Thursday, February 21, 2019

Baptist College's Attempt To Exit Baptist Convention Control Involves Ecclesiastical Determinations

In Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention v. Missouri Baptist University, (MO App., Feb. 19, 2019), a Missouri state appellate court rejected attempts by Missouri Baptist University and The Baptist Home to amend their Articles of Incorporation to eliminate the Missouri Baptist Convention's right to select members of their boards of trustees and its right to veto amendments to their Articles.  The attempts to extricate themselves from Convention control followed an ideological battle within the Convention that moved it to the right.  In part the court held that certain affirmative defenses raised by the University concern ecclesiastical matters which civil courts cannot decide, saying:
[T]he University alleges that the Convention demanded that it ... refrain from teaching material that contradicted certain ideas which are clearly religious doctrine, such as the belief that the Earth was created in seven days roughly 6,000 years ago, or the belief that every living thing on Earth is descended from animals rescued from a flood on a vessel roughly 4,300 years ago.... The University claims that these demands ... “anticipatorily breached” provisions of a document entitled “A Christian Higher Education: A Statement of Purpose” which states ... that “... Christian education proceeds without fear into whatever knowledge may come.” ... Considering this defense as it currently is presented requires a court to rule – at least implicitly - on the truth of the story of Noah’s ark or Christian beliefs in creationism. We cannot conceive of a judicial inquiry which would impose on ecclesiastical matters more than this, nor can we find fault in the circuit court’s unwillingness to even attempt to find neutral grounds upon which it could rule when the color and content of the University’s allegations are so nakedly religious.