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Tenn. Baptists approve ‘voice and vote’ for president

SEVIERVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–Messengers to the Tennessee Baptist Convention adopted a “flatline” budget and elected Clarksville pastor Roger Freeman without opposition as their new president.

Messengers also approved a change to the convention bylaws that would allow the TBC president to have a “voice and vote” on all standing committees of the convention, including the Committee on Committees and Committee on Boards.

Among other business, messengers adopted two new mission partnerships, extended the partnership with Iowa Baptists, and, after intense discussion, asked for an investigation of the biblical views taught in the convention’s three colleges.

Anticipated messenger action on a resolution about Christian and public schools failed to materialize.

Prior to the convention, two planned resolutions were announced — one in favor of homeschools and private Christian education and the other in support of public education.

Jim West, pastor of Petros (Tenn.) Baptist Church, had submitted a resolution supporting public education prior to the annual meeting but did not introduce it from the floor of the convention. As a result it was not considered by the resolutions committee.

Another resolution favoring Christian schools was submitted by Larry Reagan, pastor of Adam’s Chapel Baptist Church in Dresden.

Unlike a resolution presented at the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention in June which asked Baptist parents to pull their children from public schools, Reagan’s resolution cited scriptural admonitions in noting that “the education of children and youth is the primary responsibility of parents” and that education “must be based on God’s Word as absolute truth” and that it should result in a “biblical world view.”

Reagan’s resolution asked for prayer for those who provide Christian education resources for families and churches and noted that the “2004 annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention does wish to promote the development of an adequate system of Christian schools to carry out the principles of this resolution.”

Reagan said, “I want to be positive in promoting Christian education. I don’t want to be portrayed as attacking public education.”

Reagan’s resolution was not reported back to messengers by the resolution committee, which presented only the traditional resolution of gratitude for the host church to the convention for approval.

Grover Westover, chairman of the committee and pastor of Harmony Baptist Church in Whiteville, explained why the committee chose not to present the resolution.

“Affirming the biblical mandate that the educational responsibilities and decisions ultimately belong to the parents and/or guardians, we did not deem it wise to bring a resolution on this issue,” Westover said in a statement to the Baptist and Reflector, the convention’s newsjournal.


Freeman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Clarksville for the past 11 years, became the first TBC president to be elected without opposition since Ken Story was elected to the presidency in 1987.

Freeman was nominated by Fred Steelman, pastor of Red Bank Baptist Church in Chattanooga. Steelman said Freeman “confidently affirms the absolute inerrancy of Scripture,” is a “Bible-believing conservative” and has a “sweet spirit.”

Steelman also noted that First Baptist in Clarksville was featured by The Commission magazine of the International Mission Board recently for its missions work. Church volunteers have served in Appalachia, New York, Canada, Brazil, China and are contemplating work in North Africa.

“He is simply a great role model for leadership in Tennessee,” Steelman said of Freeman.

Elected as vice president was Richard Wallace, a businessman and member of First Baptist Church in Sevierville, over Jay Austin, founding pastor of Life Community Baptist Church in Nolensville. Elected as second vice president was Clay Austin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Blountville, over Ken Polk, pastor of Northside Baptist Church in Murfreesboro.

Barbara Owen and Dan Ferrell of the TBC staff were re-elected statistical/recording and registration secretaries, respectively.


TBC messengers adopted a budget of $35,554,851 for 2005, which is “a flatline budget from last year,” said Freeman, who had chaired the TBC executive board’s budget and program committee. The amount is $917,746 or 2.65 percent over 2004 actual receipts, he noted.

“The bottom line is a $0 increase in the budget,” Freeman told messengers. He assured messengers “a lot of hard questions” were asked about the budget.

“We present this budget as the will of God,” he said.

There was limited discussion of the budget on Nov. 9 and it was approved the following day by messengers.


On referral from the TBC executive board, the constitution and bylaws committee presented a recommendation to give the convention president “a voice and a vote in the proceedings” of convention committees. Previously the president had a voice but no vote.

Leonard Markham, TBC executive board president, spoke in favor of the change.

Noting that he is a past TBC president, he said he did not realize until his service this year that the convention president does not have the same right as the executive board president in regard to voting on committees.

Markham said that as executive board president he had a vote on every executive board committee, but as president of the convention, elected by messengers, he did not have a vote on convention committees.

Markham acknowledged some people feared that giving the president a vote on committees would “politicize” the office, but he discounted that theory. Approving the change “will reach out to some people and will be consistent and fair with what we are doing,” he said.

There were a few dissenting votes, but the change was approved by the two-thirds vote needed for passage. It must be voted on again next year to go into effect.


During the executive board report, Markham updated messengers concerning ongoing dialogue with trustees of Belmont University over a proposed covenant that Belmont trustees submitted to the executive board, at its request, earlier this summer.

Markham provided messengers background and acknowledged that Belmont had responded to a request from the board that each TBC institution rewrite its current program statement in the form of a covenant agreement with the TBC.

The Belmont proposal would take away the convention’s current ability to elect the school’s trustees.

Markham reported that the executive board affirmed its education committee in “the continuing discussion with Belmont University in the resolution of this matter.”

“The executive board also agreed that no recommendation or motion be made concerning Belmont University until the January 2005 executive board meeting, with the exception of recommendations and actions to continue and enhance good faith relationships between the executive board and Belmont University,” Markham said.

He noted that a subcommittee of the education committee had been appointed to meet with a subcommittee of Belmont trustees.

Markham said he recently had received a report from Joe Stacker, chairman of the education committee’s subcommittee. According to Stacker, “Belmont University trustees have assured the education committee they have no desire to leave their affiliation with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.”

“They acted in a good faith response to the request of the Executive Board that all TBC institutions submit proposed new covenant agreements by the 2005 budget work,” Stacker wrote.

“The special committee plans to follow the motion at the September Executive Board meeting that nothing be done on this matter until January 2005, except prayer and support for a beneficial result to all involved. You can assure the convention that good progress is being made toward a positive effort,” Stacker wrote in his report.

Members of the two subcommittees are Stacker, Mary Onstott and Mike Dawson of the executive board and Mike Glenn, Larry Thrailkill and Marty Dickens from the Belmont trustees.


During a Tuesday afternoon business session on Nov. 9, Brady Tarr, a messenger from Manley Baptist Church in Morristown and a student at Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, raised concerns about the institution.

Tarr said he has been told by professors at Carson-Newman that the Bible has errors and contradictions. “Why is that happening at Carson-Newman, a Baptist college?” he asked.

Carson-Newman President James Netherton was asked to respond to Tarr’s question.

“Carson-Newman doesn’t teach the Bible has errors,” the president said.

“I believe every single member of the religion department is called by God and they all believe the Bible.

“If you treat the Bible with great honesty, a number of things must be read and placed in a proper perspective,” Netherton continued. “The Bible is what we believe. It is at the center of our faith.”

Netherton was asked by messenger D.C. Cobb of Speedway Terrace Baptist Church in Memphis, if Carson-Newman professors would be willing to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message statement.

“We haven’t asked them that question,” the president responded. “We Baptists have not made the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message a test. We have worked hard to be a non-creedal people.”

Presidents at all three schools were asked to respond to whether creationism is being taught on campus. Both Netherton and David Dockery of Union University in Jackson responded affirmatively. Belmont University President Robert Fisher was not present when the question was raised.

Bill Sherman, pastor of First Baptist Church in Fairview, affirmed the three colleges and Harrison-Chilhowee Baptist Academy. “We haven’t come here to tell each other how to believe,” Sherman said.

“We need to get on with our preaching of the Gospel and affirming and loving each other and quit our cotton-picking nitpicking,” Sherman said.

Hollie Miller, pastor of Sevier Heights Baptist Church in Knoxville, praised Tarr “for being willing to say and testify to what he’s personally experienced. To testify about the Word of God is not nit-picking,” Miller said.

In response to another question, both Netherton and Dockery affirmed that a person can gain salvation only through Jesus Christ.

Concerns about the colleges were raised the following day as well and a motion was made that the incoming TBC president appoint a committee to investigate charges that had been made the previous day.

Boyd referred the matter to the executive board’s education committee.

A move to overrule the decision of the chair failed.

Lynn King, education committee chairman and incoming executive board president, assured messengers, “… we will take this under advisement. We will study it and report back to the executive board.” King is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Dyersburg.

The issue resurfaced later in the afternoon when a motion was introduced by messenger Ryan Potts of Mount Pelia Baptist Church in Martin that the education committee investigate allegations, report to the executive board and the convention next year, and take actions against those responsible.

A point of order was asked by Jeff Lane, pastor of Cumberland Baptist Church in Knoxville, who noted that the convention already had dealt with the motion. Boyd ruled the point was well-taken.

Boyd also noted it was out of order to ask the education committee to report to the convention directly.

A motion later was made by Jason Guthrie of First Baptist Church in Flintville that the education committee “investigate and study the theological teachings of Carson-Newman College” and that the committee report to the executive board which would then report findings to the 2005 annual meeting. The motion was amended twice to include all three colleges and that the investigation be done in conjunction with the trustee boards of the schools.

After some discussion, the motion was approved by messengers.


Tennessee Baptist messengers approved two new missions partnerships to begin in 2006.

Messengers agreed to enter into a five-year partnership missions agreement with the Canadian Southern Baptist Seminary, beginning Jan. 1, 2006, and continuing through Dec. 31, 2010.

In addition, messengers approved a similar five-year agreement with the Montana Southern Baptist Convention during the same time frame.

The volunteer missions team of the convention staff’s missions mobilization group will be assigned the responsibility for implementation and coordination of the agreement.

Messengers also voted to renew a partnership with the Baptist Convention of Iowa from Jan. 1, 2005, to Dec. 31, 2007.

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