By Marty King
A U.S. Federal Court magistrate found no evidence of misconduct in last year’s sale of Glorieta Baptist Conference Center to a Christian camping ministry. The judge’s 79-page document filed yesterday (Sept. 4) recommends dismissal of all claims in a lawsuit filed against Lifeway Christian Resources, the Southern Baptist Convention and its Executive Committee, and Glorieta 2.0, the ministry that bought Glorieta from Lifeway last September.
“The judge’s recommendations could not be more positive,” said Thom S. Rainer, Lifeway’s president and CEO. “We are particularly gratified the judge says the plaintiff’s charges of misconduct by Lifeway, the SBC, and Glorieta 2.0 ‘have no basis in fact,’ leaving no doubt of our integrity throughout this entire process.”
The lawsuit was filed in U.S. Federal District Court in Albuquerque, New Mexico, by Kirk and Susie Tompkins of Little Rock, Arkansas, who were at the time leasing a lot at Glorieta. Their suit claimed the 2,400 acre property located east of Santa Fe was not properly transferred and that leadership staff of Lifeway, the SBC Executive Committee and Glorieta 2.0 were deceptive and fraudulent in the sale.
Robert Hayes Scott, United States Magistrate Judge, disagrees.
“The transfer of Glorieta by Lifeway was not fraudulent,” Scott wrote. “…allegations of fraud and misconduct are baseless and have no foundation in the evidence.”
The judge’s filing also says Tompkins had “no legal interest” in the sale of the property and “has not suffered any harm” as a result of the sale. At one point, the judge writes Tompkins, “flung around vague accusations” of misconduct. He recommends all the claims be dismissed “with prejudice,” which means they should not be re-filed with any court.
Scott also doubts the suit was constitutional.
“Even if Plaintiffs had standing (which they do not),” the judge wrote, “they would still be unlikely to prevail on the merits because their claim is likely barred by the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses of the First Amendment.”
To rule in the Tompkins’ favor, the judge says the Court would, “have to determine that Lifeway’s, the SBC’s, and the SBC Executive Committee’s interpretation of their own charter, constitution, and bylaws was somehow incorrect. The First Amendment bars this Court from second-guessing these religious entities’ interpretation of their own ecclesiastical rules.”
The magistrate gave Tompkins 14 days to reply to his findings before the recommendations are sent to the federal district judge who will issue the final ruling.
Rainer said he is “looking forward to the court’s final ruling and an end to this frustrating, painful and costly process.”
In June, Rainer reported to the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting that Glorieta leaseholders had a year-to-year lease, and that Glorieta 2.0 offered to extend the leases or purchase buildings built there for up to $100,000. Those were fair offers for structures on leased land, he said, especially since neither Lifeway nor Glorieta 2.0 had any obligation to make those offers, which all but a handful of leaseholders accepted.
The magistrate’s recommendations addressed clearly Tompkins’ allegation they were harmed by denial of access to the leased lot stating: “Plaintiffs have not offered any evidence they were denied access … (and) even their right to remove the improvements expired on March 31, 2014; the improvements now belong to Lifeway.”
Rainer also told SBC messengers: “We’ve handled this in a Christ-like way, and are grateful Glorieta is continuing to see people won to Christ.”
Marty King is director of communications for Lifeway Christian Resources.