Can a slate of trustees to a Southern Baptist Convention entity be replaced in one fell swoop?
It hasn’t happened in the SBC’s 158-year history, but an SBC bylaw makes it possible, says Morris Chapman, SBC executive committee president and chief executive officer.
Prior to the restatement of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary’s charter several years ago, the school retained the option of rejecting any of the trustees recommended by the SBC. Moderate Baptists who supported Southern President Roy Honeycutt against the criticism of conservatives considered using that tactic to halt the influence of an increasingly conservative board.
Years later, when Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary President Russell Dilday was fired by trustees of that institution, one of his supporters recommended the SBC vacate Southwestern’s board as a punitive measure. Neither the supporters of Honeycutt nor Dilday achieved their goals.
The question rose again last month at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary when the seminary president, Chuck Kelley, delivered a Baptist polity paper to the seminary body during faculty convocation.
Kelley cited an incident that occurred last April when the SBC Funding Study Committee appeared at a Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary trustee officers meeting. Tasked with studying the funding mechanism for the SBC, the committee included Executive Committee (EC) chairman Gary Smith, pastor of Fielder Road Baptist Church in Arlington; EC CEO Chapman, and EC Vice-Chairman Bill Anderson, a retired pastor from Clearwater, Fla. They raised the prospect of transforming Midwestern from a full-fledged seminary to a regional campus as an extension of another SBC seminary.
Rumors about the fate of Midwestern, as well as that of Golden Gate, have surfaced repeatedly in recent years due to several failed efforts to study merging the two schools or attaching Midwestern to a larger seminary. Golden Gate President Bill Crews acknowledged that it doesn’t help either school when such issues are discussed in the public arena because it takes years to get over perceptions. “People who read bad news don’t always read the good news that proposed actions did not take place. It’s harmful to an institution to create any undue certainty about its future,” he added.
Midwestern’s Roberts also clarified that “nothing could be further from the truth” than rumors that Midwestern is closing. In a report to Missouri Baptists he cited nine advances giving evidence of “the great and good things the Lord is currently doing and has done in the last year at Midwestern.” He described the discussion that occurred last spring as concluding “with a clear affirmation of MBTS’ mission and goals.”
In a Sept. 18 letter to Pathway Editor Don Hinkle, Chapman objected to the Missouri Baptist paper’s characterization of an exchange between Chapman and former EC trustee David Tolliver of Excelsior Springs, Mo., who serves as a Midwestern trustee. Asked by a trustee what would happen if the Midwestern board refused to cooperate with an SBC call to adopt changes in the status of Midwestern, Chapman recalled saying, “The SBC has left itself no recourse to overturn governing actions of an entity’s trustees. The only course of action available to the SBC is the possibility of removing the trustees by vote of the Convention in session.”
Hinkle, along with other Missouri Baptists, questioned the propriety of an EC committee raising the issue of Midwestern’s fate. One EC member from Missouri expressed a sense of betrayal that the committee had not informed him of the consideration. Midwestern’s board chairman, along with Roberts, showed up at the study committee’s April 24 meeting unannounced to insist on a hearing. In a letter to Hinkle, Smith said Roberts and trustees “made a compelling argument on behalf of Midwestern.”
Smith clarified the committee’s intent, quoting a subsequent communiqué from Chapman, noting “the committee never considered an outright closure of Midwestern, but was investigating whether it would be more efficient to provide seminary education in the Kansas City area from a regional campus rather than a stand-alone seminary.” Furthermore, the committee decided not to recommend serious changes at Midwestern apart from possible comprehensive strategies for the whole system of SBC theological education delivery that are still on the table. Hinkle wrote in his editorial that Missouri Baptists with whom he spoke are relatively confident that the Midwestern issue is off the table.
In his fall “State of the Seminary” address, Roberts told a chapel audience, “I have been guaranteed and reassured by leadership at the Executive Committee that, in fact, that is not on the table whatsoever,” referring to rumors of closing the school. “The only way that can happen is for our board of trustees [to] vote to do so?which is a fat chance.” He reminded that if such a motion were to happen, the SBC would h