Baptist seminary head wins labor appeal
A court in Zimbabwe has ruled on behalf of the former head of a Baptist seminary fired three years ago in a dispute over theology.
By Bob Allen
A judge has ruled that a Baptist seminary in Zimbabwe acted improperly in the 2011 firing of its top administrator who resisted orders to lead the school in accordance with the Baptist Faith and Message statement adopted by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2000.
Labour Court President M.M. Takuva in Gweru, Zimbabwe, ordered that Henry Mugabe be reinstated as principal of the Baptist Theological Seminary of Zimbabwe with back pay to the date of his dismissal in July 2011, according to a copy of the ruling forwarded without comment to ABPnews.
The court found “procedural irregularity” with Zimbabwe’s National Employment Code of Conduct enacted to resolve labor disputes and protect workers’ rights.
Mugabe, a Ph.D. graduate of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary who has taught as a visiting professor at Baptist Theological Seminary at Richmond and other U.S. schools aligned with moderate and progressive Baptists, was first employed by the Zimbabwe seminary in 1984 and named president in 1996.
He lost his job after the Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe, reportedly as a condition of transfer of property from the SBC International Mission Board, adopted a new charter without input from Mugabe or the seminary’s board of trustees. It required all academic staff “to subscribe to the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message upheld by the Baptist Convention of Zimbabwe, IMB and the Southern Baptist Convention.”
Points of disagreement included the faith statement’s assertion that pastoral roles in the church must be limited to men. Several faculty members left to start a new Zimbabwe Theological Seminary describing itself as “shaped by Baptist tradition and piety, ecumenical openness and social concern.”
An IMB spokesperson said at the time that the missionary-sending agency based in Richmond, Va., was not involved in Mugabe’s termination, but a Southern Baptist missionary who defended the Zimbabwe convention in 2011 alluded to the controversy at this year’s SBC annual meeting in a warning about competition for new converts.
“Southern Baptists, would you allow me to challenge us by the reality that in Zimbabwe, for instance, those who are proclaiming a false hope or liberal theology are happily moving into areas that we vacate and outspending us promoting a religion without hope and gods who cannot save?” missionary Gregg Fort asked during a report to messengers at the June 11-12 SBC annual meeting in Houston.
“Dare we allow proponents of liberal theology to sneak among our converts through Bible-training programs and seminaries to corrupt the very believers that we have labored to bring to salvation in Christ?” he continued.
The official reason for Mugabe’s termination was insubordination, based in part on his refusal to meet with a new Baptist Theological Seminary Council formed to replace the seminary’s board of trustees. Mugabe said his contract was with the dissolved board of trustees and he was under no obligation to attend a meeting he considered illegal. He appealed his firing with the Zimbabwe Labour Court.
That court ruled that it was unclear whether the council was intended as a “disciplinary” committee — in which case it was improperly constituted because the law says such groups must include both employer and employee representation — or authorized to act on the convention’s behalf.
The judge said not spelling that out with clarity in advance made it unlikely that Mugabe would have received a fair hearing.
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