For more than 15 years, Word&Way has served as the publication of record for this complex litigation. No other media outlet — Baptist or otherwise — consistently and thoroughly covered the litigation from the start. And, I will add as one who spent most of that time observing the coverage from outside the newsroom, no other publication did so as fairly. Editor Emeritus Bill Webb and former Associate Editor Vicki Brown carefully documented the twists and turns in the litigation, giving space to all sides involved. Flipping through the archives of the Word&Way, one can find an accurate look at each step in the litigation. And, fortunately, the claims against Word&Way had been dropped before I came here.
Looking back on the big picture and the arch of the story can also illuminate new layers of understanding not noticeable during the process. Paul and other New Testament writers demonstrated this principle as they looked back at older scriptural passages, noticing teachings about the Messiah that earlier writers did not fully understand. For Missouri Baptists, some of the earlier actions to initiate the Missouri Baptist Convention’s litigation look different with the clarity of hindsight.
This issue marks the 15th anniversary of the litigation — on Aug. 13 — by taking a look back on some of the key issues and claims involved. This isn’t really a birthday celebration as few people — other than some wealthier lawyers — can celebrate the litigation. So, unlike other occasions marking birthdays, I won’t sing, “and many more.”
Fifteen years ago, I stood for the first time at a microphone of an MBC annual meeting. A student at Southwest Baptist University and pastor at Union Mound Baptist Church near Elkland, Mo., I went to microphone two months after the filing of the lawsuits against five Missouri Baptist ministry institutions. I made a motion to end the litigation. Unfortunately, the motion only carried one-third of the vote. I wonder how high the vote would have been if the messengers could have seen 15 years into the future and see where we are today. Below are a few of my remarks as I scribbled them out on the back of my ballot before walking to the microphone. They seem to still fit today, which I account to the guidance of the Spirit.
Read the newspapers, Missouri Baptists. We are presenting a negative image of the Church and Christ, and so we must stop before we drive people away and straight toward Hell. Have we lost our focus? When [then-MBC Executive Director] David Clippard spoke Monday night, he challenged us to win more people for Christ, and we just sat there. Then he said we would get the five agencies back, and we applauded several times. What has happened to our priorities? We need to spend our limited time, energy and money on reaching people for Christ.
Instead of subpoenas, we need to hand out Bibles. Instead of dragging people to court, we need to bring them to church. Instead of suing people, we need to love them. For Christ’s sake, let’s stop this because it’s not beneficial for the Kingdom. For Christ’s sake, let’s stop it before we drive more people away. Please, Missouri Baptists, let’s stop this now for Christ’s sake.
Fifteen years later, the appeal remains the same: For Christ’s sake, let’s stop the lawsuits now.