Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board are seeking removal of a fellow trustee, reportedly accusing him of “slander” and “gossip” in a weblog documenting internal politicking on the trustee board.
Trustee chairman Tom Hatley released a statement Wednesday stating that IMB trustees voted to recommend that Wade Burleson of Oklahoma be removed by the convention as a trustee of the International Mission Board.
Hatley, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark., called it “a rare and grievous action but one that was absolutely necessary for the board to move forward in its duties as prescribed by the SBC.”
IMB trustees do not have the authority to remove a board member on their own. Trustees are elected by the Southern Baptist Convention, and can only be removed by a two-thirds majority vote of messengers at the annual meeting. That means Burleson can continue to attend IMB meetings until the convention acts on the request this summer.
He indicated he plans to continue to attend plenary sessions open to the public, but because of “serious charges” pending against him, he will avoid executive sessions. He urged readers to plan to attend the June 13-14 SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., and to “vote your conscience” on his removal.
Burleson said he supported the “conservative resurgence” in the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and opposed the moderate Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in the 1990s.
But in December he wrote an article, “Crusading Conservatives vs. Cooperating Conservatives,” describing a new “war for the future of the Southern Baptist Convention.”
“I am glad and I rejoice over the conservative resurgence,” Burleson wrote. “I am a conservative. I love my convention.”
“But sadly, a new war has begun. It is a war initiated by fellow conservatives; conservatives who have forgotten how to put their swords in their respective sheaths. It is a war that technically may not have just begun, but one that simply never ended.”
Burleson said: “Conservatives who loved the battles of decades past have fallen victim to a crusading mentality of bloodthirst. Since all the liberals are gone, conservative crusaders are now killing fellow conservatives.”
An example of that war, Burleson said, was adoption of a new International Mission Board policy saying the agency would no longer appoint missionaries who use a “private prayer language” or have not been baptized by a “qualified administrator” of baptism.
The IMB adopted the new policies on Nov. 15. One said if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, a missionary candidate is eliminated from being a representative of the IMB.
Burleson said he opposed the change, because he believed the old policy barring only missionaries who spoke in tongues publicly was adequate. He said the new policy would have prevented the appointment of Bertha Smith, a legendary missionary to China who died at age 100 in 1988, and even the board’s current president, Jerry Rankin, who made known when he was hired that he had experienced a private prayer language but agreed to abide by IMB policy to never practice “glossalalia” in public.
Another requires that missionary candidates be baptized in a church that “practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone.” A person whose baptism was in a church that does not meet certain standards “is expected to request baptism in his/her Southern Baptist church as a testimony of identification with the system of belief held by Southern Baptist churches.”
Opposition to that policy stems from fear of creeping “Landmarkism,” a 19th century view of Baptist origins that holds to a historical succession of “true” churches. One tenet is that a baptism is valid only if conducted by a proper “administrator,” who in turn had been baptized by a proper administrator before him, and so on.
Burleson said the policy adds to Scripture and supersedes the autonomy of the local church.
Burleson said he was told some trustees “will settle for nothing less than Dr. Rankin’s ‘head on a platter,'” commenting: “A conservative killing a conservative. What a shame.”
While Burleson said the convention was right to rise up against “liberalism” 20 years ago, he believes the SBC is now headed down “the road of religious Fundamentalism.”
He said the “war that his now taking place with crusading conservatives attacking cooperating conservatives is following the same battle plan” used earlier against moderates.
Potential trustees are being “vetted,” he alleged, by men or women who believe “no conservative is worthy of leadership that does not toe the party line.”
“Crusading” conservatives, he said, are caucusing in private meetings to push their agenda at trustee meetings, which he called “an unethical violation of all agencies’ guidelines,” as well as to elect chairmen of boards and influence nominations to different boards and agencies of persons “who are in lock step with crusader goals.”
In a Monday blog he described confronting a group of 10-12 trustees overheard discussing board business in a hotel lobby, “a clear violation of trustee policies and procedures [against] establishing agendas and motions outside of normal trustee meetings.” He said the men told him they were simply eating pizza.
Burleson said Wednesday that the trustee chairman read a statement into the record that the SBC is being requested by a two-thirds vote of IMB trustees to remove him as a member of the board. He said he was not given a copy of the statement, but it contained the words “slander” and “gossip.”
But Burleson insisted he has always spoken the truth, did not violate any confidentiality policies or guidelines and acted only in what he believed was the best interest of the Southern Baptist Convention.
He said his chief concern is not whether he is right or wrong about the policy on tongues, but rather to “capture the interest and commitment of what I believe is a critical mass of conservative SBC members in general, and a younger generation of SBC pastors and leaders in particular, who are increasingly feeling disenfranchised because of attempts to demand conformity to interpretations of the Bible with which even reasonable, conservative inerrantists may disagree.”
Burleson said SBC Executive Committee President Morris Chapman’s address to the convention in 2004, “The Fundamentals of Cooperating,” is a must-read “for every Southern Baptist who is concerned about the future of cooperating conservatives reaching our world for Christ.”
Burleson isn’t the only IMB trustee blogging about board controversy. Rick Thomas, pastor of Council Road Baptist Church in Oklahoma, said Wednesday that he considered resigning from the board in protest of the vote to oust Burleson but decided to say on, in part because he supports Rankin.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
Editor’s note: This story, updated Thursday morning, includes new and updated information in the first, second, third, 13th, 15th, 16th, 17th and final paragraphs.