Friday, May 22, 2009

Agency Heads Clarify Question of CP Giving

In a post of April 23rd, I commented about the Missouri Baptist Convention's decision to utilize Cooperative Program offerings to fund their ongoing litigation efforts against five Missouri Baptist entities. The argument that MBC Executive Director David Tolliver advanced to justify the use of CP funds to pay for lawsuits against fellow Baptists was that these institutions had been built and sustained by CP funds so it was only right to use CP funds to reacquire control of them.

In an article in the most recent edition of Word & Way, the heads of the Baptist entities in question examine Tolliver's claim about CP funds building and sustaining their institutions and the facts clearly don't bear out Tolliver's assertion. In the year in which Missouri Baptist University received their highest support from the MBC, it represented 3% of their total budget. All of the funds that went to MBU were restricted to scholarship assistance for Baptist students, so cutting those funds merely hindered Baptist young people from pursuing an education.

The Baptist Home existed for 4 years before it received any MBC support and the MBC never owned or purchased any of the properties or assets of the Home, including the expansion to the two additional campuses.

The MBC did purchase the Windermere Conference Center but its level of support was once again only a fraction of the center's operating budget down through the years. The convention budgeted $148,875 in CP funds for Windermere in 2001, an amount equal to 5 percent of the $3 million budget.

In fact, in 2002 when CP allocations for the five were escrowed and never paid, the convention budgeted about $2.1 million for them--less than 5 percent of the combined current operating budgets of the the five.

It will be interesting to see how Missouri Baptists respond to the appeal to officially approve of the use of CP offerings to fund the ongoing lawsuits, now in their seventh year. Hopefully the hollow claims of these institutions being built and maintained by CP funds will be exposed and one more prop will be knocked out from under the MBC's efforts to justify the unscriptural practice of suing fellow believers.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Product Warning Labels and Miscommunication

In 1997, Michigan Lawsuit Abuse Watch (M-LAW) began a contest to expose how frivolous lawsuits have led to a new cultural phenomenon—weird and zany product warning labels. Some of these are absolutely hilarious.
1. On a fishing lure with 3 steel hooks: “Harmful if swallowed.”
2. On a smoke detector: “Do not use the Silence Feature in emergency situations. It will not extinguish a fire.”
3. On an electric carpenter’s router: “This product not intended for use as a dental drill.”
4. On a baby stroller: “Remove child before folding.”
5. On a hand-held massager: “Do not use while sleeping or unconscious.”
6. On a household iron: “Do not iron clothes while they are being worn.”
7. On a package of shin guards designed for bicyclists: “Shin pads cannot protect any part of the body they do not cover.”
8. On a box of sleeping pills: “Warning – may cause drowsiness.”

The list goes on, but you surely get the point by now. In an effort to avoid liability and avert lawsuits, companies have resorted to writing some pretty strange warning labels for their products—often with some unintended and entertaining results.

Communicating clearly what we intend to say can be a tricky matter. We’ve probably all had the unpleasant experience of being terribly embarrassed at something we accidentally said when we’ve mispronounced something or jumbled our words. Unfortunately, once our words are spoken, they take on a life of their own. It’s no wonder that James, the brother of Jesus, declares that “if anyone does not stumble in what he says, he is a perfect man.” That unfortunately excludes all of us most likely. But by God’s grace, when we slip and say something harmful, let’s have the courage to make it right by asking forgiveness of those we’ve offended. Otherwise, we might need to wear a product warning label on our foreheads, advising others to be cautious about listening to our words.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Measuring Spiritual Maturity

A recent study on spirituality by the Barna Group reported that many churchgoers as well as church leaders have a hard time defining and measuring spiritual maturity. The most surprising statistic to me in the report was that 81% of self-identified Christians endorsed the statement that spiritual health means “trying hard to follow the rules described in the Bible.” Even among those surveyed who believe that salvation is by grace through faith and not by works, four out of five concurred that spiritual maturity is trying hard to follow the rules.

I think the survey results reveal that many Christians still have an inadequate understanding of the grace of God and what it means to walk by faith in Christ each day. It’s easier perhaps to fall into the trap of believing one can somehow measure their spiritual maturity by checking off how many of the “do’s” have been performed and how many of the “don’ts” have been avoided. Nevertheless, real spiritual maturity isn’t evaluated by how well we perform a list of tasks on a check-off list.

There are spiritual disciplines which undoubtedly help us to grow in Christ-likeness and we ought to cultivate and give attention to those each day. In fact, we’ve been looking at some of those disciplines on Wednesday evenings in a series of Bible studies on the steps to spiritual maturity. But ultimately our spiritual maturity is a reflection of the character of Christ being built up within us by His indwelling Holy Spirit as we abide in Him. Perhaps the best measurement of our maturity as Christians isn’t the number of check marks on some man-made list, but the degree to which the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) is reflected in our lives. That fruit will be evidenced as we focus our attention not on a set of rules to keep, but on living in constant fellowship with Christ, growing to love Him more each day.

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Missouri State Supreme Court Decision

Yesterday the Missouri State Supreme Court denied the Missouri Baptist Convention's request to re-hear its case against the Windermere Baptist Conference Center. The MBC has now run out of legal options it would seem in its quest to overturn the decision handed down more than a year ago by Judge Richard Callahan in which he sustained that the Windermere trustees had acted legally in amending their charter to allow the election of their own trustees. ABP has a report here on the latest in the ongoing lawsuits by the MBC against five Baptist agencies in the state.

As of Wednesday morning at 6:30, the MBC's Pathway still hasn't weighed in on the Supreme Court's decision. In every previous defeat suffered in this ongoing legal battle that has consumed time, energy, and resources for the past 6 years, the Pathway has managed to spin some kind of a positive message of reassurance to the MBC faithful that they would ultimately prevail in the court of law. It will require an extra measure of creativity it seems to do so once again in the face of the Supreme Court's refusal to hear the case.

It seems that all of their hopes now are pinned on a separate case in Camden County where (contrary to their earlier affirmations that the lawsuits were theologically and biblically permissible because they were suing institutions and not individuals) they are pursuing legal action against certain individuals involved in Windermere's development and financing operations subsequent to the charter change. Most of the cases against the individuals named in those cases have also been dropped, and hopefully the Supreme Court's decision yesterday will accelerate the decision to dismiss the charges against other individuals named as well.

It remains to be seen if the MBC will continue to push forward in its quest to regain control of the other four entities involved--Missouri Baptist University, The Baptist Home, The Baptist Foundation, and Word & Way. Popular opinion seems to indicate that Windermere with its beautiful location and wonderful encampment facilities was the big prize on the table and perhaps the other entities weren't viewed by the MBC as being quite as valuable. That might explain the decision to pursue initially the suit against Windermere rather than the other four agencies.

It will be interesting to see the MBC's response to this latest defeat in the legal battle. Will they doggedly press forward, spending Cooperative Program offering money to try and regain control of the other agencies? They have suggested at every turn of the road that they must do so because they have a mandate from the messengers to the annual MBC gathering to do so. If you'll pardon a biblical analogy though at this point, it seems to me that the situation is not unlike the Jewish authorities in Jesus' day stirring up the crowds to demand the crucifixion of Jesus and the release of Barrabas, only to then argue that they were simply responding to the demands of the people. The consistent push by the MBC leadership to regain control of the agencies is what has fueled whatever vestige of popular sentiment that exists to continue pursuing the lawsuits against fellow Missouri Baptist agencies. Hopefully this latest legal defeat will quell some of the frenzy for further legal action. It's high time to put these issues to rest and get on with the task of sharing the Good News with the state, the nation, and the world.