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Houston Baptist Univ. trustees declare autonomy from BGCT

HOUSTON (BP)–Houston Baptist University trustees have declared their autonomy from the Baptist General Convention of Texas in an effort to stop the removal of some trustees who attended churches that “did not meet the threshold requirements of being a BGCT cooperating church.”

University President E.D. Hodo told Baptist Press the 33-member board voted unanimously May 16 to protect its trustees and assure a broad-based representation among current and future board members.

“There was a meeting last Friday dealing with the selection of new trustees,” Hodo said. “Some of the trustees were disallowed because the church they attended did not meet threshold requirements of being a BGCT cooperating church. It was a financial reason.”

According to a report in the Houston Chronicle, the BGCT’s decision would have had an adverse affect on minority trustees. “Some mainly minority churches cannot afford those contribution requirements to the state convention,” Hodo told the Chronicle.

Hodo said the board currently has two African American trustees, two Asian Americans and six women. Nearly 50 percent of the 2,300 students at the school are minorities and Hodo said the BGCT’s action would have had a negative impact on the racial makeup of the board.

Keith Bruce, director of the BGCT’s Christian Education Coordinating Board, told Baptist Press there is not a financial requirement to be considered a cooperating church.

“There is no specific minimum amount of contribution required from a church before a member can be elected to an institutional board. However, we do expect trustees to come from churches that positively support the ministry, mission and budget of the BGCT,” Bruce said.

BGCT spokesman Ken Camp told Baptist Press each church is considered on a case by case basis by the convention’s nominating committee.

BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade, in a prepared statement, questioned the university’s action. “The unilateral action taken by the trustees of Houston Baptist University violates the constitution of the Baptist General Convention of Texas and the principles by which the university and convention have worked together,” Wade said.

“It seriously challenges the trust, cooperation and understanding that for more than 40 years has existed between the university and the Baptist General Convention of Texas.”

Wade said the BGCT was shocked and caught off guard by the trustees’ decision.

The vote puts in jeopardy nearly $1.5 million that the state convention contributes to HBU’s $28 million annual budget.

Camp declined to speculate about whether the BGCT will pursue legal action against the university. He said the BGCT Christian Education Coordinating Board will discuss the matter during a May 22 conference call.

Hodo emphasized that the university would continue to cooperate with the BGCT. Under the charter changes approved May 16, the state convention would appoint nine board members and the board was expanded to 36 members. Previously, the convention appointed all trustees.

Hodo said if the board had not taken action at least six trustees would have been ousted from the university.

“We have been assured by our legal counsel that the board of trustees is the only legal entity that has control over the charter and the bylaws of the university,” Hodo said.

“Basically, the ball is in the court of the BGCT,” Hodo added. “From our perspective we don’t anticipate any change. We will continue to report to the BGCT and we will continue to call ourselves a BGCT institution. Our values will stay the same.”

Some observers have compared the HBU action as a reversal of what happened at Baylor University in 1990. Fearing conservatives would take control of the state convention, Baylor’s trustees declared autonomy.

HBU is considered by supporters as a conservative institution. “Absolutely there are similarities to Baylor but this is not about theology or politics,” Hodo said.

“This school may be considered conservative, but people need to understand that what really happened here is that the trustees felt like they needed to be protected.

“However, if we are considered conservative, then so be it,” Hodo added.

Ed Young, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Houston, said it was a historic moment for HBU. “It is a time [when] they will enlarge their tent and become a Baptist university for the Southwest,” he told Baptist Press.

“The BGCT should be thrilled with the direction they are taking,” Young said. “HBU is treading a very evangelical, conservative course. Their president is an unapologetic inerrantist.”

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  • Todd Starnes