INDIANAPOLIS — Sole membership was approved by Southern Baptist messengers at the convention on June 15 for New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary by a vote of 63.5 percent (3,579 votes) to 36.5 percent (2,059 votes). Sole membership, which seeks to legalize the ownership of the convention, was originally proposed by the Executive Committee.
Although NOBTS representatives are skeptical of the sole membership because it violates Baptist polity and is incompatible with Louisiana law, the seminary is more considering of following the words of SBC messengers as it has promised earlier and adopt the recommendation at their October meeting.
Southern Baptist Convention lawyer Jim Guenther had been supportive of the recommendation. Even at the convention, he told messengers he believes sole membership to be compatible with Louisiana law and its adoption would prevent New Orleans Seminary from distancing itself from the convention in the future, referring to how Baylor University broke away from the Baptist General Convention of Texas years ago. He also mentioned about the situation in Missouri that sole membership would have prevented five entities from attempting to break away from the Missouri Baptist Convention.
"This recommendation is not rooted in suspicion," Guenther said. "The Executive Committee members do not believe this seminary board would ever flee the convention. I personally believe and the Executive [Committee] members believe that the present trustees of that seminary are honorable, loyal Southern Baptists.
"But the time to close the barn door is before there are any horses to get out. The time to act is when the messengers and the trustees share a common commitment."
On the other hand, Kelley asked the messengers at the meeting on June 15 to vote against the recommendation, so that the seminary would receive one more year to decide on the matter, arguing that the Executive Committee itself had not yet adopted sole membership.
"You have not yet been given all the facts and the other side of the sole membership story, and I have not been given enough time to explain the details today," Kelley said. "The bottom line is that Louisiana law is different than that of other [entities'] states, and that difference makes sole membership more harmful than helpful for the SBC."
Guenther, though, said that the Executive Committee would take action to adopt sole membership.
"The Executive Committee has had that charter ready and it has waited now for seven years for the final entity of this convention, which has turned out to be this seminary, to act," he said, "When that final entity acts, the Executive Committee will bring its charter along with the necessary amendments to the Southern Baptist Convention's bylaws to this body for approval."
Executive Committee President Morris H. Chapman also told messengers that the Executive Committee would adopt sole membership prior to next year's meeting, assuming that New Orleans trustees also adopt sole membership.
"Our charter amendments have to be consistent with the variations in all of the other entities' charters, so therefore it is necessary for the Executive Committee to be done last," Chapman said.
Tommy French, chairman of the New Orleans trustees and a messenger from Louisiana, spoke against the recommendation saying that under Louisiana law, sole membership would not allow the convention and New Orleans trustees to share in the governance powers.
"When the Louisiana Baptist Convention made the move to protect its entities, it did not adopt sole membership in the state of Louisiana under Louisiana law. The reason for that is that the Louisiana law is not a model act [state]. The other 10 entities have adopted sole membership under the model law, and under Louisiana law the sole member has rights that cannot be set aside. We've been assured that those rights would be limited, but actually Louisiana law will not allow that to be limited."
Guenther, on the other hand argued that sole membership is compatible with Louisiana law.
"As your lawyers, we disagree [with New Orleans Seminary's arguments], and our Louisiana law firm disagrees," he said, "Both law firms are confident that sole membership works in Louisiana."
Guenther also disagreed that sole membership would result in the Executive Committee having more power. According to Guenther, sole membership is what forms historical relationship between the Southern Baptist Convention and NOBTS.
"It's not about changing the historic covenant between the convention and the seminary," Guenther said, "It is about sealing that covenant to make sure that a Baylor-like event does not occur in this convention."
He added, "You and I may understand the historic relationship between the convention and its seminary, but that does not mean a Louisiana court would understand it. So it's important for us to take this longstanding relationship between the convention and the seminary and cast it in terms we know a court will understand."
The seminary's amended charter should specify the convention's right to:
1. "elect and remove the seminary's trustees;
2. "approve any amendment of the charter adopted by the board of trustees;
3. "approve any merger, consolidation or dissolution, the creation of a subsidiary, or any change in the corporation's charter;
4. "approve the sale, lease or other disposition of all, or substantially all, of the corporation's assets; and
5. "confirm the seminary board's right to otherwise govern the institution."
The other five seminaries previously have adopted sole membership, along with the North American Mission Board, International Mission Board, LifeWay Christian Resources, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and the Annuity Board.