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SWBTS trustees clarify their responsibilities

FORT WORTH (BP)–The cordial spirit at the spring meeting of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustees contrasted sharply from the tension surrounding their session last fall, with indications that trustee officers and a Texas pastor are working to restore a relationship strained by disagreement.

Trustees also passed a policy that clarifies the responsibilities and duties of a trustee in an executive session during the April 3 meeting.

“I am absolutely satisfied that my concerns have been fairly heard,” pastor Dwight McKissic said in an April 5 interview with the Southern Baptist TEXAN, newsjournal of the Southern Baptists of Texas Convention. In the months prior to the board meeting, trustee officers met with McKissic to address what McClain deemed possible trustee policy violations.

Initially, McClain expressed doubt that the disagreement between board officers and McKissic could be settled because the Texas trustee had made their private correspondence public. At that time McClain spoke of the possibility that the officers would recommend in June that the Southern Baptist Convention remove McKissic from the board. McKissic publicly criticized SBC entity policies against speaking in tongues and private prayer language.

But McKissic and the board officers met privately and confidentially, tabling any recommended action against McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington. Asked about the status of their reconciliation, McClain told the TEXAN he felt “peace had been secured” during the spring board meeting.

McKissic agreed with that assessment, adding, “I characterize my relationship with the board as being in the process of healing and restoration. I have grown to have a tremendous amount of respect and appreciation for Dr. Van McClain,” McKissic added, calling him a “gracious, godly and forgiving man.”

“I also deeply appreciate the counsel, corrections, cautions and concerns shared by Dr. McClain and the trustee officers toward SWBTS and myself,” McKissic stated. “I maintain the freedom, God-given responsibility and calling to address any biblical, theological, justice or moral issue that I feel compelled to address without any restraints or parameters except those given by the Word of God and the Spirit of God.”

Trustees met behind closed doors for more than a half-hour in adopting a memorandum that explains the legal status of the seminary, its relationship to the SBC and those outside the institutions. Their new policy limits the expression of public objection by individual trustees to board-approved actions as well as criticism of sister entities.

As a Texas nonprofit corporation, Southwestern Seminary is a private organization not bound by the legal requirements of a public body “required to be open to public scrutiny,” the three-page policy document reads. That said, the policy concludes, “A trustee’s accountability to the Southern Baptist Convention is to protect the seminary and its mission as approved by the Convention. It is the seminary’s welfare that a trustee must put first and foremost, not withstanding any of a trustee’s personal desires and beliefs.”

Despite this priority, the trustee’s accountability does not limit his expression of doctrinal or moral convictions “as long as the trustee does not suggest a specific link to trustee or seminary policy and action,” the document adds.

A set of 10 duties and responsibilities are spelled out, leading with the primary charge of setting policy which the administration implements. The board approves the budget, authorizes an audit of finances, selects the president, senior administrators, deans and faculty, and adopts curriculum offerings.

Other sections of the policy stipulate prompt and cooperative responses to officer requests, preservation of the board’s autonomy from influence that fails to utilize appropriate channels that allow the full board’s consideration, and a duty to enhance the public perception of the Kingdom of God, the seminary, the SBC and its entities.

Several instructions address confidentiality, expecting trustees to keep all materials for private use, avoiding even the appearance of leaking any such information.

Certain things are to be avoided — usurping administrative responsibilities in management or operations, conflicts of interest whether financial or personal views, and public criticism of the SBC and its subordinate entities.

“These decisions are and should be formulated in privacy so candid and open debate may flourish, although some of the decisions may be announced publicly if the board chooses to do so. While a trustee may be strongly opposed to a policy and express opposition during a board meeting, once the board’s decision is made, it is inappropriate to express opposition to that policy outside the meeting,” the document states.

The document clarified that only the full board can determine what type of confidential information received by the board may be disclosed outside of the board, noting: “For an individual trustee to be able to make an independent determination of what is confidential would completely destroy the duty of confidentiality and hinder the discussions of board matters.”

Regarding confidential information having legal consequences to its disclosure, the document states that the board is bound to keep private personnel information, financial information pertaining to individuals and transactions for proposed projects under consideration.

The policy document was formulated after reviewing governing documents, state nonprofit law, IRS material relating to charitable organizations, court interpretations and similar documents used by the boards of SBTC, sister seminaries and similar organizations.

With the vote on the policy taking place in closed session and no report given as to whether it was unanimous, board chairman Van McClain stated in his lone comment, “All of the trustees have said they will seek to honor the policy statement.”

Looking back on his second meeting since his election as a trustee last June, McKissic told the TEXAN, “I look forward to working in harmony and peace with the board and the administration to fully carry out all the responsibilities of a trustee.”

If his calling to prophetically address any matter God lays upon his heart, including naming entities and personalities whether SBC-related or not, conflicts with his role and responsibility as a trustee, McKissic said he would be faced with the choice of suffering the consequences of his actions or resigning from the board.

“At this point in my trustee pilgrimage, I am not faced with such a conflict,” McKissic said. “If a situation arises where I am faced with that conflict and I feel compelled to respond, I will be forced to make a decision regarding my future as a trustee. If I choose not to resign because of convictions, then the board will be forced to make a decision regarding recommending to the SBC in session to dismiss me as a trustee,” he explained.

“Quite frankly, I’d rather not put the board in that predicament. However, until I’m faced with that situation I do not know how I will respond.”

McKissic fully participated at the meeting, at one point making a recommendation that the seminary compensate the president’s wife for extensive service as a professor and host for numerous seminary functions.

After hearing a report from Dorothy Patterson detailing the 2,073 guests served at Pecan Manor, hundreds of seminary-related individuals receiving personal correspondence on their birthdays, and teaching assignments she fulfilled in the women’s program, McKissic asked the board to offer her a salary commensurate with her work.

“I appreciate her heart and graciousness and contribution. It’s incumbent on us in a tangible way to say thanks,” McKissic added, acknowledging the likelihood that she would turn down such an offer.

Trustees referred his recommendation to their business affairs committee for further consideration. SWBTS President Paige Patterson noted that his wife likely would decline such an offer, preferring to model an important “spirit of volunteerism” on which most schools and churches depend.

“Regardless of whether she accepts it or not,” McClain responded, “we want to honor the intent and rejoice in this report, thankful for what God is doing in our women’s ministries.”

Both the president and his wife made reference to the increasingly common occurrence of public criticism that ministers and their wives experience. In his report to the board, Patterson expressed concern that fewer people are responding to a call to the pastorate.

“Everybody is now an expert on every pastor, so they are constantly assailed in various new ways. Some are not new, but in other ways they’re making life miserable for pastors and many say, ‘Why should I do that?’”

While he urged young people to follow the call of God if led to pastor, Patterson said many students preparing for ministry turn to church planting as a preferred option.

“Plenty of pastors testify to the difficulty of taking even a good, existing church and making something out of it in the hostile environment we have,” Patterson said.

While not wanting to discourage an increased focus on church planting, Patterson appealed to pastors to keep “calling out the called” and encourage those who respond to seek seminary training, noting the biblical warning against putting a novice into the pastorate.

“They need some time to season, learn to respond to difficulties and criticism,” he Patterson, describing the time spent studying under gifted mentors as just as valuable as the academic training.
Tammi Reed Ledbetter is news editor of the Southern Baptist TEXAN, online at www.sbtexas.com.

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