International Mission Board trustees voted Wednesday to reverse an earlier vote calling for removal of an Oklahoma trustee who led criticism of a new rule banning appointment of missionaries who use a “private prayer language,” but imposed a gag order to prevent future airing of differences among trustees in public.
Wade Burleson, targeted for removal after criticizing the policy on a widely read Web site, said Wednesday he would abide by new guidelines requiring trustees to speak only in “positive and supportive terms” as they interpret and report on actions by the full board, regardless of whether or not they personally agree.
In a lengthy Tuesday blog, however, which he described as his “final opportunity to speak firmly and critically to the SBC at large,” Burleson said the new policy would limit appropriate criticism of trustee decisions, which he said “can be healthy and drive an organization to excellence.”
“Frankly, if criticism of boards was not allowed by minority dissenters in the 1970s and 1980s the conservative resurgence would never have occurred,” Burleson said.
Trustees voted unanimously to rescind a January vote seeking Burleson’s removal from the board on charges of “gossip and slander,” broken trust and lack of accountability. The new vote came at the request of trustee officers, who said it is better for the board to handle the conflict “internally” instead of taking it to the floor of the Southern Baptist Convention in the form of a motion to dismiss a trustee.
Burleson speculated Tuesday that fellow trustees might take some action against him, including taking away committee assignments. On Wednesday he reported, “I will not be allowed to serve on any committees of the International Mission Board until the chairman, or the board, rules otherwise.”
Burleson said under the new policy, he will no longer be party to criticism of any board action as long as he is a trustee. If conscience demands that he criticize an action, he said, he will resign.
Burleson said he is “prayerfully considering” his future with the board of trustees, and that he might remain on the board as a voice speaking on behalf of “a wide, broad range of people in the SBC.”
A fellow blogger and supporter of Burleson observing the IMB meeting in Tampa, Fla., said the trustee guideline against criticizing board actions “leaves me wondering when we entered the police state of Zion.”
In his blog, SBC Outpost, Marty Duren opposed what he viewed as an effort to censor principled dissent. “It simply will not do for policies of secrecy to take hold, the sole purpose of which is to keep Southern Baptists in the dark,” he wrote.
Burleson has previously said he would abide by any policy banning trustees from blogging, but he believed his public comments did not violate a 50-page trustee manual in use since 1987. In addition to criticizing a new IMB policy against hiring missionaries who speak in tongues in their private prayer, Burleson also opposed new regulations concerning baptism and reported on caucusing he said occurs among board members seeking to force IMB President Jerry Rankin to retire early or to resign.
In Friday’s blog Burleson said he has felt since he was first contacted about serving as an IMB trustee he was being recruited to be part of a trustee caucus who were not pleased with Rankin’s leadership of the IMB. He said he “gently and repeatedly” turned down each request to participate in “informal” meetings.
On Tuesday Burleson said he was “absolutely embarrassed” when several trustees over a course of 30 minutes accused Rankin of “undermining the trustees, intentionally keeping information from trustees, not telling the truth about doctrinal errors on the field … and a host of other things.”
On Wednesday, after the new trustee guidelines took effect, Burleson reiterated his “unqualified support” for Rankin.
The new guidelines also prohibit trustees from making comments that disparage another trustee or member of the IMB staff. Rick Thompson, an IMB trustee who has also blogged in support of Burleson, said he believes the policy will be help with trustee communication and deportment.
“From now on trustees of the IMB must not belittle or express a negative opinion in public of any fellow board member or of the president of the IMB or of IMB personnel,” Thompson wrote. “From now on, all such opinions will be dealt with in a biblical, Christ-like manner within the board.
“This is good policy, and I am pleased.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.