Kentucky Baptist Convention leaders, Campbellsville University trustees clash

A year after reaffirming a covenant agreement defining their relationship, a Baptist state convention and university are suddenly on the brink of severing ties.

By Bob Allen

Eight months after ending ties with Georgetown College, the Kentucky Baptist Convention warned trustees of Campbellsville University that a governance change reportedly up for a vote this week could jeopardize their school’s relationship to the state affiliate of the Southern Baptist Convention as well.

Campbellsville University trustee chair Joseph Owens accused convention leaders of trying to interfere in “decisions that may be under consideration” by the agency’s board of trustees in a statement released July 11.

paul ChitwoodOwens’ statement came in response to a letter earlier in the day from KBC Executive Director Paul Chitwood informing members of the state convention’s governing board that the university “plans to create a self-perpetuating board and welcome non-Baptist trustees onto the board.”

Chitwood said bylaw changes due to be considered by Campbellsville trustees July 15 are “clearly inconsistent” with a covenant agreement that defines the relationship between the school and Kentucky Baptists.

KBC leaders say the change could jeopardize the $1 million a year Campbellsville receives in convention funding. That is about 2 percent of the university’s $57 million annual budget. In exchange for funding, the covenant agreement gives the state convention “the right and responsibility in the selection and orientation” of the school’s 44-member board of trustees.

In 2004 Kentucky Baptists rejected a proposal to allow non-Baptists to hold at least one fourth of the trustee positions at Campbellsville and three other KBC-affiliated schools. Georgetown College began electing its own trustees in 2006, forging a partnership agreement phasing out KBC funding and guaranteeing that at least 75 percent of Georgetown trustees would be Kentucky Baptists.

The state convention voted to sever its ties with Georgetown last fall, after a four-year process that included a state convention study of the school’s governance and identity. The study committee faulted Georgetown for moving from a strictly Baptist identity to a more ecumenical outlook and for reaching out to groups including the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

In 2013 a delegation from the state convention paid a visit to Campbellsville to investigate allegations that a professor was denied tenure because he is too conservative, while other professors reject biblical inerrancy and teach evolution.

The parties released a joint statement assuring Kentucky Baptists “that those who believe the literal truthfulness of every word of the Bible are welcomed as students and as faculty members of the university” and reaffirming the covenant agreement between them.

joseph owensIn his statement Friday, however, trustee chairman Owens, pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Lexington, Ky., said in the past few weeks “we have experienced a significant deterioration in our ongoing relations with the current leadership of the Kentucky Baptist Convention” and that Chitwood’s letter is further evidence of the shift.

“The KBC leadership has chosen, on KBC letterhead, to launch criticism of CU board and senior administrative leadership that is unfounded and that evidences an apparent desire on the part of the KBC leadership to exercise undue control and influence in the ongoing operations of Campbellsville University,” Owens said.

Chitwood’s letter said that KBC officers plan to meet on Thursday to discuss the outcome of tomorrow’s trustee vote.

“While we grieve the decision of another school to distance itself from the churches that have long supported her, we know that we still have institutions who remain faithfully committed to their covenant with Kentucky Baptists and to the mission of reaching Kentucky and the world for Christ,” Chitwood said.

Owens said Campbellsville has not changed, but current KBC leadership is choosing to move away from the traditional relationship that the university has enjoyed with previous state executive directors.

“We have desired to have a dialogue with the KBC leadership that would help lead to a new partnership and relationship — one that would retain our proven commitment to Kentucky Baptists while protecting academic freedom and institutional integrity,” Owens said. “We have requested a dialogue on a continuing partnership, and we stand by that position.”