ATLANTA — The Georgia Baptist Convention on Tuesday formally ended its 170-year relationship with Mercer University — a relationship that had grown increasingly troubled over the convention’s concerns that Mercer is more liberal than its Southern Baptist roots.

Convention members had voted last year to sever ties with the Macon, Ga., institution. Tuesday’s second vote finalized the split, which means Mercer must seek Baptist funding from individual churches rather than the convention.

Mercer also has control now over choosing its trustees.

Mercer had prepared for the funding loss by cutting $8.5 million from its more than $171.5 million dollar budget this year. The convention funded $3.5 million in scholarships and another $2 million for the Georgia Baptist College of Nursing on Mercer’s Atlanta campus.

The convention already has transferred $25.5 million in endowment and trusts to Mercer.

Convention members were disturbed last year by a National Coming Out Day program on campus — called the Mercer Triangle Symposium — sponsored by a gay student group and supported by faculty and staff.

“The waters had been troubled for some time over a number of issues, but that seemed to be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” said Wayne Robertson, chairman of the convention’s administration committee and pastor at Morningside Baptist Church in Valdosta, Ga.

Mercer President William D. Underwood said the college will continue a relationship with its founding denomination.

“Mercer remains committed to its historic Baptist roots and continues to have close ties with Baptists and Baptist churches throughout Georgia, the nation and the world,” he said in a news release.

The state convention met Monday and Tuesday in Duluth, Ga.

The convention still has ties to three Georgia colleges: Shorter College in Rome, Brewton-Parker College in Mount Vernon and Truett-McConnell College in Cleveland.

In 2003, Shorter moved to sever ties with the convention after a regional agency questioned the school’s independence and threatened its accreditation because of the power vested in the Baptist association.

But Georgia’s Supreme Court rejected the separation in May, saying the Baptists have sole power to appoint the college’s trustees.

As the Georgia convention was going through its first vote to part from Mercer last year, the Tennessee Baptist Convention voted to end funding for Belmont University in Nashville. Belmont wanted the freedom to elect non-Baptist trustees.

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On the Net:

Georgia Baptist Convention: http://www.gabaptist.org

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