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Tenn. college president notes implications of theology inquiry

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–In the view of one college president, “potential difficulties related to governance and operations” may result from a motion to “investigate and study the theological teachings” of institutions of higher education affiliated with the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

Carson-Newman College President James Netherton, in a statement to Baptist Press Nov. 18, affirmed the college’s relationship with the Tennessee convention but voiced wariness of the motion which was passed during the Nov. 9-10 TBC annual meeting.

The motion arose on the floor of the convention after a Carson-Newman student, who also was a local church messenger, stated that his professors had told him the Bible has errors and contradictions. “Why is that happening at Carson-Newman, a Baptist college?” the student, Brady Tarr, asked.

In addition to Carson-Newman, located in Jefferson City, two other institutions fall under the scope of the TBC motion: Belmont University in Nashville and Union University in Jackson.

Netherton, in his statement to Baptist Press, noted:

“Since 1919, Carson-Newman College has enjoyed a special relationship with Tennessee Baptists. Our 85-year partnership has resulted in thousands of men and women giving of themselves in Christian ministries and service throughout the world. We believe our relationship with the TBC is a vital part of who we are and the success with which we fulfill the Great Commission.

“The motion that was passed by the messengers creates several potential difficulties related to governance and operations of the TBC and the educational institutions affected,” Netherton continued. “Carson-Newman will work with TBC leaders to determine how we can appropriately respond to the will of the messengers without violating preexisting provisions in charters, bylaws, requirements of accrediting associations and other issues that may be identified as we study the implications of the motion. I am confident that we will work together to resolve these issues.”

Belmont’s president, Robert Fisher, had hinted at similar concerns in a statement he issued to Baptist Press on Nov. 16.

“I am quite surprised by the motion and the overwhelming vote in favor of the investigation,” Fisher said. “Each of the three institutions has a governing board that has been fully affirmed by the Tennessee Baptist Convention. According to the TBC bylaws, each board is responsible for the oversight of their respective institution and is the final authority in all matters, so I’m a little confused as to who does what around here.”

Union’s president, David Dockery, did not raise potential governance issues in his Nov. 16 statement about the motion.

“Union University recognizes its responsibility and accountability to the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. We will be glad to cooperate and participate in the study that was called for at this year’s convention. We believe our trustees will be happy to lead this process and as a result we should be a better institution with better relationships with the churches in days ahead,” Dockery said.

The TBC executive board’s education committee will conduct the investigation, according to the motion, and report to the executive board which then would report the findings to the state convention’s 2005 annual meeting. Lynn King, the immediate past chairman of the education committee is the new executive board president. King is pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church in Dyersburg.

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