Wade Burleson, whose fellow members of the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board are seeking his removal as a trustee, is a new member of the board, elected in 2005. But his roots in Southern Baptist life go deep.
His ancestor, Rufus Burleson, was the second president of Baylor University (1851-1861 and again 1886-1897) and president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. He was pastor of churches in Houston, Independence and Waco, but is perhaps most famous for baptizing Sam Houston.
Previous pastors include Mack Roark, who went on to teach the Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, and Hayes Wicker, now pastor of First Baptist Church in Naples, Fla., and current president of the Florida Baptist Convention.
In December Burleson began writing about his opposition to recent changes in IMB policy concerning missionary appointments and caucusing by fellow trustees who want to fire board president Jerry Rankin on a weblog called “Grace and Truth to You.”
Last week members of the International Mission Board took what is thought to be an unprecedented action of asking this year’s convention to unseat Burleson as a trustee, citing him for gossip, slander, lack of accountability and loss of trust. Burleson says he has neither gossiped nor slandered anyone.
“I bleed Southern Baptist blood,” Burleson wrote in December. He stood with fellow conservatives battling “liberalism” in the 1980s and 1990s. When the Cooperating Baptist Fellowship of Oklahoma organized on Feb. 29, 1992, Burleson nailed a “95 Thesis Against Formation of the CBF” on a conference room door, marking him forever as an enemy of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.
Burleson ran as an unannounced candidate for president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma in 2002 and narrowly won. He was re-elected in 2003 and currently sits on the BGCO board of directors.
The state convention’s executive director, Anthony Jordan, said he doesn’t know specifics of the IMB situation but that Burleson has provided, and continues to provide, “outstanding service” to the BGCO.
“Wade has demonstrated excellent leadership and integrity, while exemplifying a passion for reaching the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Jordan said in a statement on the convention Web site.
The motion calling for Burleson’s removal is thought to be a first by a trustee board in 160 years of SBC history for reasons other than non-attendance of meetings.
Individual messengers have challenged trustees from the floor of the annual convention, but usually without success.
In 1989 a motion was made from the floor to remove Curtis Caine as a trustee of the Christian Life Commission. Caine, a medical doctor from Jackson, Miss., made comments at a CLC meeting in October 1998 warning against use of certain terminology in programs of the agency.
Speaking of “race relations,” Caine said, according to Baptist Press, “We have to be very careful that we do not get caught in the trap that is closing in around us about apartheid in South Africa, which doesn’t exist any more and was beneficial when it did, because it meant separate development.”
He also said: “We have to be very careful that we don’t get caught up in the endorsement of–quote ‘the reverend,’ unquote–Martin Luther King,” calling the slain civil-rights leader a fraud.
The motion calling for Caine’s removal was postponed a year pending study of legal ramifications of removing a trustee. The SBC Executive Committee in 1990 declared the motion moot, since Caine’s four-year term of service expired that year. However, he was elected a second term that expired in 1994.
Cecil Sims, then executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, brought a motion in 1994 requesting three officers of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s board of trustees to resign their positions for firing Russell Dilday as president of the seminary that March. But that motion was also ruled out of order after messengers voted against another motion calling for an investigation into the Dilday firing.
In 1990 Lamar Wadsworth, then a pastor in Baltimore, made a motion on the convention floor seeking removal of Jerry Johnson, a trustee of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary from Colorado, who had accused seminary President Roy Honeycutt and other faculty members of heresy.
Wadsworth, who now works in a mental health center and is a member of Heritage Baptist Church in Cartersville, Ga., said if his memory is correct his motion was discussed briefly before also being ruled out of order.
Johnson, who at the time was a seminary student, went on to become chairman of the seminary trustee board. He later earned a doctorate there and became dean Boyce College, Southern Seminary’s undergraduate school. Today Johnson is president of Criswell College.
On Sunday Burleson told his congregation the allegations against him seem to be an attack against his character, but his soul is at rest, because he is living by a principle.
“The principle for which I am fighting is as follows,” he said, according to the Enid News & Eagle. “Conservative Baptists should cooperate in missions and evangelism even though we may disagree with each other over minor doctrines.”
In an e-mail response to EthicsDaily.com, Burleson said he has no regrets for participating in the “conservative resurgence” beginning in 1979. He is a “man of principle,” he said. For him the principle in the 1980s was the integrity of the Bible. The principle today is different, he said, a struggle to make sure people have the “freedom to disagree on interpretations of sacred text.”
Burleson declined to answer other questions, saying his feelings are reported in his blog.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.