Court Rules for Missouri Baptist Convention in Fight With University

February 21, 2019

The Missouri Baptist Convention and its executive board won a ruling Tuesday in a court case stretching back to 2002 over whether agencies including Missouri Baptist University violated contracts by creating legal entities outside the convention's control.

Five agencies, including what was then Missouri Baptist College, changed their charters during a fight for control of the Missouri Baptist Convention between moderates and conservatives, the News Tribune reported. In legal arguments, the convention has said its case involves a religious denomination's right to “maintain authority over its subordinate ministry corporations by reserving the rights to elect trustees and to approve charter amendments.”

Cases proceeded separately against some of the five agencies, with mixed results for the Missouri Baptist Convention. Tuesday's ruling, by a three-judge panel of the Missouri Court of Appeals, gave the convention a victory over Missouri Baptist University and the Baptist Home.

The court decided that it had no authority to address many of the defenses raised by the university because they concern ecclesiastical matters and because they had been improperly pleaded. The university had alleged, for instance, that the convention required affiliated universities not to teach material contradicting religious doctrine like the belief that the Earth was created over a seven-day span 6,000 years ago. The argument was that in doing so, the convention breached a document stating the university's purpose was the transmission of truth.

“The convention is eager to welcome Missouri Baptist University and the Baptist Home back into our family of churches,” Michael Whitehead, a lawyer representing the Missouri Baptist Convention, told the News Tribune.

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