Tennessee Baptists Won't Sever Ties with University

NASHVILLE (AP) - The Tennessee Baptist Convention on Tuesday rejected a proposal to end a 55-year relationship with Belmont University but voted to continue negotiating and reserve the right to go to court if necessary.

The convention and the Nashville university have been at odds over Belmont's request to diversify its board with trustees who aren't Baptists.

Almost 2,000 Tennessee Baptist Convention delegates attended a special meeting Tuesday to discuss cutting the Belmont ties, which include funding for the school.

Convention leaders offered a recommendation to end the relationship, but it failed on a vote of 791-923.

In a proposal aimed at encouraging the parting of ways, Belmont had offered to pay the Tennessee Baptist Convention $2 million immediately and another $1 million per year for three years if the resolution passed.

"Nobody wins. Nobody loses," convention president Philip Jett said after the vote. "

Tennessee Baptist Convention lawyer Randle Davis told convention delegates that it's difficult to say if the convention would win the matter in court because there hasn't been a similar case tried in the state that set a precedent.

The recommendation drew considerable discussion, with convention delegates offering arguments for and against the split.

"None of us are exceedingly happy about why we are here today," said Raymond Boston, part of a committee asked by the convention's executive board to study the issue. "We need to take the high road. We need to look forward to the future."

Belmont officials did not speak at the convention but posted a statement on the school's Web site Tuesday expressing disappointment with the Baptists' action.

"We look forward to meeting with representatives of the TBC to continue our dialogue and reach a mutually agreeable solution that honors our mutual Christian missions," Marty Dickens, chairman of the board of trustees, said in the statement. "We will continue to be a student-focused, Christian community of learning and service with a rich Baptist heritage that we intend to foster and nurture."

In a 1,383-103 vote, the convention approved a second recommendation to authorize the committee to continue negotiating with Belmont. If further talks fail, the proposal allows the convention to sue the school.

Convention leaders said they hope to have the issue settled before its annual meeting in November. The Tennessee Baptist Convention comprises nearly 3,000 churches and 1 million members statewide.

The convention has fought a request from Belmont to diversify its board with Christians of other denominations. Under the current arrangement, the Tennessee Baptist Convention approves the Belmont board appointments.

Copyright 2006, Associated Press. All rights reserved.