Asian seminary drops IMB, picks Mercer
___By Bob Allen
___Associated Baptist Press
___MACON, Ga. (ABP)--Mercer University has announced establishment of a new 15-year partnership with the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. The move by the consortium of Baptist schools in nine Asian countries ends a 40-year relationship with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.
___Under the arrangement announced by Mercer officials Aug. 13, the Macon, Ga.,-based university will provide financial support for the Asian seminary's administrative office and primary meetings.
___Mercer also will establish a scholarship fund to allow an Asian student to study at Mercer's McAfee School of Theology in Atlanta or another university program every three years.
___Trustees of the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary approved the new partnership Aug. 11. The vote reportedly reflects a growing desire to have the direction of the school determined by Asians and not by Western missionary organizations that provide funding. It also represents dissatisfaction with policies of the Richmond, Va.,-based International Mission Board, which Asian critics say increasingly try to dictate theology and administrative practices from the United States.
___The trustee vote changed the seminary's constitution by replacing a reference to "sponsorship" by the IMB with "partnership" with Mercer, a symbolically significant change.
___The Asian Baptist seminary's president, Chow Lien Hwa, said in a statement the new partnership would generate ministry opportunities for both parties and give the Asian seminary the financial security it needs.
___"I am happy about the resolution of the board of trustees of the Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary to form a partnership with Mercer University," Chow said. He said the vote was "neither personal nor sentimental" but represents "the careful and prayerful deliberation" of the board of trustees.
___The seminary, which is a consortium of nine national Baptist schools in Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines and Indonesia, opened in 1960 with five students. For years the number of students remained small, between 50 and 100, but in recent years has grown to more than 250 graduate students from 15 different countries, Chow said.
___Graham Walker, who has been academic dean of the Asian school since 1993, recently resigned as an International Mission Board missionary in the Philippines to join Mercer's faculty as a professor of theology. Walker, who grew up as a missionary child in Singapore, will serve as the university's liaison for the partnership.
___The IMB responded to the partnership by announcing it no longer will provide funds and missionary personnel will not teach graduate-level courses in the consortium.
___Eight IMB missionaries have carried doctoral-level teaching loads, while seven more have taught occasionally, according to a Baptist Press report.
___Don Dent, IMB regional leader for Southeast Asia and Oceania, said in a letter to consortium trustees that the IMB desired to continue its relationship with the Asian seminary. He warned, however, that the IMB would not work with Mercer because of theological views associated with the university's president, Kirby Godsey.
___Conservatives accused Godsey of being a liberal after reading views in his 1996 book, "When We Talk About God ... Let's Be Honest."
___"If we were to officially partner with Mercer, we would either be stating that Dr. Godsey's theology is of no concern for us or that we believe the president has no influence over an institution," Dent warned. "We are unable to make either of those affirmations."
___Avery Willis, senior vice president of overseas operations, said he and IMB President Jerry Rankin agree with the decision by regional leaders to withdraw from the consortium.
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