Amid continued objections to American Baptist College’s invitation of same-sex marriage advocates to speak on campus, concerns have been raised that the historically black institution may be violating the governance structure established by its legal charter.
“For reasons only known in the heavenly realms,” American Baptist College has become “ground zero for this battle over same-sex marriage in the Baptist church,” Dwight McKissic, co-coordinator of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors, said at a March 17 press conference in Nashville.
The fellowship is a coalition of pastors who minister at congregations in cooperation with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. (NBC USA), America’s largest predominantly African American Baptist denomination.
Other pastors present at the press conference alongside McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, were Robert White of Freedom Church in Bedford, Texas; Ronnie Goines of Koinonia Christian Church in Arlington, Texas; Patrick McGrew of Higher Praise Family Church in Fort Worth, Texas; Calvin Barlow of Second Missionary Baptist Church in Nashville; and Randy Vaughn of Mt. Sinai Baptist Church in Port Arthur, Texas, fellowship co-coordinator.
McKissic, Goines and McGrew pastor churches that cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention in addition to the NBC USA Inc.
The coalition of concerned pastors, which includes some 150 members, objects to American Baptist College’s speaking invitation to Yvette Flunder, an open lesbian and United Church of Christ bishop, Delman Coates, a pastor who led a campaign in Maryland to legalize gay marriage, and Allan Boesak, a South African minister and politician who urged the South African Dutch Reformed Church to affirm same-sex marriage.
Much of the objection seemed to focus on Flunder, a vocal advocate of the homosexual lifestyle.
Members of the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors asked in a news release that American Baptist College President Forrest Harris rescind Flunder’s invitation; that NBC USA Inc. President Jerry Young release a statement expressing his position on Flunder’s invitation; and that Flunder’s addresses be moved from the college’s facilities.
Harris said previously that it is inappropriate to oppose homosexual behavior by employing “idolatry of the Bible,” which he defined as “when people say [the Bible] is synonymous with God and the truth,” the Tennessean reported. He added, “We can’t be guided by a first century worldview.”
American Baptist College trustees should either ask the NBC USA Inc. for permission to advocate the homosexual worldview, McKissic said, or they should fire Harris if they disagree with his statements and invitation of pro-gay speakers.
White noted the college’s long association with the convention.
“The American Baptist College has historically been connected to and supported by the National Baptist Convention USA Inc., an organization which on more than one occasion has addressed this very issue of same-sex marriage through statements affirming marriage as being between one man and one woman,” White said. “… The American Baptist College has no right or authority to teach or endorse a doctrine or position other than that of this convention.”
A statement by immediate past NBC USA Inc. president Julius Scruggs on the convention’s website states, “The National Baptist Convention, USA, Incorporated does not dictate to its constituent churches what position to take on issues because we believe in the autonomy of the local church. However, the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. affirms that marriage is a sacred biblical covenant between a man and a woman.”
American Baptist College’s response
Harris’ media spokeswoman released a letter to Baptist Press in which Harris defended the speaking invitations to Flunder, Coates and Boesak by appealing to federal law and the college’s mission.
“Based on good advice from the college’s Board Chair, I have decided as president of the college not to respond to [the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors’] negative message as it would be counterproductive at this time,” Harris wrote. “I do, however, want to share … the college’s vision of education in light of this negative document which has been disseminated around the country” – a reference to a press release distributed by the concerned pastors.
Harris said “the college expresses neither favor nor disfavor” with the various viewpoints to which students are exposed, “in accordance with state and federal laws prohibiting discrimination.” He noted that the college receives federal funding. Harris added that the lecture series which has drawn criticism is a “significant component of the college’s academic legacy.”
Harris also wrote, “The fact that the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc. serves a conservative constituent base that renders a different view of education will not distract the college from its educational mission.”
Governing structure questioned
Who controls American Baptist College appears to be in dispute. “We don’t really know who owns the college,” McKissic said.
Monchiere Holmes-Jones, a spokeswoman for American Baptist College, said the school “is not directly correlated” with the NBC USA Inc. “even though they are associated by history and being next door” to the NBC USA Inc. offices.
The NBC USA Inc.’s website describes American Baptist College as “an independent college for the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc.” The school’s legal charter on file with the Tennessee secretary of state says, “The corporation shall be governed by a Board of Trustees, who shall be directors, and who shall be appointed by the National Baptist Convention, U.S.A., Inc.”
Jim Guenther, an attorney for the Southern Baptist Convention, said the charter “is the primary controlling governing document” of an entity. The charter cannot be superseded by any other document unless the legal entity amends its charter, he said. Records on file with the secretary of state reflect no such amendment of the NBC USA Inc. charter.
“If a corporation has a board of directors inconsistent with the charter,” Guenther said, “then the corporation is fatally flawed and the actions of the board are and void. … If the charter says the convention elects the trustees, then the convention needs to elect those trustees.”
Jerlen Nelson, the NBC USA Inc.’s director of media and press relations, said American Baptist College’s board is in practice self-perpetuating and that the convention has not elected trustees in recent memory.
Pastors who are displeased with American Baptist College’s actions and believe the school is acting in violation of its charter could attempt several courses of action, Guenther said. Among them:
If the convention is not electing trustees as called for in the charter, a messenger to an NBC USA Inc. annual session could make a motion that the convention elect to the college’s board specific individuals sympathetic to the National Baptist Fellowship of Concerned Pastors. If elected, those trustees would replace any improperly appointed trustees and govern the school.
A concerned pastor could file a complaint with either the Internal Revenue Service or the Tennessee attorney general, stating that the college is violating its charter.
A messenger to a convention annual session might have legal standing to challenge in court the seating of any unauthorized trustees by the college.
At the press conference, Vaughn lamented that the gay agenda “has already won support from organizations that are dear to our heart, like NAACP and the National Urban League – organizations that use the black church as human capital. And now this sin, this same-sex nonsense wants to preach in our holy place.”
Vaughn challenged the NBC USA Inc. to act.
“The National Baptist Convention has held its mouth in silence while allowing this sin to be publicized over our websites, in our national publications and using our national facility to house what we believe is a desecration of our temple,” Vaughn said. “So today we challenge our national leadership, our national president Dr. Jerry Young to make a declarative statement because silence is not an option.”
Young announced in January that he would appoint a resolutions committee to develop a position statement on same-sex marriage for National Baptists to vote on later this year, according to McKissic’s blog. Last year, the NBC USA Inc.’s Home Mission Board released a statement instructing board-endorsed military chaplains “not to participate in any activity that implies or condones same sex marriage or same sex union.”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)