The Missouri Baptist Convention’s “procedural” change in Nominating Committee rules that you highlighted in your September 14 article is a major shift in substantive policy that should be voted on by the messengers themselves, not done in a back room by the MBC’s Executive Committee.
For roughly a century, MBC-affiliated universities proposed a slate of trustees to the MBC’s Nominating Committee, which vetted and typically nominated them for a vote by the messengers. John Yeats’s new rules — imposed without a vote of the messengers — cut the universities out of the process completely. A university may not even learn whom the MBC elites have secretly selected until hours before the messengers’ vote. Why such secrecy? Presumably because the MBC does not want its universities to perform their own vetting of the candidates.
Yeats’s new rules are fundamentally un-Baptist. Unlike the Catholic Church, where autocratic “princes of the Church” impose leaders on Catholic churches and institutions, Baptists are, at their core, democratic. Baptists value sharing information, hearing what interested parties think, and giving those who are going to be impacted by a decision the right to at least participate in making it. Baptists have no Pope with the authority to silence universities on matters of their own governance.
In fact, the accrediting authority’s criteria require Missouri Baptist universities and their boards of trustees to have autonomy to make decisions in the best interest of the institution and to preserve their independence from undue influence by external parties — even the MBC.
Yeats’s new rules are just plain bad management, too. Why wouldn’t you want the people on the ground who personally know the university’s donors, supporters, and alumni to tell you who would make good trustees? New rule 3 prohibits it. Wouldn’t you want the Nominating Committee to give special weight to such informed recommendations? Again, it’s prohibited under new Rule 4. And wouldn’t a good manager want a trustee who has served well for one term to serve a second term? Boards benefit from trustees who have learned the ropes and developed some expertise with the institution. But new rule 19 discourages it.
The arbitrary and unfair policy changes in Yeats’s new rules arise out of the Executive Committee’s longstanding attempts to interfere in the affairs of Southwest Baptist University and get some of its tenured professors fired. Last year the Nominating Committee — without notice — refused to consider SBU’s slate of nominees for its trustee board, even refusing to re-appoint Baptist professionals who had served their terms with distinction. Now the MBC’s new rules gag all MBC-affiliated universities completely.
These actions are dishonorable and un-Baptist. At the annual meeting, the Messengers should make the Executive Committee account for its back-room policy changes and pass a resolution rejecting them. As they have for a century, Missouri Baptist universities must continue to have a voice — not the only voice, but a voice — in nominating trustee candidates to the messengers.
Russell Jackson, a 1987 graduate of Southwest Baptist University, is an attorney in St. Louis, Missouri. He filed a complaint about MBC actions at SBU that recently sparked an inquiry by SBU’s accreditation body.