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Texas resolution criticizes Southwestern personnel matter

DALLAS (BP)–The Baptist General Convention of Texas executive board called Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees to task May 20 for reportedly allowing a pastor’s view on local church matters to cost him a faculty position.
The resolution, adopted during miscellaneous business, was approved by about a two-to-one margin. Titled on “local church autonomy,” it was presented by Bruce Prescott, pastor of Easthaven Baptist Church, Houston.
The resolution stated a seminary trustee committee rejected the unanimous recommendation of the theology department and administration and caused the administration to withdraw its recommendation of a Texas Baptist pastor as professor “because he affirmed the historic Baptist principle of local church autonomy in relation to women in ministry.”
The resolution formally recorded the board’s “disapproval of institutional hiring practices that violate historic Baptist principles.” The board expressed its desire to “remind the trustees of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary of their spiritual obligation to honor the democratic processes under which autonomous local churches discern the lordship of Christ.”
Though he was not named in the resolution, it clearly referred to Steve Harmon, pastor of Round Grove Baptist Church, Dublin, Texas, who was to have been recommended to the Fort Worth seminary’s trustees March 10-12 for election as instructor in theology.
Seminary President Ken Hemphill and Academic Dean Tommy Lea withdrew Harmon’s nomination after two interviews with trustee members and discussion of the appointment in the trustees’ academic affairs committee.
While the administrators declined to discuss specific topics related to the interview process, Harmon told reporters at the time that issues included the role of women as senior pastors and a letter that he wrote to the Baptist Standard about the firing of former seminary President Russell Dilday.
A statement issued by the Southwestern Seminary administration after the board meeting noted the school’s “long and mutually beneficial partnership” with Texas Baptists and expressed regret that the BGCT executive board “spoke publicly about Southwestern without first talking with the administration. We would have welcomed the opportunity to discuss the matter openly and honestly. In the future, we hope this will be an option.”
The administration’s statement noted some “misinformation” in the resolution, pointing out there never was a vote of trustees or of a trustee committee.
“The administration did what it felt best, both for the seminary and for Mr. Harmon,” according to the statement. “We look forward to continuing our work with the BGCT in the cause of Christ.”
In discussion at the board meeting, some members questioned whether the resolution violated the “autonomy” of another institution’s governing board and asked whether all the facts were known and suggested personal contacts with seminary officials rather than a public resolution.
But another board member said if not all of the details are public knowledge, it is because the seminary trustees increasingly conduct much of their business in executive session. He noted there was a time when he felt himself a part of the seminary, but “I found out my opinion didn’t matter” there.
Steven Buckland, pastor of First Baptist Church, Littlefield, moved to table the resolution until the September board meeting so BGCT representatives could get a response from seminary officials. The motion failed.
Also during the board meeting in Dallas, Keith D. Bruce, pastor of Shearer Hills Baptist Church, San Antonio, was unanimously elected as director of Texas Baptists’ Christian education coordinating board.
Bruce will begin his employment June 8 as director-elect and will assume full responsibilities as director July 1 upon the retirement of Jerry Dawson, current director.
In his new role, Bruce will serve as liaison between the BGCT and its eight universities and San Marcos Baptist Academy, and he will provide supervision for those who direct the Texas Baptist division of student ministry on 137 campuses. He has served Shearer Hills Baptist Church as pastor since April 1990.
In his report to the board, Executive Director William M. Pinson Jr. noted the Annual Church Profiles showed increases in every membership category for Texas Baptist churches over the previous year and a growth rate greater than Southern Baptists nationwide. But Texas Baptists face a continuing challenge as “God brings the mission field to Texas,” he said.