BGCT Executive Board calls for renegotiated agreement with Baylor - Word&Way

BGCT Executive Board calls for renegotiated agreement with Baylor

DALLAS—The Baptist General Convention of Texas Executive Board voted to take steps to renegotiate the relationship agreement between the state convention and Baylor University.

At its May 24 meeting in Dallas, the board directed Associate Executive Director Steve Vernon to invite Baylor University President Ken Starr to develop a process for renegotiating the agreement.

The action, which came in response to Baylor’s decision in February to allow non-Baptist Christians on its board of regents, passed without opposition.

However, the language of a report brought by the nine-member task force regarding Baylor sparked extended discussion during a question-and-answer session with two university regents. And it even prompted a failed motion that would have apologized for "implying the entire board is profoundly upset and disappointed."

In February, the executive board directed Chair Debbie Ferrier to appoint a task force to consider the relationship between the BGCT and Baylor. The committee met twice—once with Baylor officials and regents and once to develop a response.

In its report—presented to the executive board but not voted on by it—stated: “The task force expresses its profound and deep disappointment that Baylor University acted unilaterally in changing the agreement between the BGCT and Baylor. While we recognize the right expressed in the agreement for Baylor to change its bylaws, we believe that the current agreement was intended, from its inception, to contain substantive obligations and covenants incumbent upon each party to respond.”

The task force report specifically cited one provision in the agreement—“No amendment to this agreement shall be effective unless the amendment is in writing and lawfully executed by both parties.”

The report said the “spirit of the agreement” expressed in that provision “has not been observed in good faith by Baylor’s board of regents.”

The task force expressed its desire for a renegotiated agreement between the BGCT and Baylor “in light of current circumstances and without precondition, with a view toward presenting a revised agreement for consideration by the executive board at its September meeting.”

The report noted two items for special consideration:

• Funding—“The BGCT and Baylor should agree on strategic funding that is mutually beneficial for shared interests. Texas Baptists have historically given to the Baptist General Convention of Texas to fund Texas institutions to support ministries of interest to Texas Baptists, of whose interests we bear a responsibility of ongoing stewardship.”

• Representation—“The BGCT and Baylor should revisit the policies and guidelines under which BGCT-elected regents are selected for the Baylor board of regents.”

After the vote, Baylor Regents Chair Dary Stone and David Harper, a member of the board of regents, addressed the executive board.

“We are happy to engage in dialogue with the BGCT regarding our relationship. We want a healthy and strong relationship with the BGCT,” said Harper, an attorney and member of Park Cities Baptist Church in Dallas.

However, Harper expressed concern about the language of the task force report—particularly the “profound and deep disappointment” expressed and the conclusion the regents did not act “in good faith.”

“From my own perspective, I believe we came to the decision very thoughtfully, prayerfully and deliberately,” he said, noting the regents’ expressed desire to advance the university’s Christian mission and to build in safeguards to protect the school’s distinctively Christian identity.

“It’s hurtful to us,” he said, concerning any suggestion the regents failed to act in good faith. “We’re on a faith journey.”

Harper and Stone noted Baylor regents had been as open as possible regarding their intentions, within the bounds of confidentiality. They pointed to conversations regents had with former BGCT Executive Director Randel Everett long before the university board acted, as well as subsequent contact with BGCT Executive Board staff leaders at the time of the regents’ decision.

“We really thought we had laid a good ground work for what we tried to do,” Stone said. “Clearly, that was not universally received that way.”

Jay Abernathy, pastor of First Baptist Church in Palestine, made a motion that the BGCT Executive Board apologize for "implying the entire board is upset and disappointed." The motion also would have affirmed affirmed ongoing dialogue in recognition of the state convention’s historic relationship with Baylor.

“The only thing that deeply and profoundly disappointed me was this report,” said Randy Wallace, pastor of First Baptist Church in Killeen, speaking in support of Abernathy’s motion.

Others voiced a different perspective. “This Executive Board does not owe anybody an apology,” said Vernon Webb from First Baptist Church in San Antonio. Abernathy’s motion failed.

Significant discussion surrounded the process for nominating BGCT representatives on the Baylor board of regents. Stone and Vernon disagreed on whether two of the three names submitted by Baylor for consideration met established guidelines and whether normal procedures had been followed in securing sufficient input from the school’s president.

The BGCT Committee on Nominations for Board of Affiliated Ministries will determine whether any exception to guidelines—as interpreted by subcommittee—should be made. Final determination rests with messengers to the BGCT annual meeting in Amarillo.

In other business, the executive board:

• Agreed to guarantee two renewed loans by Baptist University of America—for $2.5 million and $2.18 million, each with a three-year maturity. Based on BUA’s current forecast, the BGCT should not have to make any debt-service payments, according to the recommendation of the administration support committee.

• Designated the proceeds of the H.C. and Irene Hogue Memorial Trust Fund for state missions.

• Authorized that a bequest from the estate of Ellen Webb Massengill be contributed to the 2011 Mary Hill Davis Offering for State Missions.

• Approved the use of $200,000 from the Ella Bachman Jones Memorial Trust Fund to pay for foundation repairs at historic Independence Baptist Church.

• Authorized a property swap with Texas A&M Kingsville related to the Baptist Student Ministry building.

• Allowed $230,000 of accumulated income from a fund related to Christian education be used to fund a deficit in the building account for the UT-Tyler BSM building. The deficit resulted when a $200,000 pledge became uncollectible due to the bankruptcy of the donor’s business.