July 29, 2003
JEFFERSON CITY – The Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) Executive Board will recommend to messengers attending the MBC 2003 annual meeting Nov. 3-5 that William Jewell College be defunded.
If messengers approve the board’s recommendation at their meeting in St. Louis, it will dissolve a 154-year-old relationship between the MBC and William Jewell.
The college is scheduled to receive approximately $1.1 million from the MBC this year. The total represents about three percent of the Kansas City area school’s operating budget.
The board’s action came as little surprise as Missouri Baptists last year began questioning the theological direction and moral climate at William Jewell. Revelations about homosexual acceptance on the Baptist campus along with the presentation of The Vagina Monologues, a sexually-explicit production, stirred an inquiry by the MBC’s Inter-Agency Committee.
Charles Burnett, chairman of the inter-agency committee, said it was William Jewell’s "non-assertive direction concerning issues on campus" that led to the defunding recommendation.
Specific William Jewell acts that precipitated the recommendation, Burnett said, were:
- The student body government’s procedure concerning the homosexual movement on campus;
- The non-direction given to professors on teaching the creation account of Genesis;
- The content of the campus paper, "The Hilltop Monitor;"
- The freedom for homosexual support groups to meet on campus; and
- The amount of lewd sexual content included in "The Vagina Monologues" performed on the William Jewell campus on Feb. 14, 2003.
Burnett told the executive board that his committee had discussed the William Jewell situation in detail and had special meetings with David Sallee, William Jewell president, and Don Duncan, chairman of the William Jewell College board of trustees.
"But it has become evident that William Jewell College and the Missouri Baptist Convention have grown apart from our historical union that we founded in the beginning of our relationship in the areas of philosophy, theology and direction of teaching God’s Holy Word," Burnett said.
"The Inter-Agency committee is responsible to the executive board of the MBC to keep it informed of activities and direction of the agencies responsible to the executive board. This responsibility leads us to this recommendation."
The committee had given the William Jewell board of trustees a deadline of July 9 to respond to a list of questions. Neither Burnett nor any of the committee had received a response by the time they met on July 14. Sallee seemed surprised that William Jewell’s board of trustees had not provided a response, so Sallee provided the committee members with copies of a letter from Duncan.
"This letter is in response to the requests of your committee in our meeting of March 20, 2003," Duncan wrote. "It is submitted after thoughtful deliberation and in the spirit of respect for the tradition of mutual support we have known in our relationship with Missouri Baptists over the past 150 years."
Duncan added, however, that all requests by the MBC were being denied.
"Your first request was that we allow the Convention to elect the College trustees. That request was declined," said Duncan, writing for the board.
The second request asked for an apology relating to the presentation of "The Vagina Monologues" play.
"As I believe you know," Duncan said, "this was not a college-sponsored production, but rather it was presented as an individual student’s senior thesis project. The consensus of the trustees was that attitudes concerning this presentation are already fixed and there was nothing to be gained on the part of anyone by more public discourse on the subject."
The MBC also asked William Jewell to adopt a policy that would prohibit certain lifestyles by faculty and/or students.
"From the time of the inception of the college, it has never been the practice of William Jewell to legislate lifestyles," Duncan said. "The consensus of the trustees was that it would be inappropriate for the college to begin that practice now."
Duncan concluded that he would like to see the MBC-William Jewell relationship continue indefinitely.
"Our position is that we would like to continue to host convention events, to continue to educate convention young people and to continue to work together with the convention to carry out the Great Commission," he said. "The convention’s position is, of course, up to you. Whatever the outcome, I want to assure you that we will continue to open our doors to all Missouri Baptists, as well as to others who seek a superior liberal arts education in a distinctively Christian environment."
The MBC executive board overwhelmingly approved the recommendation to defund. Only four of the 48 executive board members present voted "no."
Sallee asked permission to speak after the vote was taken. He charged that the vote represented an attempt by the MBC to control the college and to interfere with William Jewell policies.
Jay Scribner, chairman of the executive board’s administrative committee, countered that it was not a matter of control. "It’s about righteousness and holiness," Scribner said. "Our God is a jealous God. He wants the very best for us. That why he said be ye holy because I am holy.
"This is a sad day in the life of the Missouri Baptist Convention, but I trust that this will be a catalyst for the MBC and William Jewell to come back together in oneness and built upon the foundation of the Word of God."