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College bylaw change falls short; Tennessee Baptists hear unity call

FRANKLIN, Tenn. (BP)–In a passionate plea for unity, Tennessee Baptist Convention President Larry Gilmore set the stage for the annual meeting in his president’s address on the first day of the convention.
Gilmore, who voted last year to escrow funds to Carson-Newman College, said he believed “the convention needs to take big steps here today and tomorrow for reconciliation with our brothers and sisters.
“We do not have to agree with everything but we have to trust the grace of God,” said Gilmore, pastor of College Heights Baptist Church, Gallatin.
Gilmore noted “giant steps” needed to be taken by people on both sides of the issue. “We need to say to our world, ‘We can work together. We will work together.'” The 125th meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention drew 2,191 registered messengers, the fourth highest total in history.
Among the actions taken during the Nov. 16-17 meeting at First Baptist Church, Franklin, messengers defeated by 70 votes a proposed bylaw which would have given Tennessee Baptist colleges more flexibility in the election of trustees and more clearly defined the relationship between the educational institutions and the state convention.
Messengers also conditionally released funds to Carson-Newman College, Jefferson City, Tenn.; adopted a record budget; celebrated the convention’s 125th anniversary which included the presentation of a new convention history book; and elected a new convention president by acclamation.
As anticipated, the presentation of proposed new Bylaw 5 garnered much attention and debate before and during the two-day annual meeting.
Prior to the convention, the Relationship Focus Group had requested the TBC Executive Board to ask the Constitution and Bylaws Committee to not present the bylaw until the 2000 convention so the committee could “invite and involve people from different perspectives (regarding Bylaw 5) to work with them to make any needed changes, and see a consensus recommendation to the convention.”
The request to the Executive Board, noted while “we respect the process through which the work has been done, we still sense a divisive perspective prevailing throughout the state.”
The Executive Board voted, overwhelmingly, to deny the request.
Robert Tyson, pastor of First Baptist Church, Middleton, and chairman of the Constitution and Bylaws Committee, told messengers the proposed bylaw was the culmination of two full years of study. He noted the proposed document addresses legal issues, accreditation concerns, and protected the state convention in regard to ascending liability.
“This document clearly states the ministry of purpose we can have in relationship to our colleges,” Tyson said.
Mike Glenn, pastor of Brentwood Baptist Church, Brentwood, and chairman of the TBC Executive Board’s Education Committee, said the proposed bylaw “offers a positive framework to work with the schools.” He emphasized the proposal “was not a back door” move to let Carson-Newman College come back into the convention.
Last year Carson-Newman College trustees voted to change its charter to select its own trustees. They had a meeting scheduled at the conclusion of this year’s annual meeting on Nov. 17 in which they were to bring legal documents into compliance with the bylaw if approved.
The proposed bylaw was written to include Belmont University, Nashville; Union University, Jackson; and Carson-Newman.
Doug Dutton, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Concord, (Knoxville) opposed the bylaw, noting he knew of no successful claim against the Southern Baptist Convention or any other state convention under the theory of ascending liability. Dutton serves on the SBC Executive Committee.
He also noted the proposal “is a dramatic change in our controlling documents.”
Charles Bailey, pastor of Laurel Bank Baptist Church, Friendsville, opposed the bylaw. “It is at best confusing. To defeat it leaves in place a process that has served us well for decades,” Bailey said.
Reed Dixon, a messenger from First Baptist Church, Sweetwater, supported the proposal noting it offers “a clear relationship” that both the TBC and colleges “can live with.”
A ballot vote was taken — with 2,178 messengers registered at the time of the vote — and 1,602 cast ballots. The proposed bylaw received 998 votes or 62.3 percent, with 604 votes, 37.7 percent, opposed.
The proposal needed a two-thirds majority of the ballots cast or 1,068 votes to pass. It failed by 70 votes.
Jackson pastor Jerry Tidwell of West Jackson Baptist Church unanimously was elected president of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.
Wm. Fletcher Allen, retired editor of the state Baptist newspaper, The Baptist and Reflector, and member of ClearView Baptist Church, Franklin, was elected first vice president. Drew Hayes, pastor of First Baptist Church, Shelbyville, was elected second vice president.
During the final session of the convention, a motion was made to release funds escrowed to Carson-Newman in the 1998-99 budget due to the college’s willingness to work through the process and to agree to come into compliance with new Bylaw 5 had it been approved. The motion dealt only with last year’s escrowed funds. Funds in the 1999-2000 budget would continue to be escrowed for Carson-Newman.
Several messengers spoke on both sides of the issue before Jerry Tidwell, newly elected TBC president, offered an amendment to enable the convention to elect C-N’s trustees during the interim period funds were restored. In essence, escrowed funds would be released to the college and the convention would elect trustees next year for the college under the current convention-approved method for trustee selection.
The amendment passed.
Exactly a two-thirds majority — 666 votes — supported the amended motion, out of 999 ballots cast. It needed a simple majority.
Carson-Newman College’s trustees later released a statement saying: “As members of the board of trustees of Carson-Newman College, we affirm the college’s relationship with Tennessee Baptists through its affiliation with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. We are grateful for the spirit of the messengers at the Nov. 16-17 annual meeting in Franklin, and we are encouraged by progress made toward unity and Christian harmony.
“In keeping with that spirit, we will prayerfully consider the request of the majority of messengers that we follow the convention-adopted process for trustee nomination and election during the November 2000 annual meeting.
“We remain grateful for the diligent efforts of TBC committee members and pledge to continue our dialogue with TBC leadership.” Carson-Newman’s board is slated to take action on the matter Dec. 2. Carson-Newman is a liberal arts school, founded in 1851, with more than 2,100 students.
Tennessee Baptist Convention messengers adopted a budget of $33,653,770 for 1999-2000, a 6.6 percent increase over the previous year. The amount sent to the Southern Baptist Convention Cooperative Program remains the same — 37.5 percent.
Funds received over the budget, in a change from current practice, will be released in a missions challenge budget with one-third for the SBC International Mission Board, one-third to the SBC North American Mission Board, and one-third to remain in Tennessee to be used for new church starts.
Messengers adopted resolutions on prayer for revival and spiritual awakening and unity and reconciliation.
The resolution on prayer for revival and spiritual awakening calls for four sustained initiatives of fervent prayer in the year 2000, including four designated Wednesday nights when all TBC churches will be encouraged and equipped to call fervent meetings of corporate prayer for revival and spiritual awakening.
The resolution on unity and reconciliation calls on Tennessee Baptists to “earnestly strive to love one another, to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace, and to encourage and build one another up as the Scripture requires.”
The 2000 annual meeting of the convention will be held Nov. 14-15 at Germantown Baptist Church, Germantown, Tenn.

    About the Author

  • Lonnie Wilkey
    Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (baptistandreflector.org), newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.Read All by Lonnie Wilkey ›