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"I'm not Jesus."

Posted by – 10/10/06

Today I traveled with a group of about 25 or 30 other Belmont students down to the Tennessee Baptist Convention headquarters to peacefully hand them letters showing our concern in regards to the lawsuit against Belmont. We’d used Facebook to organize ourselves, and according to the confirmed attendees on the website, we expected to see at least 86 people involved. As it turned out, fewer actually attended, but those that did had some great things to say.

Belmont’s legal council apparently contacted the protest’s organizers–Nicole Loveless, Nick Williams, and Melody Drushal–last night to discourage the event from actually taking place. In a meeting today, the three students spearheading the protest ironed out some of the details with Belmont’s legal council, and though there was still discouragement and a firm stance from the lawyers that Belmont was not in any way supporting the protest, the decision whether or not to proceed was left up to the students. After prayer and consideration, they decided to continue as planned.

Taking to heart a suggestion from Belmont’s legal council, the protest’s organizers chose to notify the TBC of our intentions. The representative from the TBC was very gracious and welcoming and invited us to have an open question and answer session with James Porch, the Executive Director of the TBC. Our organizers also chose to notify the media, and I saw both Fox 17 News and News 2 covering the protest.

Once we arrived, we were greeted warmly at the door by several smiling faces including that of James Porch. They directed us down to the chapel where a large group of people were gathered awaiting our arrival. I can only assume some were the Executive Board, according to Jamie Tucker’s coverage on News 2.

Before we began, the Executive Director asked that we try to keep things as civil as possible and when we asked a question, that we would stand and state our name and where we were from. He then gave us a brief history of the TBC’s involvement with Belmont, emphasizing that Belmont would never have made it off the ground and into the university that it is today without the TBC’s gifts. He then began taking questions. About 10 minutes into the discussion, I started furiously scribbling notes, knowing that I simply couldn’t let this event go unreported. (Sidenote: Both the TBC and the protest organizers had asked that no media be involved in the discussion. As James Porch was putting his mic on and testing it, Melody asked if there was media in the room. Porch responded, “No, there is not.” At the end of the session, Connie Bushey with the official newsjournal of the Tennessee Baptist Convention, the Baptist & Reflector, approached me to ask if it was okay to include my name and a photo in the next issue.)

Several minutes into the session, one student stood up and asked– all legal issues aside, even assuming Belmont was completely at fault in this matter, if filing this kind of lawsuit really seemed like something that pursues the things of Christ. Porch, who up until now in the discussion had been somewhat pleasant and cordial, responded, “We’re not getting into theology here.” He went one to say that the reason the group was here today was to discuss the relationship between Belmont and the TBC, not the theological implications of it. Apparently our dealings with others and the Christ-like manner in which we are to do so are two separate matters.
Making reference to the earlier mention of money given to Belmont as gracious gifts, the student replied, “But would Jesus use money as leverage against someone he’d been gracious toward?”

After a few seconds, Porch replied, “I’m not Jesus.” He followed the comment with an analogy of buying a house with a mortgage and how you can’t just stop paying the mortgage whenever you like and not expect to be foreclosed upon. “Belmont chose to dissociate their governance [Board of Trustees] from the TBC.”

In the back of the room, another student stood and asked a leading question, “It seems in a contract like this, you’d really want two copies of the deal, one for each party to keep. Where’s the other copy?” The question was in reference to the contractual memo found by Belmont last year, the TBC’s copy of which has yet to be found.

Immediately, the TBC lawyer stood up and said it was not at all appropriate to be commenting on those specifics at this time.

Nicole, one of the event organizers, asked, “The way the contract was written, is there no way that Belmont could properly dissociate from the TBC?” Porch responded, “The issue here is an agreement to refund the TBC gifts given to Belmont.”

“Yes, but is there any way Belmont should’ve done it?”

“If Belmont had met the prescribed way. The way you came in is the way you go back out.”

Another protest organizer, Melody, stood and asked, “Is this lawsuit meant to be for punishment or persuasion?”

“This was initiated by Belmont. Nobody at the TBC wanted it to come to this.

“Wasn’t there a settlement offered by Belmont last year around this time?”

“There has been no agreeable settlement reached.”

A little later, after much hemming and hawing around similarly phrased questions and even more similarly phrased responses, I stood up to ask one myself: “I am not asking this question as a Belmont student, but as a member of a Tennessee Baptist affiliated church. My heart is grieved when I look at how this might seem to the outside world: a Christian organization suing one of its own universities. And I’m concerned that we are not pursuing this in the manner that scripture prescribes. I’m not a theologian. I’m just an audio engineer. Maybe I’m misunderstanding something, but when I read 1 Corinthians I just can’t see how this lawsuit squares with that scripture.”

The Executive Director quickly began, “There has been careful thought and prayer that has gone into this decision. And I also want you to know that none of the people in this building have made this decision, so if you all want to keep emailing them, I just want you to know that. The Convention has appointed a committee to make this decision.” He stopped and took a long pause. “There have been repeated efforts to settle this. In our Christian walk, we must remember that while there is grace, there is also justice. Those two go hand in hand. There’s grace, but there’s also justice. And there has been no malice toward Belmont, but rather this is a fundamental issue of a contract violation.”

I’m not sure if Dr. Porch was referring to the $5 million offer from Belmont or not, but he right when he said the Convention hasn’t found it acceptable.

The final question of the day came from a classmate of mine, who stood and asked a two-in-one. “What are the objectives of the TBC in this lawsuit? To re-establish a relationship or to protect the rights of the TBC? And also, if I could ask this one real quick since I know we have to go… I was raised with the idea that if you give someone a gift, you don’t expect to get it back. You just gave it. So was this money to Belmont really a gift or was did it come with strings?”

Porch: “As stated in the contract, the Tennessee Baptist Convention would honor the agreement as long as Belmont honored it. We have now been put in a position where we’re forced to take action.”

Dr. Porch then thanked us for coming and for our concern, and then asked if he could pray to close the session. During the prayer he asked God that Belmont would come to an agreeable settlement.

This post is already long enough. Perhaps some commentary on the session will follow in the next few days. After all, it is Belmont’s fall break in a few days. I’ll leave you with part of a letter from the Apostle Paul to the church in Corinth:

The very fact that you have lawsuits among you means you have been completely defeated already. Why not rather be wronged? Why not rather be cheated? Instead, you yourselves cheat and do wrong, and you do this to your brothers.

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3 Comments on "I'm not Jesus."

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  1. Christy says:

    Thank you for this. I participated in the forum, as well; it’s good to have some direct, reported quotes to which to refer.

  2. Daniel says:

    Thanks for taking such good notes. I am using your posting to better expain to others what we did.

  3. [...] I’m glad to see the end of it. Earlier this year I went down with some 25 to 30 other Belmont students to protest the TBC’s actions (detailed in the post “I’m Not Jesus.”) [...]

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