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Va. Baptists alter 169-year tie with University of Richmond

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)–Virginia Baptists’ 169-year-old relationship with the University of Richmond changed Nov. 9 when they approved a plan to phase out financial support for the school and no longer nominate trustees to its board.
Instead, Virginia Baptists will support a Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies to be housed on the campus in Richmond’s West End.
Messengers to the annual meeting of the Baptist General Association of Virginia Nov. 9-10 adopted the measure in response to the university’s decision to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy governing student, faculty and staff recruitment and promotion.
Some Virginia Baptists maintained that stance is at odds with previous BGAV statements on homosexual behavior, which describe it as “sinful and unacceptable to Christians.”
The historic change in relationship, which had been negotiated and approved by Virginia Baptist leaders and UR officials, was adopted at an annual meeting concluding a year-long celebration of the BGAV’s 175th anniversary.
Highlights of the anniversary meeting included celebrations of the BGAV’s burgeoning missions program, which involves efforts with other Baptists to share their faith in the northeastern United States and in parts of Europe, Latin America and Asia.
But Virginia Baptists also continued to distinguish themselves from the more conservative Southern Baptist Convention by affirming the 1963 version of the Baptist Faith and Message confessional statement — not a 1998 amended version that included a controversial paragraph on the submission of wives to husbands.
And the 1,478 registered messengers approved a $15 million budget for 2000 and elected new officers, including Thomas McCann, pastor of First Baptist Church, Martinsville, as president.
Other officers are Darrell Foster, an attorney and member of Thalia Lynn Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, as first vice president; Robert McKinley, pastor of Beale Memorial Baptist Church, Tappahannock, as second vice president; and Fred Anderson of Richmond, executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, as clerk. All of the officers were elected without opposition.
The University of Richmond decision effectively ends governing and financial ties between UR and the BGAV, which founded the school in 1830. Those ties were loosened in 1969 when a $50 million gift from Richmond philanthropist E. Claiborne Robins was made contingent on a looser relationship between UR and Baptists. Currently, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board nominates only four trustees on UR’s 40-member board, which is self-perpetuating. The BGAV allocates funds — which last year totaled about $230,000 — only to the Virginia Baptist Scholars Program, which assists students from churches affiliated with the BGAV.
But the relationship was seriously strained last spring when the university’s trustees added sexual orientation to the school’s non-discrimination policy.
In response, the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s executive committee named a task force to examine the issue. The task force recommendations were approved by UR’s board of trustees on Oct. 1 and by the mission board on Oct. 13.
Under the plan, the mission board will no longer nominate trustees to the UR board, although those presently serving will complete their terms. About half of the board’s current members are Baptists.
Financial contributions will be phased out over four years, allowing students in the scholarship program to earn their degrees. As funds are freed, they will be transferred to the budget of the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies.
According to the task force which recommended its creation, the center will “champion Baptist distinctives and Baptist heritage; … provide educational opportunities related to Baptist distinctives, history and heritage; … make available Baptist records and historic materials; and … serve as a research center for undergraduates, scholars and local church historians.”
The center will be governed by a self-perpetuating board of directors whose members will be nominated by the BGAV, the university and the Virginia Baptist Historical Society, whose headquarters is on the UR campus.
Fred Anderson, the historical society’s executive director, will head up the new center, while retaining his current position. The historical society will continue as a membership-based organization that collects and preserves historical records.
Not everyone favored the BGAV’s new relationship with UR. During debate on the proposal, Martinsville pastor David Adkins called it “an abandonment of one our first Virginia Baptist institutions.”
“The worst thing we can do is to imagine that the University of Richmond would be better with fewer Baptists,” said Adkins, pastor of Starling Avenue Baptist Church in Martinsville.
But others claimed the proposal was good for both the BGAV and UR. “I love the University of Richmond but [the BGAV and UR] are on two very different paths,” said James Baucom Jr., a graduate of the school and pastor of Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church in Lynchburg. “We need to build a new relationship that will allow us to love each other for what we are, not what we would pretend to be.”
The resolution on the 1963 Baptist Faith and Message statement affirmed the confession as “a sturdy and comprehensive statement of the shared values, convictions and distinctives of Virginia Baptists as we enter the new millennium.”
In 1998 the Southern Baptist Convention amended the confession of faith for the first time since adopting it 36 years ago. The new article on marriage and family was praised by some evangelical organizations, including Campus Crusade for Christ, but drew fire in other quarters for its interpretation of the husband-wife relationship.
“A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband even as the church willingly submits to the headship of Christ,” the statement reads. “She, being in the image of God as is her husband and thus equal to him, has the God-given responsibility to respect her husband and to serve as his helper in managing the household and nurturing the next generation.”
While the Virginia resolution did not specifically repudiate the new article on marriage and family, a messenger’s attempt to include the revised version in Virginia’s affirmation was decisively defeated.
A day earlier, the Baptist General Convention of Texas adopted a similar resolution in a move that leaders there said also took issue with the SBC’s revision.
Earlier this year the SBC authorized a study committee to examine the confession of faith and offer additional revisions or additions.
A second resolution adopted by Virginia messengers commended the SBC’s Woman’s Missionary Union for its “steadfast commitment to sharing the gospel with all persons, and … willingness to reshape programs and structures to meet changing challenges.”
Recently the missions education organization eliminated one-fourth of the staff positions in its Birmingham, Ala., headquarters in an effort to “stabilize expenses.” WMU also has drawn criticism from some SBC leaders for what they view as lack of enthusiasm for the denomination’s shift to the right. Earlier this fall WMU’s executive director, Dellanna O’Brien, retired and her successor has not yet been named.
“Some denominational leaders have applied pressure upon WMU to maintain a narrow focus,” said messenger Walt Harrow of Deltaville, who supported the resolution. “In addition, competition exists now from other publishers of materials which heretofore have come mostly from WMU. The decision to decrease staff was a good business decision but it was difficult from a personal angle.”
The $15 million BGAV budget for 2000 is almost $84,000 less than the amount allocated for the current year. Most of the reduced funding came in allocations to three agencies and six colleges and schools affiliated with the BGAV.
Five percent cuts were administered to the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home and Family Services, the Virginia Baptist Homes and the Children’s Home of Virginia Baptists, as well as to Averett College, Bluefield College, Virginia Intermont College, Fork Union Military Academy, Hargrave Military Academy and Oak Hill Academy.
“We could not meet all the needs of our ministry partners and we asked them to take some decrease,” said Ray Spence, chair of the BGAV’s budget committee, who presented the 2000 budget.
The $15 million budget is still higher is than the $14.7 million expected to be contributed by BGAV-affiliated churches this year, but Spence, pastor of Second Baptist Church in Richmond, said the committee believes churches will meet the challenge next year.
The overall structure of the budget — which includes three giving tracks for churches — remains unchanged. As in the recent past, 62 percent of World Missions 1 will fund Virginia ministries and 36 percent will be channeled to Southern Baptist Convention causes. Sixty-eight percent of World Missions 3 will fund Virginia causes, while 30 percent supports ministries of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. World Missions 2 will provide 68 percent of its allocations to Virginia ministries, while 30 percent will support a combination of SBC, CBF and other causes.
In all three giving tracks, 2 percent will support Virginia Baptists’ partnership missions program. In addition, churches may craft their own giving plans.
Messengers debated at length before approving a series of recommendations that would change the nature of the BGAV’s two-day annual meeting in an attempt to attract younger people and more laypeople.
Among the recommendations:
— for a three-year trial period, the meeting will be held on Friday and Saturday rather than Tuesday and Wednesday;
— agency and committee reports will be dramatically limited;
— resolutions will be eliminated and replaced by an “open forum” as a vehicle to address concerns;
— the meeting will become “more celebratory.”
Some of the recommendations will be considered and implemented by staff of the Virginia Baptist Mission Board; others will be considered by the mission board’s executive committee, which functions as the BGAV’s constitution and bylaws committee.
Next year’s annual meeting will be Nov. 14-15 in Roanoke.

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  • Robert Dilday