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CORDOVA, Tenn. (BP)–Messengers to the Tennessee Baptist Convention affirmed the Southern Baptist Convention’s Baptist Faith and Message 2000 statement of beliefs during their Nov. 14-15 meeting at the Memphis-area Bellevue Baptist Church.
The convention, attended by 1,439 messengers from 552 churches, also heard a report from the study committee shepherding the TBC’s challenge of Belmont University trustees becoming self-perpetuating and thus ending its formal ties to the TBC.
In the first of two actions related to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, messengers added a question about the statement of beliefs &M to the information form used by the TBC’s committee on committees and committee on boards. Messengers later affirmed the BF&M 2000 in a separate action.
During the opening miscellaneous business session Nov. 14, Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, moved that the following question be added to the seven questions currently on the information form: “Do you affirm your belief in the Baptist Faith and Message 2000?”
Sutton noted that when decisions are made about who is appointed to Tennessee Baptist boards and committees there is a “tacit assumption” that Tennessee Baptists are “vitally connected” to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“In the past 20-25 years we have a group that’s not loyal to Southern Baptists, and yet these people go on the executive board and make Cooperative Program allocation decisions for those of us who are committed to the Southern Baptist Convention.”
He compared it to “foxes guarding the hen house.”
Randall Adkisson, pastor of First Baptist Church in Cookeville and chairman of the convention’s committee on boards, asked if the motion was in order, since the convention had chosen in 2000 not to adopt the Baptist Faith and Message as its own statement of faith.
The convention’s parliamentarians ruled that the motion was in order, since it was only to add a question to a questionnaire and not to require that nominees affirm the BF&M in order to be elected.
Brady Tarr, a messenger from Manley Baptist Church in Morristown, agreed with Sutton’s motion, noting that “we need standards to live by. We need to ask people up front what they believe.”
Messenger James Robertson of Sharon Baptist Church in Knoxville opposed the motion on the basis that the TBC does not have a statement of faith and that the “impact of this proposed motion” would, in effect, place it in the constitution.
Robertson also questioned the action on the grounds that “it seems to me that those who want to make budget allocations should be people who give to the Cooperative Program, whose gifts are not designated around the Cooperative Program.”
Sutton’s church designates much of its Cooperative Program giving, sending it around the TBC to the SBC.
Messenger Chris Francis of New Sevier Home Baptist Church in Knoxville offered an amendment to Sutton’s motion to add that messengers be informed of the nominee’s response to the question “with a simple yes or no answer.”
The amendment passed.
Messenger Bill Sherman of First Baptist Church in Fairview offered a substitute motion to replace Sutton’s question with “Do you affirm your belief in the Bible alone in matters of faith and behavior?”
Sherman said asking the question and publicizing the answers makes it a “litmus test” for service in Tennessee Baptist life. The proposed question also would make it a creed, something Baptists have historically opposed, Sherman said.
“I believe in all of the Bible and I will sign every page of it. It should be sufficient guide alone. When you bring in a statement of faith, you place it ahead of the Word of God.
“I cannot believe that anybody, any committee, any denomination or any group can improve upon the Word of God,” Sherman said.
Other messengers contended that simply asking the question did not make it a creed. Sutton opposed the substitute motion, noting that “we are confusing institutional integrity and loyalty with loyalty to the Word of God.”
The amendment failed on a show of ballots vote by a substantial margin. Messengers then adopted Sutton’s motion.
Sherman was recognized by Ron Stewart, the convention’s vice president who was presiding during the session. Sherman asked if the question that had just been adopted would be used for information or as a litmus test.
Stewart said the spirit of the motion was that it would not be used as a litmus test.
The BF&M again became a topic of discussion during the Tuesday afternoon session when messenger Paul Brown of Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova moved that the “Tennessee Baptist Convention, meeting in this annual session, go on record as affirming the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.”
“With all my heart I believe the Bible to be the inspired Word of God. Affirming this statement does not imply that it puts it on par with the Word of God,” Brown said. “It clarifies how we understand the Bible.”
Sherman proposed an amendment to the motion to include any of the three statements of faith that Southern Baptists have adopted (1925, 1963, or 2000). “We are not here to tell each other what to believe,” Sherman said.
Messenger Jimmy Stroud of Third Creek Baptist Church in Knoxville spoke against the amendment.
“I feel we can be united if we approve the 2000 BF&M understanding that the preamble of 2000 is almost identical to the 1925 and 1962 statements of faith,” Stroud said. “In the preamble it is clear that the statement of faith is not to be considered a creed.”
Messengers voted the amendment down and later approved the motion, affirming the 2000 BF&M by a large majority of votes.
Messengers heard a report from the Belmont Study Committee, a special committee appointed to study the convention’s relationship with Belmont University in Nashville.
The university’s trustees amended its charter last year to remove the power of the convention to appoint board members, making the board self-perpetuating.
That action triggered a repayment clause in a 1951 agreement signed by officials of both Belmont and the TBC. The convention filed a lawsuit in September seeking to reclaim the more than $50 million in Cooperative Program funds allocated to Belmont since its founding in 1951.
Austin explained the decision to file a complaint with Davidson County Chancery Court.
“First, both sides have discussed mediation and indicated a desire to pursue that course,” Austin said. He noted that in most cases a “complaint” is filed before mediation begins. “It is still our hope that this issue will be settled out of court,” Austin told messengers.
The second reason for filing suit, Austin continued, was to “seek to honor the faithful Tennessee Baptists who foresaw such a time as this as they wisely sought to protect the interests and investment of Tennessee Baptists across the years.”
Third, Austin said the committee filed suit to “seek to honor our current convention membership.” The convention, which held a special called meeting in May, expressed itself clearly, Austin noted. “Tennessee Baptists have contributed more than $23 million to Belmont in the past decade alone. That financial support demonstrated that you viewed Belmont as a valid Kingdom enterprise. We honor your commitment to protect this investment.”
Fourth, Austin emphasized, the filing of the complaint or lawsuit was not done vindictively.
And, finally, Austin said, Belmont’s change of charter “pulled the legal trigger.”
“As the convention has instructed us to seek all remedies in the best interests of the convention, we came to the decision to move forward in a legal process with the continued desire to settle at any time. No avenues of resolution are closed,” Austin said.
“Private negotiation and/or mediation are still the desired route,” he said. “We are now in a time of discovery that hopefully helps both sides to move more quickly to settlement.”
Austin said the question is often asked, “What will keep another school from doing the same thing?” He said the only answer he can give is “relationship. We must work to strengthen the ties of trust that bind.”
After the report was presented on the first day, Austin asked messengers to write down any questions which the committee would respond to the following day.
“We are now involved in a legal process. No one member of the committee can speak with legal authority. We want to consider your questions and bring informed answers back to you,” Austin said.
No questions were submitted by messengers.
Messengers elected Ron Stewart of Knoxville as convention president over Clay Austin of Blountville. Stewart, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Knoxville, received 575 votes (58 percent) to 413 (42 percent) for Austin, pastor of First Baptist Church in Blountville.
Tom McCoy, pastor of Thompson Station Baptist Church in Thompson Station, was elected first vice president over Michael Adams, pastor of First Baptist Church in Lexington. McCoy received 548 votes (62 percent) to 342 (38 percent) for Adams.
Raymond “Buddy” Boston, pastor of First Baptist Church in Covington, was elected second vice president by 15 votes over Tim McGehee, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Tullahoma.
Messengers adopted a $37 million budget for the coming year, to be finalized by the executive board, up from the current budget of $36.7 million. The TBC will continue to allocate 60 percent of Cooperative Program gifts from Tennessee churches to missions and ministries in the state and 40 percent for SBC national and international causes.
Approximately $2.3 million in funding that had been escrowed from Belmont University was allocated after an amount of $750,000 was set aside for possible legal fees related to a lawsuit filed by the convention. The remaining funds will be distributed according to percentages used in the 2005-06 budget for SBC causes and TBC entities.
Last year, the $2.3 million escrowed from Belmont was utilized to raise the TBC’s giving to SBC causes to 40 percent of the state budget. Union University and Carson-Newman College each received an additional $500,000, with the remaining funds distributed to various TBC missions and ministries.
In other business, messengers adopted a resolution to “affirm the biblical concept of marriage as it impacts corporate America.”
The resolution noted that Tennessee Baptists “affirm the biblical concept of marriage” and that on Nov. 7, more than 1.4 million Tennesseans (about 81 percent of the voters) “chose to place an amendment protecting biblical marriage, between one man and one woman, into our Tennessee State Constitution.”
The resolution also noted that “many major corporations in our country have supported the homosexual agenda” and resolved that Tennessee Baptists “affirm the many businesses that uphold the biblical concept of marriage and family.”
It also resolved that the TBC “encourage pastors and members of our churches to be informed and educated as to the actions of corporate America as it relates to family issues” and to encourage Tennessee Baptists “to respond prayerfully and prophetically to corporate America with their actions and to be engaged in reaching corporate America with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
The 2007 annual meeting will be held Nov. 13-14 at MeadowView Conference Center in Kingsport.
Adapted from reporting by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist & Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.