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Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary
Board of Trustees Dismisses President,
Cites Inappropriate Anger
By HELEN T. GRAY - The Kansas City Star
Date: 09/14/99 22:15
The board of trustees of Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary voted Tuesday to dismiss the president, Mark Coppenger, citing problems he has with anger.
The vote at a specially called meeting was the climax of a two-month investigation by the board's executive committee into allegations that Coppenger had inappropriately expressed anger with other individuals, including members of the seminary staff.
Twenty-nine of the board's 35 trustees attended the meeting at the Kansas City Airport Hilton.
The Rev. Carl Weiser of Lynchburg, Va., the board's chairman, said: "After hours of agonizing discussion and interviews with Dr. Coppenger and (seminary) vice presidents, a majority of the board concluded that the expressions of anger admitted to by Dr. Coppenger had irreparably damaged his ability to lead the seminary."
The board and the Midwestern family "have suffered an enormous hurt as the result of the board's action today," Weiser said in a prepared statement that commended Coppenger for "his four years of outstanding innovation, creativity and dedication to the Lord's work."
Coppenger, 51, said simply as he walked to his car: "God is in control, and I am looking forward to the next thing. I wish the best for Midwestern, and I will be cheering from the sidelines."
He commented that he had received calls, letters, faxes and e-mails of support.
The board appointed Michael Whitehead, the seminary's vice president of business affairs and assistant professor of church and law, as interim president. He said he was feeling a "grief similar to the death of a friend" and expressed concern for Coppenger.
Midwestern, with about 700 students, is one of six seminaries owned and operated by the Southern Baptist Convention, the largest Protestant denomination in the United States. An estimated 80,000 Southern Baptists live in the Kansas City area.
The Rev. Jay Sparks, president of the student body association, said he was in shock, adding there had been a lot of support for the president.
Weiser said at a news conference that personally he felt "it's a difficult, gut-wrenching time for all of us."
Coppenger had expressed repentance for "misappropriation of anger" in a meeting with the executive committee July 30. The committee was to report back to the full board at its regularly scheduled meeting in mid-October, but more than a dozen trustees asked for the special meeting to deal with the issue.
In July, Coppenger told the executive committee: "I'm contacting folks who've been stung by my anger, and I'm seeking reconciliation. I think God will use this in his work of revival here and beyond."
He has taken exception to what he called "unfair criticism" and questioned allegations from unnamed sources in a Baptist publication.
Trustees had unanimously elected Coppenger as the third president of Midwestern four years ago. He had been a pastor, a philosophy professor, executive director of the Baptist Convention in Indiana and vice president for convention relations with the Southern Baptist Convention executive committee.
A theological conservative, Coppenger had vowed that the seminary at 5001 N. Oak Trafficway would stand on the inerrancy of the Bible. He also has emphasized evangelism and spiritual development.
As word of the board's decision spread throughout local Southern Baptist circles, many expressed sadness.
"This is a huge tragedy, a shame," said the Rev. Paul Brooks, pastor of First Baptist Church of Raytown, whose son, Mark Brooks, is a Midwestern student. Coppenger, he said, "had done a very fine job. The school had grown, and fine professors had come in."
Nodell Dennis, executive director of the Blue River-Kansas City Baptist Association, said, however, that if what he had heard and read about Coppenger's directing his anger toward people and "dehumanizing people"
is true, then "he did need to be dismissed."
"But I'm sad that you would find that in any religious institution."
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