This time its Bethel Baptist Institutional Church, pastored by the Revs. Rudolph McKissick, Sr. and Jr. FBC Jax members will recall from their history that BBIC is the predominantly African-American church that split from FBC Jax way back in 1877. FBC Jax members will also recall that in 1999, FBC Jax and BBIC had a combined worship service at FBC Jax, where all 4 preachers (Vines, Lindsay, and the two McKissicks) preached, to honor and celebrate the historical connection between the two churches. Very memorable worship service.
According to articles by Jeff Brumley in the Florida Times Union on July 25th and August 16, 2009, several BBIC deacons are suing their church to gain access to financial records of the church, so that church members can be fully informed on how a $22 million dollar loan was spent by church leaders.
In Brumley's July 25th article, one of the deacons filing the suit was quoted:
"This guy [the church's attorney] is just giving us the run-around. They're hoping we're going to go away, and that's just not going to happen."
These deacons sound determined. Even persistent. To the pastor's credit, he did not comment, didn't call these men names, or claim they're mentally ill for their persistance and determination.
Says Brumley in the article:
"They're especially interested in seeing the details about the 2003 purchase of a Jacksonville hotel property for $2.6 million and a $22 million loan obtained in 2006 by church leaders, including pastors Rudolph McKissick Sr. and Rudolph McKissick Jr., court records show."
Hmmm...why not let members see financial records? What could possibly be wrong with that?
On what grounds is the church denying these members from gaining access to financial records of their own church at which they've served and financially supported?
According to Brumley, the church is drawing a distinction between being members of the "church", and being a member of the "corporation" - and guess what: these three deacons are not members of the "corporation" (darn). Now that is a new twist to church financial secrecy - the BBIC members have been writing their tithe checks to the "church", but apparently the money was really going to a "corporation" to which they do not belong, nullifying their rights to demand financial transparency on how money is spent. Oops, minor detail. And how does one "join" a corporation?
OK, let's clarify our scripture:
Jesus said: "Peter, you are the rock, and upon you I will build my corporation."
"And the Lord added to the corporation daily."
"...as Christ loved the corporation and gave Himself for it..."
Although BBIC is not a part of the Southern Baptist Convention, a similar legal struggle occured at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tennessee in 2007 and 2008. Church members wanted access to certain financial records of their church, and they filed a lawsuit after being denied access. These 80 or so church members were accused of being divisive and disruptive to the fellowship, and ultimately were thrown out of their church after a 2nd congregational vote to give 'em the "right boot of fellowship". (the first vote failed, so the pastor, Jerry Sutton, called for a 2nd vote). I blogged about Two Rivers last year here and here.
The sad ending to the Two Rivers saga is this: everyone lost. The members didn't get access to all the records they wanted and they were booted from the church. But on the other hand, in July 2008 Jerry Sutton, resigned as pastor, no doubt over this very public squabble that hurt the church's testimony in the city. No winners, only losers.
If there was a pseudo-winner, perhaps it was FBC Jax who had the benefit of carefully watching events unfold at Two Rivers, and in December 2007 FBC Jax changed their bylaws to eliminate the chance of that fiasco occuring at their church. The amended bylaws state that FBC Jax members forfeit their right to bring any civil action against the church in any court, and they removed the clause allowing the church members to call a special business meeting with a quorum of signatures. Both of those changes will ensure no wayward, recalcitrant FBC Jax member could demand access to financial records like those did at Two Rivers. The moment a lawsuit is filed as was done at Two Rivers and now BBIC, those members could be disfellowshipped for bringing the lawsuit against their bylaws, and a non-member could no longer claim a legal right to financial records. Pretty smart. I'm sure Jesus is very proud. The vast majority of FBC Jax members have no idea their bylaws were changed in this manner, as the pastor or Trustees or Deacons never bothered to explain it to them before asking them to vote on the changes. Strange, but true.
We'll follow the Bethel Baptist story and see what happens there and keep readers posted.