No issue was quite as emotionally charged at last week's Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting as the Hannibal-LaGrange College name change. To say that emotions ran high among alumni and students over the past few months would be an understatement.
The institutional system in Missouri Baptist life gives people like the HLG trustees the responsibility of making significant – sometimes even agonizing – decisions based on the best information they can secure from the staff and their own study. But the system does not necessarily grant the trustees the final say in some of their most significant decisions, like the expansion of facilities, the filing of legal documents and name changes.
HLG President Woodrow Burt and the board were required to have their plans scrutinized by the Inter Agency Committee of the MBC Executive Board and then by the Executive Board itself, and finally by a majority of messengers to the MBC annual meeting.
At any level, the proposals of those closest to the institution – and arguably those who love the school as much as anyone – can be second-guessed, even scuttled, by others. Sometimes leaders of institutions must choose between what will be best received by staff, students, alums and messengers, and what they deem best for the ministry itself.
Dr. Burt and his board have responded to harsh complaints over the proposed name change, many critics charging that dropping "LaGrange" stripped the school of its heritage, at least one even suggesting it created the danger of loosing the school from its Baptist moorings.
"Why are you trying to hurt people?" the president was asked by a messenger after giving the school's annual report in Springfield. It was a loaded question, but in his typically gracious but straightforward fashion, Woody Burt firmly re-stated his commitment to and his love for an institution he and his wife have supported with decades of service, leadership and financial support. His response rang true.
It is one thing to disagree with an action – maybe even to amend it – but quite another to assign unfair motives to proven leaders in the heat of disagreement.
Bill Webb is editor of Word&Way.