HLG boardquestionsMBC gifts to MBTS
May 16, 2006
HANNIBAL – The trustees of Hannibal-LaGrange College (HLG) are asking the Executive Board of the Missouri Baptist Convention (MBC) to reconsider proposed gifts to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS). The gift was the most lively point of discussion as the HLG trustees met just after spring commencement May 6.
At the MBC’s executive board meeting April 11, the board voted to allocate two gifts in 2007 to MBTS totaling $200,000: $100,000 to continue to endow a missions professorship chair; and $100,000 to the seminary’s new undergraduate program, Midwestern Baptist College. The money is to be taken out of reserves. The board also approved a recommendation that the MBC president appoint a committee to look at the future relationships between Midwestern and the MBC as it pertains to the “gifting” of funds.
This prompted a letter on behalf of the HLG board, addressed to Ralph Sawyer, MBC president and pastor, First Baptist Church, Wentzville, and to all executive board members as well as HLG trustees suggesting the executive board reconsider the gifts and to express “disappointment over the support of another non-MBC institution to the neglect of its own.”
Woodrow Burt, HLG’s president reiterated this point at the May 6 board meeting. “The intent [of the letter] was ‘you’ve (the MBC Executive Board) been taking [HLG and SBU] for granted,’” he said.
The letter, dated April 25 and signed by Bryan Gruber, chairman of HLG’s trustees and Daniel Hale, chairman of HLG’s executive board, contains five points relating to the $200,000 gifts:
• HLG has no complaint against MBTS and commends the seminary for its work.
• It “reminds” the MBC leadership that HLG has remained loyal to the churches of the MBC “and has not wavered in its position as a Missouri Baptist agency/institution.”
• The trustees point out that while HLG is thankful for the MBC’s continued financial support, MBC financial support for HLG and Southwest Baptist University (SBU) “has decreased over the years.” According to the letter, the percentage of support becomes less and less as the institution’s budgets grow. The letter states that financial support from the MBC for 2006-2007 stands at 4.8 percent of HLG’s operating budget.
The trustees then write that the MBC executive board has voted to support a Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) institution which the MBC has no control over nor any say in the appointment of its trustees.
HLG and SBU’s trustees are elected by the MBC and the two schools are part of the convention’s annual Cooperative Program budget. Messengers to the SBC annual meeting elect trustees for MBTS which also govern Midwestern Baptist College.
• A suggestion that a conflict of interest could arise, since MBC executive board members are allowed to serve on the MBTS board but not the boards of HLG, SBU, or the Missouri Baptist Children’s Home.
However, there is nothing in the MBC or SBC Constitutions or bylaws that prohibit people on state executive boards from serving on SBC entity boards. Also, HLG and SBU trustees are allowed – and some are serving – on the MBTS board.
• Finally, the letter states that “the argument has been used that Missouri Baptists need a college in the Kansas City area which brings three Baptist colleges in the state for Missouri Baptists to help support, and yet states like Oklahoma, California, and Louisiana, just to name three, have only one Southern Baptist Colleges for their constituents and those colleges serve them adequately.”
The letter – nor the HLG board in their most recent meeting – suggested specifically that the gifts – if rescinded – should be put back into reserves or split between HLG and SBU, although the letter did say that “extra funds are always welcomed and greatly needed.”
Sawyer confirmed that he had received the letter, but said he preferred not to comment until he had spoken with all the parties involved.
After recapping the letter and the “mostly positive” reception they were aware of, the board voted overwhelmingly to recommend that Burt and several trustees address members of the MBC board during their July meeting on SBU’s campus in Bolivar.
“The next place where it would be addressed is at the [MBC annual meeting],” Burt said. It will be voted on as part of the MBC executive board’s budget for 2007.
“We’d prefer that they reconsider before the convention,” he said.
Burt shared the letter with Pat Taylor, president of SBU. Taylor said he and the SBU board discussed it at their May 9 meeting. Because the issue was discussed in executive session, he could not comment further.
“I will be writing a follow-up letter to the [MBC executive board],” Taylor said.
“I do want to make clear that we are very supportive of Midwestern and desire to continue our strong relationship with them,” he said. “But like HLG, we are strapped for funds.”
The letter from the trustees to Sawyer says that the MBC has given nearly $800,000 to Midwestern over a four-year period. That is incorrect, according to the institutional advancement office at Midwestern. The MBC has given $500,000 to the institution from 2003-2006.
The board heard a financial report that stated the college was currently $90,000 in the red, although with summer school receipts included in the coming month, they will likely rise above the break-even point before the end of their fiscal year.
Enrollment at the college was up 40 students this year, accounting for more than 1,000 additional credit-hours.