JACKSON, Tenn. – Nov. 11, 2009 – Despite a decreasing dependence upon funding from the Tennessee Baptist Convention, Union University is an institution wholeheartedly committed to its TBC roots, Union President David S. Dockery said Nov. 10.
“I think it’s very important that our best friends, who are here in this room tonight, understand that this is not 1975. It’s 2009,” Dockery said at a Union alumni and friends dinner during the TBC’s annual meeting in Jackson, Tenn. “Times are different. The numbers are different. The old paradigms don’t work.
“It’s time for us to look afresh at what it’s going to be like as we move forward together, and do so without changing the foundational commitment that has made Union University what it has been in its relation with the TBC since 1875, what it is today and, by the grace of God, what it can be in days ahead.”
In his address, Dockery gave a brief update about recent developments on campus, and discussed how Union has become one of the few institutions in the country committed to both Christ-centeredness and academic rigor. In the most recent edition of Christianity Today, the magazine cites 20 institutions in the country that fit that description, and Union is one of those 20.
“God has given us an opportunity not only to lead in Tennessee Baptist and Southern Baptist life, but in the larger evangelical world as well,” Dockery said. “We pray that God would help us to be found faithful.”
In “connecting the dots” between where Union University stands and where the TBC and the Southern Baptist Convention are, Dockery said the TBC is at a “poignant moment” as it seeks a new executive director, and he stressed the need for Union’s friends to understand the dynamics of the situation in which Union finds itself as it relates to the convention. When Union moved from downtown Jackson to its campus in north Jackson in 1975, the university had a total budget of less than $4 million and received almost 30 percent of its budget from the TBC. In 2009, Union’s budget is $72 million, and it will receive $2.6 million from the TBC – or barely 3 percent of its budget, Dockery said.
So Union needs leaders to help the university understand how, with only 3 percent support, it can continue to relate to and lead in TBC life, while at the same time Union must of necessity look more broadly for support, Dockery explained. With a new state executive director coming, “The opportunity is prime for us to take a step back and look at our relationships and our connections and how all this fits together, and how we can work together for the glory of God and the good of Tennessee Baptists and the good of Union.”
Part of these discussions center on financials, Dockery said. The 2009-2010 budget approved at this year’s TBC annual meeting was 9 percent less than the previous year, and given the economic challenges and the fact that some people in SBC life are pushing for state conventions to pass more of their money along to the national convention, TBC entities like Union likely will receive less financial support in the future.
Dockery acknowledged that some would encourage Union to follow the example of other Baptist institutions that have outgrown their state conventions – sever ties with the convention and walk away.
“That’s not our desire at all,” Dockery said. “We want to be more connected than ever. We want to be more involved than ever. We want to be leaders and partners with our churches. The relationship has been important throughout our history and is interwoven with our identity and mission.”
The Union president also addressed how the TBC and SBC can continue to work together. Though some people have the idea that state conventions are subservient to the national convention, Dockery said “that’s not good Baptist polity.” In reality, the state conventions are autonomous and the national convention is autonomous, just as local churches are. Baptists gather at the state and national level out of cooperation and commitment to each other, Dockery said.
The main point of that cooperation is to fund mission work, both domestically and internationally, Dockery said. He pointed out that Union has sent more students to serve with the SBC’s International Mission Board over the past 12 years than any other Baptist institution in the country, and stressed Union’s support for the work of the IMB.
As a key member of the TBC, “We’re asking for your help, because we want to relate faithfully as a Tennessee Baptist Convention entity,” Dockery continued.” We want to relate cooperatively to the Southern Baptist Convention. We want to be partners with the churches. We think that Union is poised in the larger evangelical world to help shape the future of Christian higher education in this country.”
Doing that will require wise decisions by Union’s board, strategic decisions about funding and a commitment from local churches to be partners with Union and to pray for the university more than ever, Dockery said.
“With God’s help and your support and good decisions, we can see Union University help carve out a way for the Tennessee Baptist Convention to be one of the most important conventions in a reshaped and a new day of Southern Baptist life,” Dockery said.