Belmont University filed an amended charter allowing it to elect its own trustees four days in advance of the 2005 Tennessee Baptist Convention because the convention’s executive director told it to, according to a court document filed last week.
Filing a new charter without convention knowledge has been cited as a key reason the TBC sued Belmont in September, seeking $58 million restitution for Cooperative Program gifts made to the university between 1951 and 2005.
“Tennessee Baptist Convention leadership or legal counsel had not been informed that the new charter had been filed prior to the convention,” a six-member Belmont study committee said in April.
“This action has not been approved by the Tennessee Baptist Convention,” the committee said. “Due to such action and procedures in the Tennessee Baptist Convention governing documents, the executive board was left with no alternative” but to call a special convention session May 9 to deal with the matter.
“The Bible says thou shalt not sue,” Tim McGeehee, a member of the TBC executive board, said at the called state convention at Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville. “But the Bible also says thou shalt not steal and thou shalt not lie.” He accused Belmont trustees of doing both.
“Only the convention can sever a relationship with one of its institutions,” Baptist & Reflector Editor Lonnie Wilkey wrote in a column dated Oct. 11. “But prior to the convention, Belmont unilaterally changed its charter, without convention knowledge, enabling the school to elect its own trustees.”
The TBC filed suit Sept. 29. In a response filed Nov. 1, Belmont attorneys said the charter vote was timed not to pre-empt action by the convention, but rather was part of a joint resolution of relationship that had been approved by the TBC executive board to be presented to messengers at the Nov. 15-16, 2005, annual meeting in Clarksville, Tenn.
“When the joint resolution was agreed upon, Belmont was specifically told by Dr. James Porch, the executive director-treasurer, in the presence of other TBC leaders, to prepare and file its Amended and Restated Charter prior to the TBC’s consideration of the joint Resolution of Relationship at the annual meeting,” the court document said.
Porch did not respond to an e-mail request for comment Monday afternoon.
Belmont’s board unanimously approved a new charter and filed it with the Secretary of State Nov. 10, 2005.
The 2005 resolution, which would have agreed that up to 40 percent of Belmont trustees could be non-Baptists, was tabled, after Porch announced discovery of a long-lost agreement saying if Belmont should ever pass from control of the convention that the convention reserved the right to be reimbursed for all funds or property spent on the university.
Belmont’s Nov. 1 filing said the 1951 document–found in a Belmont safe and turned over voluntarily–has no “legal validity at all.”
While Belmont has received money through annual allocations of Cooperative Program funds, attorneys said, the university’s growth has resulted in TBC funding declining from 8.45 percent of Belmont’s total revenue in 1995 to 2.79 percent in 2004.
Belmont’s growth has occurred “in part because of the affiliation with the TBC and in part despite the affiliation with the TBC,” the Nov. 1 document said.
It said Belmont’s contributions to the TBC over the last half century “have been incalculable.”
Belmont gave the TBC use of Fidelity Hall as state convention headquarters for 18 years, along with $190,000 worth of utility services. Belmont has produced more than 16,000 graduates, many of whom went on to hold positions of Baptist leadership.
Pastors of some of the largest TBC churches are Belmont alumni, and those churches are traditionally large donors to the Cooperative Program.
“Belmont has also given the TBC a positive public face and has generated positive publicity benefiting the TBC,” it said.
The filing said prior to 1999, the convention had the right to elect or appoint Belmont trustees. Between 1999 and 2005, the TBC was permitted to elect trustees nominated by Belmont’s board.
The convention consented to amendments to Belmont’s charter in 1974 that deleted the requirement that the TBC approve any changes to the process of qualification and selection of Belmont trustees.
TBC bylaws were amended in 2000 to declare Belmont an “affiliated board” neither owned nor governed by the convention.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.