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Ariz. messengers to weigh in on relationship with university

PHOENIX (BP)–Messengers to a special called session of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention March 23 in Phoenix will determine the relationship of Grand Canyon University to the state convention.

Messengers will be asked to ratify a resolution unanimously adopted by the state convention’s executive board expressing “great disappointment” but allowing Grand Canyon University to sever its ties with the state convention.

The executive board’s action came in its regular quarterly meeting Feb. 1, following an executive session the previous evening with Grand Canyon University President Gil Stafford and convention legal counsel.

GCU’s board of trustees voted 21-3 in a closed meeting Jan. 13 to “reorganize the University’s corporate ownership and control so as to redefine its relationship with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention,” according to a statement issued by the trustee board and president. The move allows the trustees, all Arizona Southern Baptists previously elected by the state convention, to become a self-perpetuating board.

In a Jan. 20 meeting, trustees affirmed new rules for the composition of the board in which not less than 80 percent shall be members of Southern Baptist churches, not less than 60 percent shall be members of Arizona Southern Baptist churches, not less than 20 percent shall be ordained Southern Baptist ministers, and all shall be evangelical Christians.

In an open letter slated to run in Portraits, the Arizona convention publication, Stafford explained the trustee board’s action was taken upon advice from its auditors and legal counsel. According to current accounting guidelines, Stafford said, the school’s year-end financial statement needed to be consolidated with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention’s financial statement, which would jeopardize the school’s accreditation and students’ ability to receive federal financial aid.

“Because of our love for the school and desire to continue providing Christian education, this action was taken,” wrote Stafford, who became university president Jan. 1. The school “is now in a voluntary relationship with the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention,” he said.

In its resolution of response, the Arizona convention’s executive board stated that it “does not concur with” the university’s decision but “accepts the action of the trustees statement as being final.”

The executive board noted that it had earlier committed to discuss the issues with the university. The board expressed disappointment that the university board “chose not to pursue the option of open dialogue but rather acted in a unilateral manner in severing their formal and familial relationship with the churches of the Arizona Southern Baptist Convention.”

The board said it will not pursue litigation and admonished “the Arizona Southern Baptist family to live the principle of forgiveness and love as expressed in Ephesians 4:32-5:2.”

In a separate action, the board voted to continue to escrow Cooperative Program funds budgeted for the university, with the exception of funds for ministerial scholarships. GCU, which has a budget of $24.4 million, was to receive 9.29 percent of the state’s $3.2 million in Cooperative Program funds in 2000.

The board’s finance committee will later present a plan for reallocation of the funds among “approved Cooperative Program entities.”

Grand Canyon University, founded by Arizona Southern Baptists in 1949, is celebrating its 50th anniversary this school year. It is Arizona’s only private Christian liberal arts university and is accredited by the North Central Association of Colleges and Schools.

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  • Elizabeth Young