Missouri Baptist leaders vote to defund William Jewell College

( [email protected] ) Jul 22, 2003 02:08 AM EDT

Leaders of the Missouri Baptist Convention voted July 15 to eliminate funding for William Jewell College because of the school's handling of homosexuality and other moral issues, ABP reported.

The convention's executive board deleted the school from next year's budget after investigating the college's practices and policies. If approved by messengers to the fall Missouri Baptist Convention, the move would effectively end the convention's 154-year relationship with the Baptist school.

David Sallee, William Jewell's president, said the board?fs decision reflected a desire to control the college. But Charles Burnett, chair of a committee investigating the school, said funding should be denied because the college failed to "fall in line with what we believe are God's teachings."

William Jewell receives about $1.1 million a year from the convention, which accounts for 3 percent of the school's budget.

During the executive board's July session, Burnett said the interagency relations committee had met with college administrators to iron out differences, but the college's response to the committee's inquiry was "not sufficient" for continuing funding.

Among the committee's concerns:

?¢The college allowed student senators to consider a change in the Student Bill of Rights to add sexual orientation to its list of characteristics protected from discrimination. Students defeated the proposal Jan. 28.

?¢A theater student was allowed to produce portions of the play "The Vagina Monologues" as the student's senior recital.

?¢The committee asked the college for information about trustees and faculty, including their church membership and affiliations with organizations other than those related to the school.

?¢The committee wanted college officials to outline the official teaching position on the Genesis account of creation.

The convention also sought the right to elect William Jewell's trustees, which was denied by the college.

Only four of the 48 executive board members voted against defunding the college.

After the vote, Sallee, the college president, described the motion to defund as "an expression of the philosophy of the executive board that it will not fund anything it does not control."

"This is about governance," he added. "The sensitivities of our Missouri Baptist constituencies are considered in decisions made by the college. However, when this board or its representatives demand that the college change its policies or apologize for decisions, that is an attempt to interfere with the governance function of the board of trustees of the college."

Sallee told executive board members that college administrators "wrestled" over the decision to allow the theater student to perform the controversial play. "[It was] an agonizing discussion.?c But we came down on the side of academic freedom."

"Since then, we have revised the process... so that we will not find ourselves in that position again," he added.

Sallee told board members he recognized that the institution and the convention had reached an impasse. "As I said in this room in December, you do not agree with the way we do our work," he said. "We each feel strongly that we are right. It appears that the unavoidable result is that our relationship must end."

Jay Scribner, chairman of the board's administrative committee, called the move to cut William Jewell's funding "a belabored, prayerful decision." "It is about holiness, righteousness and godliness," he said.

He called the decision "a catalyst for the years ahead for the Missouri Baptist Convention and William Jewell to come back together in oneness on the foundation of the Word of God."

The $1.1 million in convention funds are used primarily to provide scholarships to Missouri Baptist students who attend William Jewell, Sallee said. He added the college will seek other revenue sources to continue providing those scholarships.