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Glorieta Conference Center sale moves from N.M. Baptists to Calif.-based Olivet University

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — The potential sale of LifeWay Glorieta Conference Center has turned from the Baptist Convention of New Mexico to a California-based Christian school, Olivet University.

The BCNM’s Glorieta Task Force has notified LifeWay Christian Resources that it is not feasible for the state convention to assume ownership of Glorieta, even for the $1 price LifeWay had set forth for the 2,100-acre site near Santa Fe.

LifeWay, meanwhile, has stated that it is considering a sale to Olivet contingent on a “comprehensive review of the theological compatibility” of LifeWay and Olivet.

BCNM executive board chairman Lamar Morin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Bloomfield, confirmed to Baptist Press in a July 16 statement that ownership and responsibility for Glorieta would not be financially feasible for New Mexico Baptists.

“The BCNM Glorieta Task Force believed any prudent business plan would include an environmental study and indemnification by LifeWay for any environmental problems that might be discovered,” Morin said.

“Based on its inspection of the property, the task force determined that a viable business plan needed to include deferred maintenance of $10 million to $20 million.”

Morin said when LifeWay advised the BCNM it “could not indemnify the state convention as requested, the task force could not proceed any further.”

Morin acknowledged the “deep love and devotion New Mexico Baptists” have for Glorieta but said the task force “recognized, despite multiple suggestions, there was no offer of financial resources by any person or organization to cover the enormous costs and potential liabilities of assuming such a large property.”

LifeWay trustees voted last fall to pursue viable options for the conference center, which opened 60 years ago. Officials cited changes in church practices, rising costs and a volatile economy in noting that Glorieta had achieved financial break-even only once in the last 25 years. Glorieta now offers only summer events for student groups, including Centrifuge camps and Collegiate Week.

LifeWay, in information provided to Baptist Press July 16, said it is working with Olivet and an evangelical third party to conduct the theological compatibility review.

During the process, LifeWay said Olivet is renting previously unused facilities at Glorieta for 200 students, faculty and staff.

Jerry Rhyne, LifeWay’s chief financial officer, declined to release specific details of the potential sale to Olivet. According to a LifeWay statement, in addition to the theological review, a potential sale to Olivet would entail:

— “Significant protections for individuals and churches that lease land from Glorieta for houses and conference facilities

— “Permission for LifeWay to continue using Glorieta for summer camps

— “Accommodation of use by New Mexico Baptists

— “Preservation of memorials associated with rooms and structures, and,

— “Prohibition of re-selling the facilities in the future without LifeWay’s permission.”

Rhyne noted that any sale would need approval of LifeWay’s board of trustees which next meets in late August.

LifeWay’s consideration of Olivet, however, made front-page news July 16 in The Tennessean newspaper in Nashville. Various facets of Olivet’s operation were scrutinized in the article, along with organizations to which Olivet is related, such as The Christian Post, an Internet news site.

“LifeWay is aware of past concerns about some of Olivet’s relationships and theology,” LifeWay director of communications Martin King told Baptist Press July 16. “As part of our due diligence, we have created a process to ensure the theological compatibility of Olivet and LifeWay. This will be done by a team of theologians outside both organizations. We expect that thorough review to take several weeks.”

The president of Olivet is Bill Wagner, a former International Mission Board missionary and missions professor at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary who was elected second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003 and was one of several candidates for SBC president in 2008.

Wagner said Olivet is “honored LifeWay would consider Olivet to steward the Glorieta Conference Center …. Glorieta’s mission has always been to point people to Christ, which Olivet University is committed to continue to do through education and training of the next generation of leaders called to fulfill the Great Commission through church ministry and missions.”

According to the Tennessean article:

— David Jang, a Korea native who founded both Olivet and The Christian Post, had alleged ties as a young man to the Sun Myung Moon Unification Church and was investigated by church leaders in Korea and China for alleged teaching by his followers that he was the second coming of Jesus. The general secretary of the World Evangelical Association, Geoff Tunnicliffe, said Jang was cleared of theological issues, according to The Tennessean. Jang stepped down from Olivet and now runs a nonprofit called the Holy Bible Society.

— Questions about Olivet’s “theology, finances and viability already have led to Olivet’s failure in two recent attempts to acquire properties from other Christian groups,” The Tennessean stated. Earlier this year Olivet leaders tried to acquire the former campus of a school founded by D.L. Moody in Massachusetts and, earlier, tried to buy the campus of Bethany University, a now-closed Assemblies of God school in California.

— A 2007 Olivet tax return, The Tennessean reported, shows $1.41 million in revenue for operating the school and about $900,000 in net assets. The school’s 2007 annual report filed with its accrediting agency, though, listed $9.7 million in revenue and $3.37 million in assets. An Olivet spokesperson told The Tennessean the school’s annual reports include overseas locations with no official ties to the school.

— Olivet accepts only undergraduates with ties to the school’s denomination, the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches in America, which, according to the article, has about 100 churches overseas and a handful in the United States. Some of the U.S. churches have only two or three members, a spokesperson told the newspaper. The school recruits students from new converts in China and Korea, The Tennessean said. A spokesperson with A. Larry Ross and Associates, which now represents the university alongside the Billy Graham Evangelistic Organization and other leading evangelicals, told the newspaper that Olivet does allow for some graduate students from outside the small Presbyterian group.

The Tennessean also noted the role of Richard Land as executive editor of The Christian Post, which is operated by Olivet leaders and former students. Land is president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.

Land, in a July 16 statement to Baptist Press, said, “I accepted the position as Executive Editor of The Christian Post July 7, 2011. I write at least one column a month on current moral issues and I’m available to advise and consult with the writers and editorial staff upon their request on issues they should cover and how to cover them.”

R. Albert Mohler Jr. of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Danny Akin of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary also were mentioned in The Tennessean article as being senior editorial advisers to The Christian Post. Mohler told The Tennessean the Post has used his columns and he has met some of its leaders.

Glorieta’s history dates back to the mid-1940s, when Southern Baptists wanted a conference facility in the west to correspond with Ridgecrest Conference Center in the east. Harry P. Stagg, New Mexico Baptists’ executive director at the time, helped secure an 800-acre ranch near Santa Fe through special gifts and the sale of state convention property.

The ranch, along with adjacent land, was a gift from New Mexico Baptists to the Southern Baptist Convention. At the time, New Mexico Baptists numbered fewer than 35,000 people in 166 churches. In 1949, the SBC Executive Committee authorized the official development of the western assembly located at Glorieta.

The first Southern Baptist conference at Glorieta, “a place of decision and life dedication,” was held in August 1952 with more than 1,400 registered guests from 18 states. The first full summer of conferences was in 1953. Glorieta underwent a major campus revitalization project that began in 2000.
Art Toalston is editor of Baptist Press. With reporting by John Loudat, editor of the Baptist New Mexican, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico; the communications office of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention; and Baptist Press assistant editor Erin Roach. The full statement by Lamar Morin, chairman of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico’s executive board, follows:

“The Baptist Convention of New Mexico was offered the Glorieta property from LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention for $1 under the condition that it would present a viable business plan to operate the conference center as a ministry. The Glorieta Task Force of the BCNM, formed at the January meeting of the BCNM Executive Board, diligently sought to address and respond in a fiduciary manner to the offer made by LifeWay.

“The BCNM Glorieta Task Force believed that any prudent business plan would include an environmental study and indemnification by LifeWay for any environmental problems that might be discovered. LifeWay would also need to indemnify the BCNM for the litigation it might incur as a result of assuming ownership of the property and not because of any action taken by the BCNM. Based on its inspection of the property, the task force determined that a viable business plan needed to include deferred maintenance of $10 million to $20 million.

“Accordingly, the task force advised LifeWay that it could not proceed further with the acquisition unless LifeWay agreed to indemnify BCNM for any environmental liability and litigation liability. LifeWay advised BCNM that it could not indemnify BCNM as requested, and as a result the task force could not proceed any further.

“The Baptist Convention of New Mexico Glorieta Task Force is keenly aware of the deep love and devotion that New Mexico Baptists and Southern Baptists around the world have for the Glorieta Conference Center. Our hearts are sympathetic to the many letters, phone calls and emails that we have received. The task force sought to respond and discuss every suggestion proposed. They also recognized that, despite multiple suggestions, there was no offer of financial resources by any person or organization to cover the enormous costs and potential liabilities of assuming such a large property.”