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Five North Carolina Baptist colleges and universities are moving toward loosening ties with the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina.

A convention committee earlier this month signed off on a proposal from the schools to elect their own trustees, give up $6.2 million in annual funding from the convention and establish a scholarship program to be administered by convention staff.

The proposal, which must be approved by North Carolina Baptists in two consecutive annual meetings beginning in November 2007, comes amid governance and funding issues between the state convention and colleges that a committee member said have been going on since the 1950s.

Wake Forest University and Meredith College separated from the state convention several years ago to guard against takeover by fundamentalist trustees who were moving into leadership of the state organization.

The new plan attempts to clarify the relationship between the convention and its remaining institutions of higher education in agreements that are “mutual and voluntary,” according to a press release.

The affected schools are Campbell University in Buies Creek, Chowan University in Murfreesboro, Gardner-Webb University in Boiling Springs, Mars Hill College in Mars Hill and Wingate University in Wingate.

The schools pledge to continue to draw a “significant portion” of trustees from members of churches in friendly cooperation with the state convention. The presidents desire to continue to bring reports to the state convention’s annual meeting and to retain membership on the Council on Christian Higher Education, which drew up the plan. The schools also would “continue to promote and advance Christian principles and beliefs as reflected in traditional Baptist doctrine.”

Milton Hollifield, the state convention’s recently elected executive director, termed it a “good faith relationship” of mutual trust.

“This will be moving the relationship from a sense of obligation to a spirit of cooperation,” Hollifield said. “There has been the sense that the convention was obligated to fund them in this way. Some North Carolina Baptists felt the schools were obligated to do certain things. This is moving us from a relationship of obligation to a relationship of cooperation. The presidents seemed to like that spirit.”

A similar plan for an amicable separation between Belmont University and the Tennessee Baptist Convention fell apart when the state’s Baptists rejected an executive-board recommended compromise allowing the school to include non-Baptist Christians on their trustee board.

The Tennessee convention later sued Belmont, claiming a long-lost reverter clause says the state convention is entitled to the return of $58 million in gifts it has given to the school over the years should Belmont ever leave convention control.

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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