Does anybody know anything about the following action in the article Associated Baptist Press November 25, 2003 Volume: 03-107 Baptist newspaper barred from Missouri Baptist meetings By Vicki Brown and Greg Warner JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (ABP) -- In a move unprecedented in Southern Baptist circles, a state convention president will attempt to bar a Baptist publication in Missouri from attending or reporting on state Baptist meetings. David Tolliver, recently elected president of the Missouri Baptist Convention, informed the editor of the Word & Way that the staff of the107-year-old news journal will no longer be allowed to attend convention meetings, including executive board sessions and committee meetings. Tolliver also will attempt to bar Word & Way from the convention's 2004 annual meeting, which are frequently attended by secular media. In a Nov. 19 letter to Editor Bill Webb, Tolliver explained that his "directive" is a result of the action the Word & Way and four other convention agencies took to establish self-perpetuating trustee boards. Word & Way, Missouri Baptist University, Windermere Baptist Conference Center and the Missouri Baptist Foundation changed their charters in 2001 to allow each entity to elect its own trustees rather than allow the convention to elect them. The Baptist Home trustees took the same action a year earlier. The Missouri Baptist Convention filed suit in August 2002 to force the boards of the five entities to rescind their charter changes. "It is simply a matter of prudence that litigants not have direct communication or personal interaction with one another," Tolliver said in the letter. Tolliver said his directive will be withdrawn once the litigation is settled. Tolliver, pastor of Pisgah Baptist Church in Excelsior Springs, is a member of the convention's legal task force charged with overseeing the legal effort to recover the five breakaway agencies. The convention's action against Word & Way is probably unprecedented, according to longtime Baptist observers, who could not recall another incident in which a state convention had excluded a Baptist publication from all its meetings. In a telephone interview Nov. 24, Tolliver emphasized the lawsuit as his primary reason for expelling Word & Way from board proceedings. "This was not done in animosity but in prudence," he said. When asked why the convention waited more than a year to bar news journal staff, he responded: "In my opinion, it should have been done a year ago ... but I wasn't in a position to do it. ... I have said in several instances [in the last year] that it should have been done. ... This is not anything personal. I think it's the right thing." Tolliver said the directive would not apply to other news organizations because they are not involved in legal action with the Missouri convention. "If ABP [Associated Baptist Press] calls and asks if they can attend, I will let them. We are not in a lawsuit with them," he said. The convention president added that he plans to ask all executive board members to refrain from talking with Word & Way, although he acknowledged that he cannot force them to comply. Traditionally, all convention meetings have been open to members of Missouri Baptist churches and to visitors. Tolliver said he does not plan to break that tradition, noting that convention sessions are open to all Missouri Baptists. However, he noted that if a Word & Way staffer refuses to leave an executive board meeting, he will simply call the board into executive (closed) session. Tolliver's directive is not limited to Word & Way. "I plan to close those meetings to folks who work for the five agencies. None will be allowed to attend," he said. In his letter, Tolliver also noted that Word & Way would be barred from the convention's annual meeting -- an action that he probably cannot enforce. Under the Missouri Baptist Convention constitution and bylaws, convention leaders must allow elected messengers from recognized MBC churches to participate in the annual sessions. Word & Way staffers are members of MBC churches. Tolliver said his "desire" is that any Word & Way staff member who attends as a messenger not represent the newspaper. He acknowledged that he would not be able to stop the staffer from taking notes and writing a story. The convention president said he also plans to discontinue the convention board's practice of allowing a Foundation staff member to give a verbal report of the accounts the Foundation administers on the board's behalf. The Foundation staff had not received any official word from Tolliver as of Nov. 24. Tolliver did not explain how broadly "direct communication or personal interaction" would be defined. When asked if Word & Way would be banned from entering the Baptist Building in Jefferson City, Tolliver responded, "That's not my call. That would be [MBC executive director] David Clippard's call." Clippard was on vacation Nov. 25 and unavailable to comment on the enforceability of Tolliver's ban. Kenny Qualls, the convention's associate executive director, did not respond immediately to a request for comment from Associated Baptist Press. Word & Way board chairman Bob Cox said he does not understand Tolliver's reasoning for the ban. "I understood that any Baptist could go [to MBC meetings]," he said. "... I don't know how you can bar anybody from the convention. I don't understand how you can just bar somebody from a public meeting. The reason behind it doesn't make sense to me." In a phone interview Nov. 24, Tolliver repeated his pledge to lift the ban once the lawsuit is settled. "I will bend over backwards to meet with people and talk with people to end this lawsuit," he said. - Vicki Brown is a newswriter for the Word & Way. Greg Warner is executive editor of Associated Baptist Press.