Court reinstates Baptist lawsuit

Wednesday, June 1, 2005

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- A state appeals court on Tuesday reinstated a lawsuit brought by the Missouri Baptist Convention that seeks to force five breakaway church institutions back into the fold.

The convention and six affiliated churches sued the institutions in 2001 after they individually amended their corporate charters to declare their independence from convention governance. The lawsuit contends the institutions, having long enjoyed the convention's financial support, couldn't unilaterally break away without convention approval.

Cole County Circuit Court Judge Thomas Brown III dismissed the case with prejudice in March 2004, ruling that the convention, as an incorporated entity, had no legal capacity to sue and that the plaintiff churches had no legally recognized interest in the case. Brown did leave the door open for individual convention members, known as "messengers," to pursue the claims in another lawsuit.

A panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals Western District in Kansas City, however, ruled that Brown erred in dismissing the original case for lack of standing.

The institutions named in the lawsuit are the Missouri Baptist College in St. Louis, the Baptist Home in Ironton, Windermere Conference Center in Camden County and the Missouri Baptist Foundation and the Word and Way newspaper, both based in Jefferson City. The convention claims the institutions hold a combined $200 million in assets accrued as the result of the convention's financial support.

The case is Missouri Baptist Convention, et al., v. Secretary of State Robin Carnahan, et al.

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