Va. Baptists to study ties with UR in light of new homosexuality policy

by Robert Dilday, posted Tuesday, April 27, 1999 (18 years ago)

RICHMOND, Va. (BP)--Ties between Virginia Baptists and the University of Richmond will be examined by a task force named April 13 in response to the university’s decision to add sexual orientation to its non-discrimination policy.

The seven-member task force was created by the Virginia Baptist Mission Board’s executive committee, which asked board chairman Gene Watson to name four of the panel’s members. An additional three members were selected by the board’s committee on student ministries.

The task force’s findings, including any recommendations it proposes, will be presented at the board’s Oct. 12-13 meeting. Based on those findings, the board may choose to offer recommendations to the Baptist General Association of Virginia at its annual meeting, Nov. 9-10 in Richmond.

Margaret Wayland of Danville, Va., a former president of the Baptist General Association of Virginia and of Virginia Woman’s Missionary Union, will chair the task force. Wayland, a graduate of the University of Richmond, is a member of West Main Baptist Church in Danville.

Others members named by Watson are Jim Baucom Jr., pastor of Rivermont Avenue Baptist Church, Lynchburg, and a former BGAV first vice president; Jerry Holcomb, pastor of Kings Grant Baptist Church, Virginia Beach, and a former BGAV president; and Ray Spence, pastor of Second Baptist Church, Richmond, and chairman of the BGAV budget committee.

Members representing the student services committee are its chairman, Keith Smith, pastor of University Baptist Church, Charlottesville; Franklin Cain, a retired school administrator from Richmond and member of Chamberlayne Baptist Church, Richmond; and Don Davidson, pastor of Mount Hermon Baptist Church, Danville.

Trustees of the University of Richmond expanded the school’s non-discrimination policy March 5 to prohibit discrimination against gays and lesbians in student, faculty and staff recruitment and promotion.

UR officials said the decision merely explicates a longstanding practice and trustee Lewis Booker, in a letter to the Religious Herald, newsjournal of the BGAV, maintained the new policy “does not in any way approve or advocate a lifestyle.”

Last year, the BGAV adopted a statement “affirming the biblical teaching that homosexual behavior is sinful and unacceptable to Christians,” while offering guidelines for expressing “Christlike compassion for homosexual persons.”

Three years ago several churches separated from the BGAV to form a new state convention, which now numbers about 150 congregations. One of the reasons cited by the new Southern Baptist Conservatives of Virginia was that the BGAV’s stance on homosexuality wasn’t strong enough.

In a statement to the Mission Board April 13, BGAV Executive Director Reginald McDonough said he applauds the university’s “commitment to non-discrimination. However, I feel that making this public pronouncement goes a step beyond non-discrimination to affirm a lifestyle which I and many other Virginia Baptists believe does not square with biblical teachings.”

McDonough acknowledged the right of UR’s trustees to make decisions “they feel are in the best interest of the school,” but added that “Virginia Baptists must act in accord with our value system.”

Changing the relationship between the University of Richmond and the denomination that founded it 169 years ago will not be a simple matter, warned McDonough. He noted the two continue to be linked in a variety of ways:

-- Four of the school’s 40 trustees are nominated by the BGAV.

-- The BGAV allocates about $230,000 to UR, most of which funds the Virginia Baptist Scholars Program. Approximately 16 students currently are recipients of that program, which provides finances for students from churches affiliated with the BGAV.

-- The Virginia Baptist Historical Society maintains its headquarters and library on the campus in facilities provided by UR at no cost.

-- A partnership agreement negotiated by representatives of the BGAV and of UR governs the relationship between the two, similar to agreements between Virginia Baptists and their other educational and benevolent agencies.

-- UR’s chaplain and associate chaplain are Baptists.

“How can we express our autonomy and still maintain a ministry relationship?” asked McDonough. “From my perspective, I feel it is important for Virginia Baptists to maintain a presence and ministry among the university community. We must not abandon those who will be the future leaders of the church and society. However, I feel it absolutely necessary that we find ways to express in clear terms the autonomous nature and mission of the two entities.”

During its meeting, the mission board adopted a resolution affirming their “support and prayer” for McDonough “in light of the difficult choices ahead” and promising to pray for the task force, “asking the Lord’s wisdom to discern his way as we seek to define the path of the future relationship” between the school and Virginia Baptists.

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