04/10/11 — Churches question Mount Olive College practices

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Churches question Mount Olive College practices

By Matthew Whittle
Published in News on April 10, 2011 1:50 AM

Faced with a resolution that would split their denomination over the policies and practices of Mount Olive College, a group of area Original Free Will Baptist ministers is holding a series of meetings beginning Monday to address the issues raised.

At the center of the debate are the college's acceptance of money connected to alcohol sales, its teaching of evolution and its hiring of a female chaplain.

At the annual meeting of the Western Conference of Original Free Will Baptists in October 2010, pastor James M. Rogerson Jr. of Mount Zion Free Will Baptist Church -- also known as Mount Zion Fellowship Center -- presented a resolution that would withdraw the conference from the state Convention of Original Free Will Baptist Churches.

It was then immediately tabled so that it could be shared with and discussed by all 51 churches in the conference.

The resolution reads: "Whereas Mount Olive College has consistently practiced policies and taught unscriptural theories and ideas (evolution), and has allowed those who sell alcohol to sit on their Board, and has accepted funds from breweries and become partners with them through their support, and whereas the college has now hired a woman to be the campus pastor/chaplain, and whereas four conferences have not begun to license and/or ordain women.

"Be it know (sic) that the Western Conference of Original Free Will Baptist withdraws from the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists until such time as these matters are addressed and resolved to the satisfaction of the churches of the Western Conference of Original Free Will Baptists."

But doing so would have tremendous ramifications for those churches voting to leave, said the Rev. Gary Bailey, pastor of Stoney Creek Free Will Baptist Church.

"To withdraw from the conference is to withdraw from the denomination, and then you can no longer call yourself an Original Free Will Baptist Church," he said.

Additionally, he explained, the church would lose its right of representation and voting at the convention, pastors' credentials could be placed in jeopardy, and any people withdrawing from an Original Free Will Baptist church could lose all right to any funds and property associated with that church. Withdrawal also would mean that members of those churches would no longer be eligible to receive the Free Will Baptist Scholarships and Free Will Baptist Ministerial Grants at Mount Olive College, which was founded by the denomination.

"What we're trying to do with these meetings is educate people," he said.

However, he doesn't feel that the resolution is likely to pass -- that since being introduced six months ago there hasn't been any show of public support for it.

"I really feel like this has been blown out of proportion. Nobody has come out and said we're all in favor of this. But it was introduced, a group of concerned Free Will Baptist ministers and some interested laypeople gathered to determine how we could best defeat the resolution," Bailey said. "We have no authority -- we're simply concerned Free Will Baptists -- but we feel that if people know what's going on, this will be easily defeated.

"I feel pretty confident. Our goal is to promote unity in the denomination and not to allow a rift."

Bailey said he understands that the issues of alcohol and women in the ministry are difficult ones that people struggle with, but that historically Free Will Baptist churches have ordained women and have always recognized the ordinations of other conferences, and that while alcohol is addressed in the Free Will Baptist Church Convenant, it is not mentioned in the denomination's Articles of Faith, and that those associated with the Pope Fund have not tried to influence the college in any way.

But all those issues will be addressed by the meetings that are scheduled to be held through April and into May.

And while representatives from the college will be at these meetings, MOC President Dr. Philip Kerstetter said he is not too concerned about the resolution.

"I pray a lot about it. But any denomination is like a big family. They're not always going to agree on things and we understand that," he said. "I don't want to make this bigger than some people want to make it. If we're focused on what we're supposed to be doing, then we're going to be fine."

That means, he said, making sure the college continues to serve its students by providing quality educational and life experiences, as well as serving the denomination by making its campus, faculty and staff and other services available to member churches.

And at this point, said Kevin Jean, vice president for institutional advancement, the college has not received any indication that this resolution will adversely affect the funding it receives from the denomination and member churches.

"I think our support is very strong, and I think it is going to remain strong moving forward," he said.

Rogerson could not be reached for comment.

The Pew to Pew Meetings will be held at 7:30 p.m., Monday at Micro OFWB Church in Micro , April 18 at Spring Hill OFWB Church in Goldsboro, April 25 at Kenly OFWB Church in Kenley, May 2 at Milbournie OFWB Church in Wilson, and May 9 at Little Rock OFWB Church in Lucama.