The 26 American Baptist Church (ABC)-related colleges and seminaries now have the opportunity to work alongside United Methodists in receiving protection against a litigious society, through a cooperative venture with the United Methodist Church (UMC).
"This is the church's expression of equal opportunity; it is a major factor in helping schools in underserved areas, where access to higher education historically has been limited," the Rev. Dr. A. Roy Medley, general secretary of American Baptist Churches USA, said as he signed the joint agreement on Sept 3.
Also signing the agreement was the Rev. Jerome King Del Pino, top executive of the Nashville-based United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry, which is affiliated with the Educational & Institutional Insurance Administrators, Inc. (EIIA).
The EIIA, headquartered in Chicago, was formed in the 1960s to provide group purchasing and administration of insurance programs for United Methodist schools. According to the new agreement, the president of each ABC institution will be offered the option of sharing the benefits of membership in the EIIA.
"The services of EIIA," Del Pino said, "ensure that each school has access to protection, and relieve some of the burden of seeking individual coverage. Its existence represents the ongoing core values of United Methodist higher education.
Del Pino also noted the underpinning ecumenical benefits of the agreement, saying, The agreement expresses ecumenicity and the community of Christ. The theological implication is this: Higher education is not something that is an optional luxury. It is Gods will that the human predicament be enriched. Christian higher education is one way we accomplish (and) carry out that enrichment."
"The founding in the early 1960s was a response to the desperate need of historically black colleges and universities that were refused coverage by most insurance companies during the latter days of legal racial segregation," Del Pino said. "Its continuation attests to the fact that the denomination has maintained a vital interest in providing such access."
The 16 colleges and universities and 10 seminaries related to American Baptist Churches USA were also formed at the wake of the Civil War to provide higher learning for newly freed people.
"Historically, American Baptists have valued higher education for the current and future clergy and lay leaders in our churches," said the Rev. Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, executive director of National Ministries. "The ability to offer this insurance coverage affirms our ongoing commitment to American Baptist-related educational institutions."
Should the presidents of the ABC colleges and universities decide to join the EIIA, it will receive the same services that have already been extended to the schools affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Presbyterian Church (USA).