A trustee facing removal from the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board said Thursday he is innocent of gossip and slander, charges leveled against him publicly in a motion requesting his removal from the board.
IMB trustees voted Tuesday night to recommend that Wade Burleson of Oklahoma be removed by the convention as a trustee of the International Mission Board.
Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and past two-term president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, has written extensively on a weblog criticizing the board’s new policy on baptism and speaking in tongues, as well as discussing political infighting between factions he describes as “cooperating” and “crusading” conservatives.
Burleson says charges against him, as read into the official record, included slander, gossip, lack of accountability and a loss of trust. But an IMB press release on Wednesday omitted the references to slander and gossip.
“To defend oneself from gossip or slander (actually they probably meant ‘libel’), one must know the specific charges upon which the accusations are based,” Burleson blogged Thursday after returning home from meetings in Richmond, Va. “I have received nothing.”
Burleson said he doubts trustee leadership actually desires to press the specific allegations of gossip and slander–which would explain the removal of those two words from the public press release–but they remain in the official record. “At some point, that public allegation against me will need to be addressed,” he said.
To defend statements alleged to be libelous, Burleson said, he would have to reveal names, events and actions he has witnessed firsthand. “I’m not sure anyone wants that,” he said.
Burleson said he has intentionally written about “principles” and not “people,” in an effort to “effect change without harming reputations or people.”
Burleson said if he was asked once, he was asked 15 times to resign from the board after the vote to remove him passed.
“The carrot that was offered was that there would be no press release that would be damaging to me or the IMB,” he said. “Some of the appeals were very, very passionate. All of them were phrased in such a way as to save everyone embarrassment.”
The official statement released by the trustees described an “impasse” between Burleson and the board of trustees. “From my perspective there is not an impasse, and never has been one,” he wrote. “When actions that were taken either violated or went beyond the principles we as Southern Baptists have historically stood upon, the forum for dissent moved to the convention at large. The convention now has the opportunity to speak.”
Burleson opposed two IMB policies on missionary appointments adopted last fall in meetings of the board, and since their adoption he has taken his case to Southern Baptists at large via the Internet.
One policy says if “private prayer language” is an ongoing part of his or her conviction and practice, a missionary candidate is disqualified for missionary service.
Burleson said he opposed the change, because he believed the old policy barring only missionaries who spoke in tongues publicly was adequate.
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.”
Burleson’s 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 he has heard from many people who say they intend to go to the SBC annual meeting this summer in Greensboro, N.C., to oppose his removal.
He urged his supporters to continue to support Southern Baptist missions despite their disagreement. “Don’t pull out. Don’t leave. Don’t quit giving,” he advised. “I won’t and my church won’t. The mission is too important.”
Burleson said he believes every person who voted for his removal sincerely believed he was disruptive to the mission of the organization.
But he added that most trustees are 50 and over, and some are in their 70s. He said he isn’t sure how many have ever read his blog, but some think a blog is like “computer pornography”–which he said in an actual quote.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.