Tennessee Baptist Convention leaders categorically denied allegations reported by EthicsDaily.com that Executive Director James Porch was behind Belmont University’s decision to file an amended charter authorizing self-perpetuating trustees prior to the TBC annual meeting in 2005, rather than waiting for convention approval.

In a court document filed Nov. 1, Belmont lawyers alleged Porch told the university 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.”

That action is behind a lawsuit filed Sept. 29 by the convention, seeking recovery of $58 million in gifts to the school between 1951 and 2005.

Reporting on Belmont’s answer to the suit for a story Tuesday, EthicsDaily.com e-mailed Porch Monday afternoon for comment. Porch responded late Tuesday afternoon, after the story was posted, referring EthicsDaily.com to a statement posted on the convention Web site, which appeared Wednesday morning, after the original story had been replaced.

The statement, by TBC attorney Randle Davis, reads:

“In Paragraph 26 of its Complaint, the Executive Board stated that ‘Belmont’s Board of Trustees, on November 10, 2005, unanimously approved and had filed with the offices of the Secretary of State for Tennessee an Amended and Restated Charter.’ In its Answer filed on Wednesday, November 1, 2006, Belmont has admitted this statement.

“However, before doing so and in an attempt to somehow justify its ‘pre-annual meeting’ action, Belmont has alleged that it ‘was specifically told by Dr. James Porch, the executive director-treasurer, in the presence of the 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 ‘other TBC leaders’ referenced by Belmont were Dr. Roger Freeman, the then president of the convention, Pastor Lynn King, the then chairman of the Executive Board, and Pastor Joe Stacker, the then chairman of the Education Committee. Belmont first made us aware of this alleged statement months ago. We investigated the validity of Belmont’s allegation at that time and again upon receipt of Belmont’s answer. The findings of both investigations were exactly the same. Dr. Porch has denied ever making any such statement to a representative of Belmont. Each of the ‘other TBC leaders’ when contacted separately about Belmont’s allegation likewise denied that Dr. Porch or any other ‘TBC leader’ ever made such a statement to representatives of Belmont in their presence.”

Belmont attorney Mark Tipps declined comment, saying the university’s answer to the lawsuit “speaks for itself.”

Should a conservative slate of officers be elected, as expected, at the Nov. 14-15 Tennessee Baptist Convention at Bellevue Baptist Church in Cordova, Tenn., attention could turn to Porch’s leadership, both for his handling of the Belmont issue and long suspicion by fundamentalists that he has aided the nomination process to give churches sympathetic to the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, a moderate breakaway group, disproportionate leadership on TBC boards and agencies.

Jerry Sutton, pastor of Two Rivers Baptist Church in Nashville, Tenn., has announced plans to introduce a motion at the convention that would require all persons elected by the convention to affirm belief in the Baptist Faith & Message 2000. The statement, with declarations that women cannot be pastors and that wives are subservient to their husbands, would disqualify most in CBF churches, which are more moderate on those and other issues.

“Dr. Porch occupies the position of executive director of the Tennessee Baptist Convention today because of the controlling influence of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship on the Executive Board of the TBC in the 1990s,” Bill Carden, a member of First Baptist Church in Tullahoma, Tenn., wrote in the April edition of the Concerned Tennessee Baptists newsletter.

“The chairman of the search committee that selected Dr. Porch for this TBC position in 1992 became the state leader of the newly formed CBF organization in Tennessee,” said Carden, who documented Porch’s opposition to the “conservative resurgence” during the exec’s 15 years (1977-1992) as pastor at FBC Tullahoma in a booklet.

“Considering his documented sympathy toward the CBF during his FBC Tullahoma pastorate, it is reasonable to suggest that Dr. Porch has probably maintained a sympathetic ear toward the CBF in his present position over these years,” Carden said.

Larry Reagan, pastor of Adams Chapel Baptist Church in Dresden, Tenn., wrote similar thoughts in the same issue.

“The same battle that took place in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s is taking place today in the TBC,” Reagan said. “Dr. James Porch and many others, either directly or indirectly affiliated with the CBF, have decided that the ‘conservative resurgence’ is nothing more than a pharisaical hi-jacking of the SBC. They’ve made it their life’s mission to insure that the ‘conservative resurgence’ never gains control in Tennessee. In spite of their efforts, conservatives won’t go away.”

Reagan, who is the convention’s second vice president, noted in the article that should the TBC wind up in a court battle with Belmont, “We will need a strong executive director, who will fight with all his heart for the TBC.”

“If we examine all the evidence, we will find that Dr. James Porch has assisted Belmont for several years to go in this direction,” Reagan said. “He has repeatedly told the messengers, the Executive Board, and various committees that the TBC does not own Belmont.

“I have confronted him on a few occasions and asked him to quit misleading the TBC with this kind of false statement. Now, the cat is out of the bag. Messengers have read the reversion clause. We all should know beyond any shadow of doubt who owns Belmont.”

Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.

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