Possible Glorieta sale back on the table

After New Mexico Baptists decided they couldn’t afford to take over Glorieta Baptist Conference Center, a new potential buyer has stepped forward with baggage of its own.

By Bob Allen

LifeWay Christian Resources may have a potential buyer for its cash-strapped Glorieta Conference Center after the Baptist Convention of New Mexico turned down an offer to purchase the property for $1.

The Southern Baptist Convention publisher announced July 12 it is considering possible sale of the 2,100-acre campus opened by Southern Baptists in 1952 near Santa Fe to Olivet University International.

glorietaOlivet – not to be confused with Olivet Nazarene University in Bourbonnais, Ill. – is led by President Bill Wagner, a former longtime Southern Baptist foreign missionary and seminary professor. Launched in 2000 by the Evangelical Assembly of Presbyterian Churches, Olivet University International has been twice turned down in bids to buy a permanent campus when questions arose about its finances, methodology and theology.

The Tennessean ran a 1,700-word story July 16 detailing Olivet’s previous failures to close deals to obtain Bethany University, a closed Assemblies of God school in Scotts Valley, Calif., and a 217-acre campus in Northfield, Mass., founded by famed evangelist D.L. Moody being offered for free to a deserving Christian ministry by the billionaire owners of Hobby Lobby.

According to the Tennessean, one factor dogging Olivet is controversy about David Jang, who served as chancellor and professor of systematic theology until transitioning in May to the Holy Bible Society, an international Christian organization founded in 2007 for the purpose of making the Bible more accessible by using digital technology and the Internet.

The Internet carries contradictory versions about Jang’s former ties to Sun Myung Moon’s Unification Church and whether some of Jang’s followers have taught that he is the second coming of Jesus.

imb dr wagnerWagner, who served as second vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003-2004 and finished fourth in a field of six candidates who ran for SBC president in 2008, acknowledged in the newspaper article that Olivet has done a poor job of public relations but recently hired A. Larry Ross Communications from Dallas, which works with high-profile evangelical clients including Rick Warren and Billy Graham.

LifeWay’s news release said it would be premature to disclose specific details of a potential sale, but provisions would include that LifeWay continue using Glorieta and prohibit any future resale of the property without approval by LifeWay’s board of trustees. One condition of the sale requires a “comprehensive review of the theological compatibility of the organizations.”

"LifeWay is aware of past concerns about some of Olivet's relationships and theology,” said Marty King, LifeWay’s director of communications. “As part of our due diligence, we have created a process to ensure the theological compatibility of Olivet and LifeWay.”

King said the review will be done by a team of theologians from outside of both organizations and would likely take several weeks. Any sale of Glorieta would have to be approved by LifeWay’s trustees, whose next meeting is in August.

Talk of selling Glorieta resurfaced after an ad hoc task force of the Baptist Convention of New Mexico decided that the costs of deferred maintenance, environmental study and legal liability made it impossible for them to come up with a viable business plan for the conference center. Last fall New Mexico Baptists passed a resolution in their annual meeting asking LifeWay to find a way to continue Glorieta’s ministry to Southern Baptists “well into the future or until Jesus returns.”

The resolution followed a vote by LifeWay trustees to scale back operations at Glorieta, which had lost money 24 of the previous 25 years, and explore options for disposition of the property, including possible alliance with other ministries or sale.

Wagner, Olivet’s president, has been pastor of nine Baptist churches located in four different countries. He served 32 years with the Southern Baptist International Mission Board and taught missions and evangelism at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary in Mill Valley, Calif., from 1995 until 2005. In addition to his presidency, he serves as senior pastor of Snyder Lane Baptist Church in Rohnert Park, Calif.

Some criticized Wagner’s 2004 book, How Islam Plans to Change the World, for being anti-Muslim. He said the book was not meant to be a condemnation of Islam but rather to warn of a detailed strategy for Islamic world domination he says was in place long before 9/11.