Editor’s Note — This article originally ran Nov. 23, 2017, but recently received a second place award in the news writing, series or package category of Baptist Communicators Association’s 54th Wilmer C. Fields Awards Competition. It was one of the final stories in the series. We are reposting it as part of the featured award-winning articles produced by TAB in 2017.
By Jennifer Davis Rash
The Alabama Baptist
Messengers to the Alabama Baptist State Convention (ABSC) annual meeting, held Nov. 14–15 in Huntsville, heard the full and final report of the ad hoc Samford Relationship Study Group.
Bottom line: Samford University in Birmingham and ABSC plan to continue in partnership but without two traditional aspects — funding and board member affirmation.
The report, which was approved by the State Board of Missions (SBOM) in August in its role as the convention ad interim, did not require a vote of the messengers.
While Samford has been governed by a self-perpetuating board legally elected by its own trustees since 1994, the university did work with ABSC’s Committee on Boards and Commissions to present the incoming slate of trustees to messengers for affirmation at each annual meeting. That will no longer be the case.
“We believe that to continue the practice would imply a relationship with Samford which does not exist,” the study group report says. “We also believe that the reasons which originally supported the presence of the convention’s president and executive director on Samford’s board no longer exist.”
Samford agreed and has amended its bylaws to remove those positions but will continue to invite the ABSC president and SBOM executive director to attend as guests.
Samford trustees also “codified their commitment that all future trustees be Baptists but not necessarily Alabama Baptists,” the study group report says. (TAB will report more on Samford’s new board makeup in next week’s issue.)
As far as funding goes, Samford announced in July a voluntary withdrawal from the Cooperative Program budget, so the 2018 budget approved by messengers Nov. 14 excludes Samford.
The plan for the new relationship between ABSC and Samford is being developed. The plan’s points noted below are “not all meant to be conclusive,” according to the report.
- Ongoing communication “is recognized as important” so along with ABSC leaders being invited to Samford trustee meetings, Samford will be invited to report to various convention-related meetings.
- SBOM and Samford’s Ministry Training Institute plan to continue partnering but will review the relationship annually.
- The Alabama Baptist Historical Commission (ABHC) will work with Samford on future use of facilities. ABHC offices are currently housed at Samford.
- Samford will continue partnering with The Baptist Foundation of Alabama.
- Alabama Woman’s Missionary Union will continue collaborating with Samford’s Ida V. Moffett School of Nursing.
- Current Samford recipients of the A. Earl Potts and Board of Aid scholarships will be honored but Samford students will not be eligible for those scholarships going forward.
- Alabama Baptist-related events may be hosted on Samford’s campus “when mutually advantageous.”
According to the report, “Samford’s board has agreed to this plan and to work toward these ends. … (Also the) potential points of relationship will be evaluated periodically.
“Be assured that any future relationships by the state convention with Samford will be characterized by the convention’s faithfulness to Scriptures we hold dear as God’s timeless truth. These potential relationships will be framed in such a way to help foster our mission which is the Great Commission,” the study group report says.
The work of the group has been completed and officials confirmed the group has been dissolved.
The recent group consisted of John Thweatt, ABSC president; Tim Cox, ABSC first vice president; Buddy Champion, ABSC second vice president; Travis Coleman, ABSC immediate past president; Morgan Bailey, SBOM chairman; Mike Goforth, SBOM vice chairman; and Rick Lance, SBOM executive director.
The group was formed in May when a controversial student organization seeking “to discuss topics related to sexual orientation and gender identity in an open-minded and accepting environment” sought official recognition.
Concerns arose among ABSC leaders because the organization’s emblem featured the colors of the rainbow, a trademark of the homosexual community, and because one of the student founders had been involved in homosexual-rights organizations.
The student organization passed several university hurdles, including being affirmed by a majority of the faculty present for the vote on it in April. While the anticipated next step was for the organization to be presented to Samford’s board in September, Samford President Andrew Westmoreland decided to decline recognition of the group himself in late June, thus also eliminating the provisional status it had been functioning under since early 2016.
From there came the decision by Samford’s board of trustees executive committee to withdraw from state convention funding.
Following the study group’s report, only one messenger went to a microphone to respond — Westmoreland. While noting he disagreed with a few points, he said, “I affirm the work of the study committee. On behalf of Samford University, I affirm the biblical understanding of marriage and human sexuality,” he said. “We are velcroed to Alabama Baptists and will stay anchored.”
Prior to the study group’s report, Lance shared with messengers that “some of you have said, ‘You have been too permissive … and let them off too easy.’ I don’t think so.
“Some of you have said, ‘You have been too punitive and [reacted] too harshly.’ I don’t think so.
“We did our best to tamp it down and … say this is where we think Alabama Baptists are.”
Bailey added, “None of the parties wanted to go through what we went through. I do believe we are where we need to be now and we can move forward in the new relationship for His kingdom.”