Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Will Tennessee Baptists See This Headline in the Future?

The Associated Baptist Press headline from Friday, October 27th reads, "Missouri Baptist committee wants to boot 18 churches with ties to moderates". The feud sounds familiar:
"The convention has been roiled for years by bitter dissent between moderates and fundamentalists, who solidified their control of the body's leadership in 2001. Since then, many moderate churches have either officially left or severely limited their support for the convention."
Depending upon your point of view, this is a case of a. "Good riddance, we prefer doctinal purity" b. "We're taking our toys and going elsewhere, enough is enough" or c. "If you don't pay, you don't play (it really IS about the money)". What word will Missouri use to replace the word "cooperative" in the term "Cooperative Program"? "Uncooperative Program" does have a historical, protestant, Baptist ring to it... let's hope that we're never sorry enough for it to come to that.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Dr. Porch, Next on the Tennessee Baptist Agenda?

Looking at the slate of officers proposed by the CTB political party for this year's Tennessee Baptist Convention meeting, the writing on the wall says that the conservative resurgence will have the controlling votes on the Executive Board and the Committee on Boards. I would like to congratulate the group in advance for setting a new standard of political activism in Baptist life, you learned well from the Patterson-Pressler era. Maybe now that one faction has control, there will be fewer complaints about the same group of people being recycled each year in TBC leadership positions. I look forward to seeing the diversity that our new conservative leadership can provide us each year.

Just a note to Dr. Porch: It looks like you may be the next agenda item for the CTB. Quoting from Jeff Wright's Blog:
"The Executive Director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention is Dr. James Porch, a man sympathetic to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship. His track record in handling situations similar to the current controversy (see the newsletter, page 7) leaves little room to expect he will be a friend to the conservatives in the convention."

If I were Dr. Porch, I would be concerned. I would also like to know more about what "a friend to conservatives" means. I have my signed and notarized copy of the BFM2000 in my pocket. Does that count?

Friday, October 27, 2006

They Must Have Missed the 'No-God' Memo

I'll admit that I have not exercised due dilligence in checking the facts on this post, but I suspect that the state preambles could be checked easily. Thanks to Mattew R. Perry for passing this along.

When Tennessee Baptist Convention Budgets Run Amuck

Amuck. Defined as "to rush about wildly; lose self-control". The print version of The Baptist and Reflector crossed my desk today and it is filled with information surrounding the November 14-15 annual meeting of Tennessee Baptists at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova (Memphis).

The proposed 2006-2007 Cooperative Program Budget - Executive Board Recommendation is printed at the bottom of page 10 (somehow missing from the electronic, online version of the B&R). It gives me a sense of pride to see 40% of the state budget directed to Southern Baptist Convention items, particularly the 20% that is going to the International Mission Board. The actual dollar increase to the IMB is $58,314 which is the second largest "Actual Dollar Increase" of any item displayed on the budget. One could easily draw the conclusion from this increase that the leaders of the TBC are truly focused on missions... and deep in their hearts, I believe that to be true.

You may have noted in my previous paragraph that the IMB "Actual Dollar Increase" is the second largest of any single line item. Buried at the bottom of the page, away from the Christian Education items, is THE largest "Actual Dollar Increase", a $750,000 line item for the Belmont Study Committee. I have never seen $750,000 actual dollars before and have a difficult time understanding just how much that is. I do, however, understand that $750,000 is over 12 times more than $58,314 (the amount of actual increase given to the International Mission Board). That makes me sick. If we have $750,000 to give, then let's show the world that we are serious about missions and send that $750,000 to the International Mission Board, and give $58,314 to the Belmont Study Committee! And, if not this year...why not "Reallocate the Reallocated Belmont Study Committee" next year?

I want Dr. Jim Porch to step up to the plate and be completely honest with Tennessee Baptists. It is a half truth (at best) to say this money is designated for the Belmont Study Committee. Isn't this money being allocated for expenses surrounding the law suit complaint that the Tennessee Baptist Convention filed against Belmont? Jim, you were not completely honest with the students who confronted you at the convention headquarters and asked you about the money and the law suit. I understand the pressure that you are under not to say anything that might be construed as somthing that might affect the law suit. But when will you be honest with the people who you expect to pay for this line item and say: (1) that the TBC is going to court and (2) that the $750,000 is for legal fees, court costs, and other expenses from the study committee?

Just for the record: the last monies that Belmont received from the TBC were part of the 2004-2005 budget. Why is the Executive Committee still adjusting/allocating/re-allocating 2004-2005 monies for an instutution who is no longer part of the budget process? Those are not Belmont dollars, those are missions dollars who have run amuck.

Friday, October 20, 2006

One Belmont Student's Reflections on the TBC Issue

Cristy Frink describes herself as a social work major at Belmont University and writes on a blog titled, "a river-ark on the ocean brine". Her recent post, "On the unnecessary litigiousness of faith-based institutions, pt. 3.", is worth reading. Christy participated in the student demonstration at the Tennessee Baptist Convention headquarters last week and shares this thought on her blog:
"Needless to say, not much actual discussion took place. But I’m incredibly glad I was able to participate in the attempt, at least. I guess what I came away with was sadness, moreso than anger or frustration. I feel like both Belmont and the TBC share responsibility for what’s going on, as I’ve already mentioned. Students are kind of caught in the middle of two organizations who honestly believe they are doing the right thing, I think. But neither side is budging."
It grieves me that students are watching two institutions act as if there is something surgically sterile about the conflicts between the two organizations. There are real people who work hard every day at the TBC headquarters to carry on the mission of Baptists in Tennessee just as there are real people who work equally hard on the campus at Belmont University to carry out the mission of the university...and these people are no more than helpless pawns, waiting for the lawyers to extract a toll on the pocketbooks of Tennessee Baptists who give money for something other than legal fees. How can two institutions who claim the cause of Christ seemingly act as if there are just a couple of worldly, corporate entities who are somehow satified by saying that they are sorry that it came to this. Horse Muffins! At least the Belmont students were moved to take action and become more than mere pawns. That is admirable. The gifts that I sent to Belmont throught the TBC cooperative program were not wasted. Those gifts are bearing the fruit of students willing to try something other than a worldy, legal system, reaction. I commend them for trying!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Much Ado About Methodists

The news story about United Methodist Men moving their annual meeting from Purdue University to Belmont University seemed interesting/unusual only because this group held its meeting at Purdue every year since 1953 (and the fact that the Associated Press called Belmont a "Baptist college").

The people down at the Nashville Convention & Visitors Bureau seem happy enough to welcome 5,000 men to the city in 2009. The UMC denominational headquarters office people in Nashville seem to be happy. Belmont's president seemed happy (perhaps too happy) that the new arena would have a paying customer other than the Honky Tonk Badonkadonk crowd. And then, James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, responds to a question of "whether or not he thought the Methodist plan to hold the event at Belmont's campus meant the school was trying to further distance itself from Baptists?" with the following quip:
"It's an internal decision made by officials at Belmont. That's the decision they've made."
Yawwwn. Dr. Porch is in an awkward position. He would probably be slammed if he said that he was happy that Belmont was hosting a Christian group on campus, or, if he wished Belmont well (i.e. they'll need all the money thay can get if/when they lose this court case). And whose bright idea was it to ask Jim Porch something about Belmont, anyway?

So, bring on the Methodists! Belmont has sprinklers on campus ready and waiting.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

I pledge allegiance...

The image on the left is from last evening's gathering over at Jerry's House of Non-Political Activity. The picture below is a fake, touch-up job, provided me by a friend. The space in between the two pictures may be the best symbol of all...the dwindling distance between church and state.

The Stand for the Family Rally at Two Rivers wasn't billed as a political rally. Dr. James Dobson pointed out that the institution of marriage has been the basic social unit for 5,000 years and shouldn't be thrown onto "the ash heap of history". Although I agree that the nuclear family unit needs all the help it can get and that church sanctified marriage should be a societal foundation... I have often questioned whether or not the government should have any say in something that the church and the Bible clearly identify as something that God ordains. And, this morning, I question even more the appropriateness of an American Flag backdrop masking the cross and waters that adorn the wall behind the choir loft at Two Rivers Baptist Church. If this wasn't a political event, then why wouldn't the picture with the Christian flag be more appropriate in a house of worship?

Conservative Newletter is Online Now - a MUST read!

My conservative Baptist brethren over at the Concerned Tennessee Baptists site published several interesting pre-convention articles. If you are a concerned Tennessee Baptist (lower case "c" in concerned), then I recommend that you read all of the articles.

There is little that I can say for now that won't be construed as inflamatory to my more conservative Baptist friends, but the tenor of most of these articles is that Baptist issues are black and white, wrong vs right, and no room in the middle. At least one group who felt disenfranchised from Baptist leadership during the twentieth century, now holds The Truth and there is simply no discussion to be found if you happen to have questions about The Truth.

I am glad that there aren't pharisees around anymore...oh, wait!

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Belmont Students Visit the Tennessee Baptist Convention Building

Activism isn't dead. Belmont students took their questions to the TBC this week as reported on here. If I may use the words of Dr. Porch (again), "Nobody wanted it to come to this".

Preliminary Newsletter Deleted

The Conncerned Tennessee Baptist pre-convention news story was only up for a few days before it was removed, however, one of the points of celebration from this group is the premise for the unscientific poll below:

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Carson-Newman faculty vote "No Confidence"

It is worrisome when the Carson-Newman faculty feel it necessary to vote in order to gain the attention of their Board of Trustees. The 129 to 71 vote of "No Confidence" in President James Netherton respresents more than just a few disgruntled instructors.
In a written statement, C.T. Cozart, the Chair of the Board of Trustees says, "We are committed in doing what is in the best interest of the college and its mission. We are approaching this matter with prayerful diligence that God will bring from this situation a positive solution and brighter future for this great institution."
Mr. Rocky Top doesn't paint a pretty picture of faculty life at Carson-Newman either.

Things can get tough when the numbers don't add up due to decreases in enrollment and retention...maybe someone needs to dig a little deeper on this story. Although the B&R reports an increase in the freshman class numbers and "a student retention program that should yield marked improvements in the future", the article seems to imply that nestled between the record enrollment reports of Belmont and Union that Carson-Newman is doing just fine. The recent vote seems to indicate otherwise. If Tennessee Baptists need to help one of its institutions, wouldn't it be better to give them more accurate information than a "spin" equivalent to this season's political trash? Everything that the B&R reported is true...but so is a headline that reads, "TBC's Three Colleges Report Growth - Belmont Leads and Union Comes in Next to Last".

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Another blogger asks Baptists a question

Jeff Bergson over at Smart Pastor asks,
"Have you ever heard of a church member asking for his or her money back? I am afraid this sends a bad precedent. What happens the first time a donor asks for money back from the Baptists?"

Jeff, I have certainly heard of dissent over how church funds are dispersed, but for a church member to ask for money back would be a strange call to handle. In the Belmont instance however, the contention is that there is a contractual relationship involved. Whether that contract is valid is something that a mediator, arbitrator, or judge may have to decide after hearing both sides and reviewing the evidence. I fear that the public view of this situation is that one side is crying "thief" and the other is crying "indian giver" (for lack of a politically correct term). There are deeper legal nuances to this situation than meets the public eye. Either way, it is a mess.

I may be a new blogger, but I am not new to the TBC

I read all of the articles in the papers about the TBC's actions against Belmont University. I am not pleased at the failure of the two parties to settle this mess. There are Christian friends of mine on both sides of this issue and I read from both sides that they still believe that this can be resolved in a manner that will glorify God. From my view as of today, my Christian brothers, that is a load of manure...I know that's not a Biblical term, but is the most "amicable" term I can think of for now.

Maybe I wasn't at the same May TBC meeting that everyone else went to at Two Rivers Baptist Church, but I distinctly remember much being said about legal action against Belmont being a last resort. If what I hear is true about the minimal amount of contact by Clay Austin and the committee of 14 with the university, I believe there are some accountability questions than need to be answered. Mocking the convention's intentions by not actively engaging the university represents a gross failure of TBC leadership, in my opinion. Please prove me wrong. Soon.

To my TBC attorney friends (and I have known Tad Harris since he was a teenager), just who do you think you are suing? If you draw blood from Belmont (financially speaking) have you even thought about who you will be hurting? You may not like Bob Fisher, but he isn't going to write you a check for 50+ million dollars. If the track record of litigation against other Baptist colleges is a barometer, he may be retirement age before this is settled. If you think the trustees will write that check, just remember: you vacated their positions several months ago without ever bringing their original proposal for a new covenant to the convention. Do you really expect a board full of Baptist pastors and Christian lay people to write that check? You think the students will pay this bill...some 25% who happen to be Baptists? Would you like for me to pay this? Just so we are clear on that question: the monies that I gave personally to the cooperative program that ended up at Belmont were intended to be a GIFT. I do not take gifts back and I will not pay the TBC back money that I already gave the TBC to give to Belmont!

To my Belmont University friends responsible for negotiating this situation. I commend you for bringing forth THE document that now is forcing you into legal action (I still think the question is worth asking of our TBC stewards, "Where is your copy of such a critical document?") There are a few things in the way this issue reached a boiling point that make me wonder if the new generation of Belmont leadership learned as much as they needed from their esteemed Baptist statesman and Chancelor, Dr. Gabhart. I have heard the timeline regarding the submission of the new charter...say what you will, but filing that document without letting the people (not just the leaders) of the Tennessee Baptist Convention know of your intentions looks like spite. The university's leadership should accept their share of the responsibility for turning this situation into a crisis. The many good things you have done will be forgotten if this crisis ends up adversely affecting the students, staff, faculty, alumni, and community. You may be legally right, and you may not like the TBC leadership, but your institution is supported by individuals (including Baptists) who have higher expectations of their university leaders. I beg you at this juncture to negotiate in good faith with your TBC brothers. Demonstrate that you are not spiteful men playing chess with the future of the university.

Taking notes from how some of our "less-than-cooperative" churches give to the TBC, should this action move into litigation: I am fully prepared to go to my church and recommend that all future cooperative program funds going to the Tennessee Baptist Convention be designated exclusively for the missions and ministries of the convention, and that NO monies sent by our church are to be used to support the litigation against Belmont University... consider it my personal campaign to encourage the two sides to settle this "amicably".

Finally, I am disgusted that the TBC is already recommending that three quarters of a million dollars be diverted from missions and ministries to pay for this litigation for the Belmont Study Committee. That is nearly HALF of the statewide, 2005 Golden Offering for Tennessee Missions amount ( $1,501,811 ). Will the 2006 gift envelopes be labeled more truthfully, "Golden Offering and Belmont Litigation Fund?"

This is my first blog post, ever. I hate that it was on this topic. I have loved being a Baptist for over sixty years now and would prefer that we were celebrating victories over evil in the world than wasting precious time distracted from His kingdom's work. Thanks to friends who helped me tone down my first, angry draft.

Not pleased with TBC suit against Belmont

Quoting from Burning Screams, another blogger who is less than pleased with the recent law suit filed against Belmont University:
"Even while directly contradicting its belief in the "inerrancy" of scripture by disobeying the command to not sue your Christian family, I find it ironic Belmont's endowment is approximately the amount the SBC is asking.

In the case of a SBC victory, how many scholarships will be cut? How many programs will be lost? How many people will lose their job? But the truest question and maybe the only one that matters is how many non-Christians will be completely repulsed by this Baptist action of selfishness and greed."

In fairness to the Burning Screams reaction, Kevin Shrum, trustee at Union University and former TBC President, had this to say on May 24, 2005 (B&R Article):
"Our choice is not either we become isolated prudes lost in a yesteryear mentality or total acquiescence to that which is not true. Rather, our choice is that of compassionate conviction, total truthfulness, and righteous resolve.

I do not know what the outcome will be of the deliberations with Belmont. It is my prayer that litigation can be avoided if at all possible. All I know is that for one, bright and shining moment, Tennessee Baptists confronted an issue with the courage and conviction many of us have longed for. May we have many more days like this!"

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Nasville area television reports on Belmont vs TBC law suit

From News2 (WKRN): Baptists Sue Belmont Watch the video here.

From 4News - wsmv.com (WSMV): Baptists Sue Belmont U Over Efforts To Diversify Board

From NewsChannel5.com (WTVF): Tennessee Baptist Convention Sues Belmont University

If this gets situation is settled graciously, does anyone really believe that happier reports will make these kinds of headlines? The damage has been done. This is a sad day.

More press on Belmont suit...there will be wrinkles

The Associated Press leads it's Baptists File Suit Against Belmont University article with the following:
"The Tennessee Baptist Convention has filed a lawsuit against Belmont University seeking to win back contributions it has made to the school since Baptists began supporting it nearly 55 years ago."
(but it's not about the money, it is about maintaining a relatonship, right?)

And then, there is a quote in the same article from James Porch, executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention: "Nobody at the Tennessee Baptist Convention wanted it to come to this point." I beg to differ, Dr. Porch. No one turns down 5 million dollars and then files suit without wanting it to come to something like this. What did you expect it to come to?

Dinner on the grounds sounds good today...they were cutting the grass at Belmont this morning when I joined friends there for breakfast. The smell reminded me of great Baptist gatherings where the only stains were from grassy knees and laughter induced tears. Of course, today's Baptist "box" lunch may contain something from Everlast for each hand rather than a soft paper towel...conservatively speaking, of course, it HAS come to this.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Tennessee Baptist Convention Files Suit

With only 38 days left until Belmont University's revised state charter would roll into effect, the Tennesseean reports:
"The Tennessee Baptist Convention has filed suit against Belmont University, seeking repayment for all financial and property contributions to the university since it began supporting the university in 1951."
According to the TBC's Baptist and Reflector,
"The Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Board has filed a “complaint” in Davidson County Chancery Court against Belmont University.

The complaint seeks “enforcement of the rights and remedies of the convention” under a 1951 agreement signed by officials of both the convention and university, according to Clay Austin, chairman of the Belmont Study Committee and president of the TBC Executive Board."
I commend the Baptist and Reflector for correctly calling this a "complaint" and not a law suit, it does sound more Christian.

As for Clay Austin and the committee of 14, "This action allows the parties to pursue the next option of mediation in hopes of reaching an amicable resolution of the issues. If mediation is unable to result in a mutually acceptable resolution of the issues, then and only then would the litigation process be continued." Well sure, Clay. You file a suit to encourage an amicable solution to the issue...if that is really your intent, why then didn't you avoid the charade back in May, have your two meetings with university officials (that's all anyone seems to know about), and file suit so this would be off everyone's plate by now?

Pay attention Carson-Newman and Union...this is not about the money.