A trustee accused of sowing discord by blogging about disagreement with new International Mission Board policies on baptism and private prayer language and caucusing by fellow trustees opposed to the agency’s president is calling for an outside investigation into the conflict.
Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., was recommended for removal from the IMB in January on charges including gossip and slander for sharing his impressions as a new trustee publicly through a Weblog.
The board of trustees voted unanimously to rescind that recommendation in March, after leaders said they had discovered ways to pursue reconciliation internally.
Then, at the board’s most recent meeting, May 26 in Albuquerque, N.M., the outgoing board chairman took a parting shot, recommending that Burleson’s restriction from serving on board committees continue until he apologizes and changes his position to “follow the biblical model for seeking the restoration of wounded brothers and sisters in Christ.”
Burleson, who described comments by outgoing chairman Tom Hatley as “a blistering indictment of my personal character and integrity,” at first considered posting a blog titled “Who’s Wounded?” to publicly reveal names, dates and events documenting “a pattern of behavior of certain trustees that reveal a disrespect for IMB administration, an intentional violation of board-approved policies, and an agenda that is contrary to our president’s.”
After counsel, including a comment section on his blog, Burleson on Thursday said he intends instead to make a motion later this month at the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Greensboro, N.C., that would authorize the SBC Executive Committee to appoint a committee to investigate five concerns:
–“Manipulation of the nominating process of the Southern Baptist Convention during the appointment of trustees for the International Mission Board.”
–“Attempts to influence and/or coerce the IMB trustees, staff and administration to take a particular course of action by one or more Southern Baptist agency heads other than the president of the International Mission Board.”
–“The appropriate and/or inappropriate use of forums and executive sessions of the International Mission Board as compared to conducting business in full view of the Southern Baptist Convention and the corresponding propriety and/or impropriety of the chairman of the International Mission Board excluding any individual trustee, without Southern Baptist Convention approval, from participating in meetings where the full International Mission Board is convened.”
–“The legislation of new doctrinal requisites for eligibility to serve as employees or missionaries of the IMB beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.”
–“The suppression of dissent by trustees in the minority through various means by those in the majority, and the propriety of any agency forbidding a trustee, by policy, from publicly criticizing a board-approved action.”
The five concerns summarize controversies in postings and comments on Burleson’s blog and numerous spin-offs that have popped up on the Internet since the Oklahoma trustee’s first posting at http://kerussocharis.blogspot.com/ last December. As of Thursday, a Web counter recorded more than 191,000 visitors to the site since Dec. 10, 2005.
Some questioned the propriety of Paige Patterson, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, writing a cover letter for and distributing to IMB trustees a 2003 white paper by missions professor Keith Eitel that criticized the “New Directions” campaign, also called “Strategic Directions for the 21st Century,” implemented under current IMB President Jerry Rankin.
Election of John Floyd as the new IMB chairman raised both political and ethical questions.
A former missionary and high-level administrator at the IMB, Floyd is widely viewed as a driving force behind recent policy changes prohibiting new missionaries from speaking in tongues in their private prayers–a practice that Rankin admits to–and requiring that missionary candidates be baptized by immersion in a church that teaches “eternal security,” and preferably a Baptist church.
Floyd also demonstrated disagreement with IMB policies emphasizing strategic alliances with “Great Commission” Christians in planting indigenous churches. Floyd supported the firing of a missionary couple for planting a “baptistic” church along with Christian and Missionary Alliance missionaries in West Africa.
The couple, Wyman and Michelle Dobbs, eventually were reinstated, but complained the IMB statement explaining why they were allowed to return to the field created the false impression they had admitted to doing something wrong.
One blogger, Marty Duren of SBC Outpost, questioned if the fact that Floyd is a retired missionary who draws a pension from the IMB should disqualify him as a trustee, because an SBC bylaw forbids anyone from serving on a board that provides any part of his or her salary.
Burleson agreed to abide by guidelines approved in March requiring trustees to speak only in “positive and supportive terms” as they interpret and report on actions by the full board, but he says he believes too much discussion takes place in executive sessions and not in open meetings.
One young pastor from Texas announced plans to submit a resolution affirming “principled dissent” at the upcoming SBC meeting, which criticizes attempts to suppress debate on controversial issues.
At the most recent trustee meeting, outgoing IMB chairman Tom Hatley, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., read into the record an official report on the “Wade Burleson issue.”
It accused Burleson of “repeated assertion that our recently approved policy on private prayer language and guidelines on baptism were enacted not for any legitimate purpose having to do with the effectiveness of IMB global operations, but rather as a part of a concerted action on the part of un-named trustees to embarrass and undermine our president.”
Comments on Burleson’s blog, Hatley said, are insulting to the majority of IMB trustees, and he should apologize for questioning fellow trustees’ motives and admit his actions have led to erosion of trust.
Burleson has said repeatedly he would apologize if shown something he wrote is wrong but not just to make people feel better.
Finally, Hatley accused Burleson of “breaches of confidentiality” and recommended the new chairman bar him from trustee forums and executive sessions “because of the lack of ability to restrain himself from publishing information shared in confidence.”
Confused and angered, Burleson went to a microphone and asked Hatley to explain the basis of his charge. Hatley cut off the mike, moving on to a staff report, and then refused to discuss it privately after the meeting.
Later Burleson said the reference was to a blog entry expressing gratitude that IMB trustees were considering a blue-ribbon panel from outside the board to review the new policies on tongues and baptism.
Hatley said the only trustee discussion about the panel before that took place in the trustee forum, which is an executive session. The motion for a review panel, made by the IMB executive committee, later was discussed at length in public before being tabled.
Burleson said the idea was already common knowledge–he had been discussing it with individuals for three weeks–but he would have removed the offending paragraph if anyone had asked.
One blogger pointed out that J.D. Greear, a candidate for second vice president of the SBC being nominated by seminary president Danny Akin, knew about the possibility of an independent review of the policies in an interview published two days before Burleson’s blog.
Hatley also criticized Burleson for “offensive and combative” postings remaining on his blog, using terms such as “crusading conservatives,” which “have not, to my knowledge, been retracted, nor to my knowledge has there been a public or private apology made from these postings by trustee Burleson.”
In fact Burleson in February rewrote his Dec. 10 blog, originally titled, Crusading Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives: The War for the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention. He changed the title to Political Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives: The Struggle for the Future of the Southern Baptist Convention, acknowledging that language in the original was unnecessarily militant.
Burleson’s motion recommends formation of an ad-hoc committee “to determine the sources of the controversies in our International Mission Board, and make findings and recommendations regarding these controversies, so that trustees of the IMB might effect reconciliation and effectively discharge their responsibilities to God and fellow Southern Baptists by cooperating together to accomplish evangelism and missions to the Glory of God.”
He is proposing the committee give progress reports to both the Executive Committee and IMB and make its final report and recommendations at the SBC annual meeting in 2007.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.