MBC Changes Nominating Rules Amid SBU Controversy - Word&Way

MBC Changes Nominating Rules Amid SBU Controversy

2019 MBC annual meeting

Last year’s annual meeting of the Missouri Baptist Convention featured controversy over how the MBC treated Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, during the process of nominating trustees. So, the MBC this year changed its nominating rules ahead of its annual meeting.

The MBC’s Executive Board voted Aug. 25 to approve new “Nominating Committee Rules and Procedures” that limit the role its affiliated institutions play in the nominating process by downplaying their input and cutting them out of the communication loop. The new rules grant greater power to the MBC’s Nominating Committee in determining the leadership for MBC-related institutions.

The new rules come amid a nearly two-year controversy at SBU in which MBC leaders have attempted to push changes at the school. SBU fired a religion professor in 2018 for violating the school’s faculty handbook after the professor met with MBC leaders and others in an effort to allegedly drive out other professors in SBU’s Redford College of Theology and Ministry.

After SBU’s trustees last year removed one of its own trustees for violating the SBU Board of Trustees conflict of interest policy, the MBC criticized the move as taking away power from the MBC.

2019 MBC annual meeting

Screengrab from the 2019 Missouri Baptist Convention annual meeting in Branson. 

Then ahead of the MBC’s annual meeting last October, the MBC deviated from standard practice and replaced SBU’s entire slate of trustees to put five new individuals on the Board. SBU President Eric Turner criticized the treatment of SBU during that nominations process in his report at the 2019 MBC annual meeting.

One member of the MBC Nominating Committee is Ted Bachman, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar. Clint Bass, the fired Redford professor, served as an elder at Southern Hills along with Bachman and Kyle Lee, the SBU trustee removed by the SBU Board for violating the Board’s conflict of interest policy in the handling of Bass’s case.

A few minutes after Turner’s remarks at last year’s MBC meeting, Ryan Kunce, then-chair of the MBC’s Nominating Committee, defended the process, claiming they don’t “rubber-stamp” names from institutions but instead seek people who would “safeguard biblical integrity.”

However, Word&Way confirmed with previous members of the Nominating Committee that the process Kunce criticized — the committee double-checking and then affirming nominations from the institutions — was actually the normal process. Additionally, Word&Way confirmed with multiple other institution heads that they had in 2019 submitted nominations and the Nominating Committee had, in fact, put those same names forward. Kunce ignored multiple requests from Word&Way asking why SBU was treated differently in 2019 than other institutions, and why he inaccurately claimed what SBU requested was not the normal process.

But now, the traditional process Kunce criticized has been scrapped.

New Nominating Rules

The new rules passed by the MBC’s Executive Committee just two months before the 2020 annual meeting remove the right of Turner or any other institution head to complain about the process. The new rules also cut institution heads out of much of the communication process about who the MBC’s Nominating Committee chooses or why certain nominees were selected.

“Since trustees are to provide accountability for administrators, entity presidents are encouraged primarily to share needs, not names of persons to populate their board,” the new policy adds. “The Nominating Committee is not required to give deference to recommendations from any individual or institution, but is charged to use its collective judgment, on behalf of MBC churches, to select well-qualified nominees to serve on MBC Entity boards of trustees.”

Then the document offers significant new language regarding the announcement of nominees. The earlier policy said the Committee would complete its work “not later than 30 days prior to the Annual Meeting.” That communication process traditionally included informing institutional leaders, which is why SBU’s Board last year complained that just a week before the annual meeting they still hadn’t been notified, a move the SBU Board called “an unprecedented action on the part of the Nominating Committee.”

The new policy, however, notes that while the Executive Director and nominees will be notified before the annual meeting, others may not — and institutional leaders might not learn the names until just an hour or two before the vote at the annual meeting.

“The Committee is not required, in advance of the Convention, to provide such list or other information about its work to persons making recommendations or to Entity leaders,” the new policy reads. “The Executive Director will publish the Nominating Committee Report in the daily business update for messengers at the Convention.”

Additionally, the new policy removes the general practice of renominating qualified individuals who wish to serve a second term.

“The Committee is not required to nominate a current trustee who is eligible for a second term, but will prayerfully select those nominees who will best serve as trustees of MBC entities, in the ultimate discretion of the Committee,” the new policy explains.

The MBC annual meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26-27 in St. Charles.