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Tenn. convention special session to address Belmont ties

BRENTWOOD, Tenn. (BP)–A special meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, called primarily to deal with the convention’s relationship to Belmont University, has been set for May 9 at 9 a.m. at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville.

The May 9 meeting was called by the TBC executive board, which met March 28 in a special meeting, much of which was held in executive session.

A statement provided by the Belmont study committee revealed Belmont “filed an Amended and Revised Charter with the Tennessee Secretary of State’s office on Nov. 10, 2005, prior to the annual meeting of the Tennessee Baptist Convention.”

“Tennessee Baptist Convention leadership or legal counsel had not been informed that the new charter had been filed prior to the convention,” the six-member study committee noted.

The restated charter does not mention any kind of relationship with the Tennessee Baptist Convention. As stated by the study committee, “Reading of the restated charter clearly indicates that Belmont University has removed the provision which provided for the election of members of its board by the Tennessee Baptist Convention.

“This action has not been approved by the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Due to such action and procedures in the Tennessee Baptist Convention governing documents, the Executive Board was left with no alternative but to consider the following actions on behalf of the convention,” the statement continued.

The actions were presented to the Executive Board and were unanimously approved -– including a provision to initiate a study for the “possible declaring of each trustee position of Belmont University vacant.”

Also included in the actions is a recommendation for dealing with the relationship with Baptist Health System of East Tennessee should the need arise.

The study committee’s statement said “the called Executive Board meeting was a fulfillment of the charge given by the Tennessee Baptist Convention in annual session last November to investigate and report on a 1951 agreement with Belmont University.”

According to the statement, a copy of the agreement was given to TBC legal counsel following the annual meeting last November at First Baptist Church in Clarksville.

The agreement, signed by officials of Ward-Belmont, Inc. (Belmont College), the TBC executive board and the Tennessee Baptist Foundation specifies that should Belmont “for any reason pass from Baptist control, or the control, ownership, supervision or right to elect the trustees of Ward-Belmont, Inc. (Belmont College) be lost to the Tennessee Baptist Convention, then any and all of said property and funds shall be repaid or restored to Tennessee College for Women (no longer in existence) or the Executive Board of the Convention.”

Since 1951 Belmont has received in excess of $50 million in Cooperative Program receipts alone.

Messengers from churches to the May 9 special meeting must be elected in accordance with the TBC constitution. Additional information related to the meeting will be relayed on the convention’s website and through the convention’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal during April.

The study committee statement reported that executive board members “demonstrated patience, statesmanship, Christian character, and utmost desire to seek God’s will related to a monumental task” during the special meeting.

“It is the fervent hope of the members of the Executive Board that Tennessee Baptists will make this matter a theme of constant prayer as we approach the special called meeting on May 9,” the study committee stated.

Belmont study committee chairman Clay Austin, who also chairs the TBC executive board and is pastor of First Baptist Church in Blountville, told the Baptist and Reflector that he wanted board members “to be fully aware of the discussions we have had and the documents we looked at.”

“When we adjourned on Tuesday [March 28], they had every document and piece of information that was available. I wanted the executive board to be fully knowledgeable about what was going on for any future decisions they might be asked to make,” he said.

TBC Executive Director James Porch said the study committee and members of the executive board “continue to seek and welcome opportunities for dialogue with representatives of Belmont University prior to the called convention on May 9 with the continued desire and prayer to resolve issues between Belmont University and the Tennessee Baptist Convention.”

“Also, the Belmont study committee and executive board members encourage the trustees of Belmont University and its representatives to support and encourage continued discussion and dialogue. May such joint desire lead to the resolution of the issues in an honorable Christian manner,” Porch said.

When contacted by the Baptist and Reflector, Belmont released a statement from Marty Dickens, chairman of the college’s board of trustees.

“Belmont’s board of trustees is unanimously committed to broadening and deepening the Christian mission of the university,” Dickens said.

“We look forward to continuing our relationship with Tennessee Baptists.

“We invite them to join us as we fulfill our mission as a student-centered Christian community providing an academically challenging education that enables men and women of diverse backgrounds to engage and transform the world with disciplined intelligence, compassion, courage, and faith,” Dickens said.
Adapted from reporting by Lonnie Wilkey, editor of The Baptist and Reflector, newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, on the Web at www.tnbaptist.org/BRNews.asp.

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