Report precedes Mo. exec’s dismissal

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (BP)--Upon the recommendation of an ad hoc investigative committee, the Missouri Baptist Convention’s executive board voted April 10 to terminate MBC Executive Director David Clippard.

The board voted in executive session to dismiss Clippard by a 44-7 secret ballot with one abstention after hearing a two-hour report from the investigative committee. Fifty-two board members were present and eligible to vote. The five-member investigative committee had voted 4-1 on the recommendation to dismiss Clippard.

"This was obviously a very painful process," said Bruce McCoy, the investigative committee's chairman. "I think the vote will speak the volume of the rest of the details." McCoy is pastor of Canaan Baptist Church, St. Louis.

Because the investigative committee's report included some legally sensitive matters, the board appointed MBC legal counsel Michael Whitehead as spokesman for the MBC on the matter. He is also lead counsel for the MBC's legal task force regarding the recovery of five breakaway entities formerly related to the MBC. Some details in the report must remain confidential, Whitehead said, because they relate to a personnel matter. However, the board believes some portions of the report must be released "to answer reasonable questions."

Whitehead, a member of Abundant Life Baptist Church in Lee's Summit, said in open session that the board agreed in executive session that individual members of the board would not talk to media or others and reveal details about the executive session. He also told the board and other interested parties in the open session that, after review and editing of the investigative committee's report by the committee, its legal counsel and the convention's legal counsel, a report is imminent and may be released later this week.

The investigative committee "presented its report, making a finding of lack of confidence in the continued leadership of David Clippard as executive director" and recommended "the termination of his employment, effective immediately," Whitehead said of the board's executive session.

The board approved severance pay equal to about four months of salary and benefits. However, discussion about the severance and other transition details are still in progress, Whitehead said.

Whitehead also said that Clippard's termination didn't translate into a "rejection of David Clippard and his conviction to plant churches worldwide," adding that the same gifts and talents that attracted the board to Clippard four years and eight months ago he still possesses.

Clippard left his role with the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma as associate executive director for evangelism, church planting and missions ministries in August 2002 when MBC board members elected him as their executive director by a vote of 48-2.

"This is a hurtful time, but not a funeral for a man and his ministry," Whitehead told board members.

Clippard and the board said in a joint statement released to Baptist Press by Whitehead: "There have been many positive accomplishments for the Missouri Baptist Convention during these last four and one-half years; not the least of which include financial stability, increased emphasis and budget given to church planting, evangelism, partnership missions and the assembling of a fine staff to serve Missouri Baptists. Both parties express their gratitude for the other in accomplishing these and many more advancements. We believe the Kingdom is richer for it."

"David and Susanna Clippard are in the hearts and prayers of Missouri Baptists and Southern Baptist who know their love for Christ and their passion to make Him known. That is their legacy among us," Whitehead said. "We pray God's blessings on them as they continue to bless others in new fields of service."

MBC President Mike Green said, "I wish Dr. Clippard the very best. I love him. He's a friend. But we need to move on. We need some healing and we need to rebuild some trust that we've lost in recent months and years." Green is pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Republic.

In executive session the board also elected David Tolliver, MBC associate executive director, to serve as interim executive director.

The interim period will be open-ended and not tied to a date because "no one knows what that process is going to be, and how long that process will take," said Jay Scribner, retired pastor of First Baptist Church in Branson who chairs the board's administrative committee.

"I see my role as attempting to bring the convention, beginning with the staff and the board, together in unity," Tolliver told Baptist Press in an interview after the board meeting adjourned.

"The twofold focus of the last administration was church planting and evangelism. We're not going to slow that down at all," he said.

"However, we need to spend some time in beginning to have security and trust among us -- between the board and the staff, primarily," added Tolliver, a fourth-generation Missouri Baptist preacher.

Tolliver said he comes to his new assignment "not seeking it, and not even desiring it, much. I come to it weak, but when I am weak, He is made strong, and I am just trusting God."

With regard to the tenor of the executive session, Whitehead told Baptist Press, "I think a good phrase for the spirit of the meeting is 'amazing grace.'

"There were some who expected a very angry, bitter, divided group. And instead, there were very passionate but respectful questions and answers, as well as deep concerns about the issues at hand," he said. "It was Baptists doing business at their best, in my opinion."

"It was the most civil and peaceable meeting we've had in a year," said board member Kerry Messer, a member of First Baptist Church in Festus/Crystal City.

The official process that lead to Clippard's dismissal began when Wesley Hammond, pastor of First Baptist Church in Paris, Mo., presented a motion in a board meeting last December calling for the formation of a committee to investigate the sources and veracity of allegations regarding leaders within the convention. Hammond's motion passed 29-19, with three abstentions.


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