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During a fellowship dinner sponsored by Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina, Wingate University president Jerry McGee took a cue from Walter Shurden’s famous analysis of Baptist life’s “Four Fragile Freedoms” by suggesting that Baptist Higher Education also depends on four fragile freedoms that are not negotiable. McGee spoke in behalf of five universities and a college that had seen a new relationship with the Baptist State Covention approved during its annual session earlier in the day.

The first, he said, is academic freedom. There’s no such thing as “Presbyterian biology” or a “Methodist map” or “Baptist English” in higher education, he said. “We must seek the truth wherever it may lead us, even if we do not like where it leads us.” There is a difference between education and indoctrination, he said: academic freedom is essential.

Faith identification is a second fragile freedom for Baptist schools, McGee said. Wingate, like other N.C. Baptist schools, has been “nurtured and supported by Baptists throughout our existence, and we have no intention of moving from that heritage,” he said. When a former student complained that the new change in relationship between the schools and the Baptist State Convention (BSC) would move Wingate away from the convention, McGee said, he explained that “The new relationship is the only way we can continue to have a relationship with the Baptists of N.C.”

A third fragile freedom, McGee said, is trustee selection. For many years the schools steadfastly cooperated with the BSC in choosing trustees, McGee said. “As limiting as it was, we were able to make it work because the committee on nominations was willing to work with us.” When the committee began to impose its will on the process by imposing conditions based on the committee members and not in consultation with the colleges, he said, the process was no longer workable. The new relationship, in which the schools surrender direct funding but choose their own directors, “allows us to be more Baptist than we’ve ever been before,” he said.

McGee named cooperation as the fourth fragile freedom of Baptist Higher Education. “We will cooperate with Baptists of North Carolina not because we are being forced to cooperate or paid to cooperate, but because we want to cooperate,” he said. Such voluntary cooperation does not label some as right and some as wrong, but allows the construction of a “big tent” that includes Baptists of different stripes and types. Wingate, he said, “will continue to cooperate with the Baptists of North Carolina, not because of any mandate, but because we choose to. It represents a fragile freedom that we will honor – but only in a manner that respects everyone’s freedom.”

Paul Baxley, chair of CBFNC’s “New Day Task Force,” concluded the meeting with an upbeat update. Despite the downturn in the economy and the struggles some other groups are facing, gifts to the CBFNC Mission Resource Plan (MRP) are at an all-time high, he said, amounting to more in the first 10 months of 2008 than in the entire previous history of the program.

Nearly $1.25 million has been received this year, Baxley said, with the traditional best months for giving still to come. Currently 85 congregations use the MRP as their sole or optional giving plan, or have indicated plans to begin doing so in 2009. Baxley invited other churches, if they feel a change is needed, to explore the MRP option.

[The image above is a sample of what happens when I forget to bring in my real camera and try taking a picture with a cell phone.]

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