SBU Board Divide Bleeds onto Convention Floor - Word&Way

SBU Board Divide Bleeds onto Convention Floor

As tensions about trustees at Southwest Baptist University in Bolivar, Missouri, flared up during the Missouri Baptist Convention’s annual meeting, it was usually with the current SBU trustees speaking — sometimes challenging a fellow trustee at another microphone.

While efforts to reform the MBC’s nominating process didn’t succeed, the controversy also hasn’t been resolved with the resignation last week of SBU President Eric Turner. Even the school’s institutional report at the annual meeting descended into a public squabble between SBU trustees about the nominating process.

At the heart of the two-year controversy at SBU has been MBC actions in the process of nominating trustees for the school. In 2018, less than two months after Turner arrived as president, the MBC’s Nominating Committee broke past precedent and rules by replacing multiple SBU nominees with alternative candidates.

The next year, all five of SBU’s nominees were rejected — and Turner criticized the MBC’s treatment of SBU during his institutional report at the 2019 MBC annual meeting. Ahead of this year’s meeting, the MBC’s Executive Board changed the rules for its Nominating Committee to codify its past treatment of SBU.

Current acting chair of SBU’s Board, Robert Ingold, places much of the blame on Ted Bachman, pastor of Southern Hills Baptist Church in Bolivar. In a document Ingold passed out at the annual meeting outlining abuses he saw in the Nominating Committee’s treatment of SBU, he referred to Bachman as having “an ax to grind against SBU.”

Not only did the MBC’s Nominating Committee’s treatment of SBU change after Bachman’s appointment to the Committee in 2017, but during his three-year term two of his fellow elders at Southern Hills — Clint Bass and Kyle Lee — added to the controversy. Bass was fired by Turner in November 2018 for violating the faculty handbook as he met with MBC leaders and others in an effort to drive out other religion professors. Lee, who was placed on SBU’s Board in 2018, was removed by his fellow SBU trustees the next year for violating the Board’s conflict of interest policy in Bass’s case. However, the MBC objected to the move and Lee was eventually returned to the Board earlier this year.

In light of these actions, Ingold made five motions Monday (Oct. 26) to reform the MBC’s Nominating Committee, including preventing former or current employees of an institution from serving and empowering the messengers to approve the Committee’s rules instead of just the MBC Executive Board.

The next day — after the election of the new Nominating Committee members — the MBC’s Order of Business Committee announced they referred all of Ingold’s motions to the MBC’s Executive Board — the very group Ingold complained unilaterally made the new rules without messenger approval. Ingold approached the microphone to request three of the motions go to messengers during the 2020 annual meeting, but MBC leaders rejected his plea. The Executive Board is to report back to messengers about Ingold’s motions at next year’s annual meeting.

Ingold also on Tuesday proposed an alternative slate of nominees for SBU’s Board to replace those from the MBC’s Nominating Committee. His slate lost a floor vote. A similar effort by a messenger to replace one nominee for the board at Missouri Baptist University in St. Louis also failed, with complaints also made in that case about the new Nominating Committee rules.

Screengrab as David Van Bebber questions Robert Ingold during the Missouri Baptist Convention annual gathering on Oct. 27, 2020.

After the alternative nominee for MBU’s Board, which occurred before Ingold offered his replacement slate, David Van Bebber, an SBU trustee added by the MBC in 2018, approached the microphone to argue against the MBU alternative and the forthcoming slate by Ingold. Van Bebber, pastor at First Baptist Church in Buffalo, has been among the SBU trustees offering support for Bass and has alleged there are theological problems with multiple SBU religion professors.

Van Bebber argued the alternative nominees were “the outworking of two entity heads who were upset they were not able to choose their trustees.” He added that since trustees “are the watchmen for our doctrinal integrity,” messengers should “trust the process in prayer to work itself out.”

Van Bebber also argued, without explanation, that voting for the alternative nominees could lead to “litigation and lawsuits” and even cause “accreditation to be lost.” He did not note that SBU’s accreditation body is actually investigating the school in part due to the MBC’s Nominating Committee’s actions.

The vote to approve new governing documents for SBU — another key issue in the accreditation complaint — passed Tuesday without debate.

Conflict During SBU’s Institutional Report

SBU’s institutional report at the annual meeting offered the clearest sign of a divided SBU Board. Since SBU’s president offered his resignation at last week’s SBU Board meeting, someone else would need to bring the school’s report on Tuesday.

But in addition to a president who has resigned, the school also lacks a Board chair since the trustees couldn’t agree to vote on new officers at last week’s contentious SBU Board meeting. Newer trustees installed by the MBC challenged the officer nominees, ultimately pushing the election to executive session. However, even then the Board didn’t vote and so Ingold, who had been vice chair and was nominated as chair, is currently the acting chair.

As acting chair, Ingold opened SBU’s institutional report that occurred Tuesday just minutes before the Nominating Committee report when Ingold would offer an alternative slate of nominees. He first invited fellow trustee Jonathan Hayashi, senior pastor of Northern Hills Baptist Church in Holt, to update messengers on Turner’s resignation. Ingold complemented Hayashi and congratulated him on just completing his doctorate. But after the applause for Hayashi ended, the new trustee placed on the Board last year by the MBC Nominating Committee soon changed the tone.

After spending about 90 seconds talking about Turner’s resignation and the ongoing mission of SBU, Hayashi pivoted to praise the MBC Nominating Committee in an attack on Ingold’s alternative slate and motions. He asked messengers to applaud the Committee and the MBC’s Executive Board as a sign of “gratitude and thanks.”

Screengrab as Jonathan Hayashi speaks during the Southwest Baptist University report during the Missouri Baptist Convention annual gathering on Oct. 27, 2020.

“We thank God and praise God for the Missouri Baptist Convention Executive Board providing clarification, edits, and updates for the Nominating Committee Rules and Procedures,” Hayashi said, using ‘we’ during SBU’s report. “We are thankful unto the Lord and we’re thankful unto God for the Missouri Baptist Nominating Committee for resisting temptation of compromising the Nominating Committee process, for not abdicating responsibility, for resisting the temptation to rubber stamp the suggestions from agencies, presidents, and their boards. I want to say it again: We thank you for remaining forever vigilant.”

Hayashi added he believes the MBC Nominating Committee’s process is how they “safeguard biblical integrity and theological accountability.”

After Hayashi spent more than two minutes of SBU’s report praising the Nominating Committee, Ingold cut in.

“Dr. Hayashi, we appreciate your report. Thank you very much” Ingold said, noting they had agreed to divide the time with soon-to-be Acting President Brad Johnson, SBU’s vice president of institutional advancement, so that Johnson could share, as Ingold put it, “some of the good things happening at SBU.”

Johnson then gave a traditional institutional report, highlighting key SBU accomplishments over the past year.

At the close the report, Van Bebber approached a microphone during the time of questioning. After expressing appreciation for Hayashi and Johnson, he asked his fellow trustee Ingold how Ingold planned to keep serving alongside fellow trustees — like Van Bebber — that Ingold called “spiritually unqualified” in the document passed out at the meeting.

“Thank you, David, and I appreciate your question,” Ingold calmly responded. “You know we’ve had several conversations about this matter between the two of us yesterday. This is a personal matter, and really I’d rather not talk about this publicly. I’d be glad to answer your questions, and continue our dialogue we began yesterday. And I’d be glad to visit with any of the trustees.”

Van Bebber apparently attempted to interject from a muted microphone, but MBC President Jeremy Muniz, senior pastor at Ridgecrest Baptist Church in Springfield, quickly responded, “Brother Van Bebber, you have asked a question. So, let’s call it that. Let’s end that, okay.”

Van Bebber could then be briefly heard off screen, but Muniz made a stern face, held up an index finger, and said, “That’s enough.”