ATLANTA (BP)–The Georgia Baptist Convention’s executive committee approved a motion Dec. 13 to discontinue the convention’s relationship with Mercer University.
Wayne Robertson, pastor of Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, representing the executive committee’s administration committee, reminded those present of the action of the convention regarding Mercer at the annual meeting Nov. 15 in Columbus.
“At our convention we voted to discontinue our relationship with Mercer University and, in accordance with Article VIII, section 2 of our constitution, we requested Dr. Robert White, the executive director of the convention, and Dr. Kirby Godsey, president of Mercer University, to pursue an orderly discontinuance of the relationship.”
Robertson said White and Godsey had met and, based on their conversations and mutual agreement, the administration committee was prepared to make a motion that would satisfy the constitution’s requirement for a separation of the two entities.
Tom Duvall, the convention attorney, was recognized and presented a seven-point outline incorporating the points of agreement:
1. Since 1955 the convention has had a capital improvement and endowment program. Through decisions made in previous convention annual sessions, portions of the CIEP funds have been allocated to Mercer University. Mercer’s portion of those funds amounts to $19,572,959 and will be released to the university.
2. The 2006 convention budget includes $3,551,000 designated to Mercer. Those funds will be made available to the university in the normal form of distribution.
The 2007 Cooperative Program budget formula would have approximately $3.4 million (based on number of students) allocated for Mercer University student scholarships. That money would be made available to the university and paid in accordance with the normal distribution process.
3. The convention will approve a change in Mercer’s charter so that the university can elect its own trustees.
4. Mercer holds historic Baptist documents and will continue to give the convention access to those documents and the right to copy any document pertaining to the convention.
5. The convention will continue to have access to Mercer’s college of nursing to provide recognition and appropriate gifts. (The convention, for example, provides gifts of Bible at graduation.)
6. The Baptist campus minister will continue in the present relationship with the university and the convention, but that relationship may change as initiated by either party upon a 30-day notice.
7. Mercer may seek student scholarship support from individual churches in 2006.
8. Mercer and the Georgia convention will employ their best efforts in implementing the discontinuance of the relationship in an orderly fashion.
When called on to comment, White stated, “Dr. Godsey and I met on two occasions and our meetings were very cordial. Neither of us got everything we wanted. I don’t want to hurt the university. My daughter received a great education there, but I want to help bring about an orderly discontinuance of the relationship.”
Although tensions have existed between the convention and the university, Godsey agreed that the conversations with White had been marked by courtesy and had been constructive.
“I regret the discontinuance of this relationship,” Godsey said. “Jesse Mercer, the founder of the university, brought the Columbia Star to Georgia and called it The Christian Index. I want to express gratitude to Georgia Baptists. The convention has made a grand difference in the university. Mercer is a Baptist university and will continue to be so. We will also continue to give scholarships to Baptists students.”
Godsey continued, “I didn’t want to see [the relationship with the convention] come to a conflict that would leave Mercer and the convention tattered. I will be retiring in June. Bill Underwood will be coming as the president of Mercer from Baylor University in Waco, Texas.” Underwood is a law professor at Baylor who recently served as the university’s interim president.
After some orderly discussion, executive committee members seemed to be convinced by White that every avenue to a reconciliation of the relationship had been exhausted, and Robertson was called on to read the formal motion again to discontinue the relationship with Mercer.
The executive committee then registered what appeared to be a unanimous vote to separate the convention from its 172-year history with Mercer.
Mercer trustees will meet in April and are expected to likewise approve the discontinuance of the relationship. To formalize the decision, the convention will have an opportunity to affirm the action when the GBC executive committee gives its report at the next annual meeting, in November 2006, at the Gwinnett Civic Center.
J. Gerald Harris is editor of The Christian Index, newsjournal of the Georgia Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.christianindex.org.