ATLANTA (ABP) — Mercer University and the Georgia Baptist Convention have agreed to terms that will end their 172-year-old relationship. The convention will end funding of the school after 2007, but Mercer will get control of trustee elections and all assets, including a $19.6 million endowment controlled by the convention.
A Nov. 15 vote of the Georgia Baptist Convention mandated an “orderly” dissolution of the relationship after convention officials complained “Mercer has already moved away from the theology, doctrine and principles for which the convention stands.” The convention complained specifically about a pro-gay student group on campus and Mercer support for “non-Southern Baptist organizations.”
The terms, negotiated by Mercer president Kirby Godsey and convention executive Bob White, were approved by the convention's executive committee Dec.13. The agreement has already been approved by Mercer's executive committee and will be considered by trustees in April.
“Neither of us got everything we wanted,” White told the executive committee Dec. 13, “… but I want to help bring about an orderly discontinuance of the relationship.”
In a statement to Associated Baptist Press, Godsey lamented “the unilateral action of the Georgia Baptist Convention” to end the relationship, but he added: “It does not, of course, alter the heritage or the history of the institution, nor does it diminish the high Baptist traditions and values that gave rise to the university. In the days ahead, we must discuss how more deliberately and intentionally the university honors the Baptist traditions on which it was founded.”
Under the agreement, Mercer will create a self-perpetuating board, rather than allowing the convention to elect a portion of trustees. Endowed capital-improvement funds totaling $19,572,959, contributed by the convention in past years, will be released to the university.
The convention will continue to fund approximately $3.5 million for Mercer scholarships for 2006 and 2007, after which convention support will end. Mercer will seek similar funds directly from churches beginning in 2006.
Both sides pledged an amicable end to the relationship, which has become increasingly tense in recent years as conservatives have gained power in the state convention.
“I didn't want to see it come to conflict that would leave Mercer and the Convention tattered,” Godsey told the GBC executive committee.
“I want to express gratitude to Georgia Baptists,” he added. “The convention has made a grand difference in the university. Mercer is a Baptist university and will continue to be so. We will also continue to give scholarships to Baptist students.”
Messengers to next year's Georgia Baptist Convention meeting likely will be asked to approve the dissolution as part of the executive committee's report.