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Belmont, Tenn. Baptists reach settlement

KINGSPORT, Tenn. (BP)–Belmont University will pay the Tennessee Baptist Convention $11 million over the next 40 years under the terms of a signed settlement announced Nov. 13 at the TBC annual meeting.

The settlement, as reported by members of the TBC’s Belmont Study Committee, calls for Belmont to pay $1 million up front, followed by an additional $250,000 per year for the next 40 years. The agreement ends the 56-year relationship between Belmont and the TBC.

The money from Belmont will go into an endowment that will remain untouched until the end of the 40-year period. Proceeds from the endowment will go into the TBC’s annual Cooperative Program budget and be dispersed according to funding formulas already in place.

Belmont and the TBC for months have been embroiled in a legal battle for control of the institution. In November 2005, Belmont’s trustees voted to change the university’s charter and become a self-perpetuating board. Previously, the TBC elected the university’s trustees.

The TBC had challenged the legality of Belmont’s charter amendment without TBC approval. In addition, when the TBC began its relationship with Belmont in 1951, the two entities signed a contract that contained language indicating that if Belmont ever passed from Baptist control, its property -– given to it by the TBC -– would revert to the possession of the TBC Executive Board.

Belmont contended that the contract was no longer valid.

In May 2006, messengers to a special session of the TBC rejected an initial settlement offer from Belmont, in which the university would have paid $5 million over three years. Instead, messengers at that meeting empowered the special Belmont Study Committee to “carry out all rights, powers, actions and remedies of the Convention” with respect to Belmont University.

After months of negotiating with representatives from Belmont, formal mediation and other legal wrangling, two representatives from each side met last week and reached a tentative agreement for the $11 million settlement.

“From the very onset of the meeting, there was no pride from anyone demonstrated nor felt in that room,” said Jerry Massey, pastor of First Baptist Church of Paris, Tenn., and president of the TBC Executive Board. “The four of us came humbly before God, confessing to him that we needed his help, for we do not know what to do.

“The attitudes were positive,” Massey continued. “The discussions were open and frank, genuine and firm. The desire of both parties was that the Tennessee Baptist Convention as well as the Belmont University family would both experience a win-win situation.”

Belmont had originally sought control of how the endowment would be used, but the Belmont Study Committee rejected that proposal, and the settlement allows for TBC control of the endowment.

The TBC Executive Board on Nov. 12 unanimously endorsed the settlement offer. Messengers meeting in Kingsport did not have to approve the matter, as they had previously empowered the Belmont Study Committee to resolve the conflict. But messengers did overwhelmingly approve a motion offering their support for the settlement
Based on a report by Tim Ellsworth, director of news and media relations for Union University.

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