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Trustees of the Southern Baptist Convention‘s International Mission Board (IMB) voted Nov. 6 to censure a board member for violating new rules designed to silence public dissent. The vote was taken behind closed doors (surprised?), and no count was announced.

Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson first drew the ire of fellow board members when he dared to speak against another set of new rules designed to tighten restrictions on potential missionaries, eliminating those whose baptism did not meet certain standards, along with those who practice a “prayer language,” even in private.

After Burleson spoke publicly about the issue, and discussions surrounding it, the trustees enacted new board policies stating that members could not speak negatively about IMB business or publicly disclose conversations with other board members. Burleson, upholding the Baptist tradition of one’s right to dissent, voted against the policies.

Prior to the Nov. 5-7 meeting, fellow trustee Jerry Corbaley e-mailed a 153-page accusation against Burleson to other board members, calling for his dismissal from the board. The e-mail charged Burleson with slander and consisted mostly of several of Burleson’s blog posts, along with readers’ comments.

Burleson said he attempted to talk with Corbaley about the matter, but Corbaley has pointedly shunned him, citing a biblical injunction to have nothing to do with troublemakers.

Getting no response from his accuser, Burleson posted Corbaley’s charges on his blog.

The IMB did not dismiss Burleson, but did approve a three-page document censuring Burleson for publicly disclosing “private” conversations with other board members, including Corbaley and trustee chair John Floyd.

When the vote was announced near the end of the meeting on Nov. 7, Burleson sought to speak, but Floyd had Burleson’s microphone turned off, according to Ben Cole, who is joining Burleson’s staff at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Oklahoma.

The IMB’s news page offered no news about the action as of 3:30 p.m. Nov. 7, but Burleson has posted a personal account and response on his blog.

Fellow trustees voted not only to censure Burleson, but to suspend him from participation in the next four meetings. Burleson is prohibited “from any active involvement with the board of trustees for at least the next four trustee meetings,” according to a post on Baptist Press.

Free speech and principled dissent are cherished values in most parts of America and among most Baptists, but are no longer recognized by the IMB trustees.

There seems to be a failure on their part to understand that rank and file Baptists are not entirely gullible. When the only information they are allowed to get is carefully packaged and questions are not allowed, trust will inevitably plummet. That may be fine for the theological ideologues who run the show, but it can’t be good for the missionaries — or the offerings that support them.

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