An organized group of Southern Baptists including a strong contingent from North Carolina is calling on the International Mission Board to reverse restrictive policies enacted more than two-and-a-half years ago.

The policies, which reject applicants who practice a “private prayer language” and who were not baptized in an acceptable Baptist church, caused considerable controversy at the time they were proposed.

The “prayer language” restriction would disqualify even IMB president Jerry Rankin. The Landmarkist Baptist requirement has eliminated dozens of potential missionaries from consideration.

At the time the restrictions were approved, Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson, then a trustee of the Board, spoke openly against the new policies. He was harshly reprimanded by fellow IMB trustees, and eventually resigned because he could not abide by additional restrictions and hush rules they placed on him. Few of those who are not challenging the IMB spoke up for Burleson at the time.

Now, however, they have created a website called “Time to Change,” and posted a carefully reasoned argument that clearly and appropriately points out that the restrictions are extra-biblical and go well beyond the SBC’s Baptist Faith and Message statement, which many would argue is already both extra-biblical and extra-Baptist.

Five of the first eight signatories are from North Carolina, including Allan Blume, president of the Baptist State Convention (BSC) Board of Directors, Pam Blume and Paul Brown, both former IMB trustees, pastor Michael Barrett of Pleasant Garden, and staff pastor Conley J. Bordeaux, Jr. of Fayetteville.

Initial signers also include former IMB trustee Steve Hardy of Winston-Salem, and pastors J. D. Greear and Chris Hilliard. The growing number of other Tar Heel Baptists who have signed the list since its June 2 posting include former BSC presidents Greg Mathis and David Horton, and former IMB trustees Gary Burden and Karen Gilbert, along with a a number of other pastors and lay members. The full list, which includes some present and former IMB missionaries, can be found here, where others are encouraged to sign on.

Those who have signed the list tend to be strong supporters of missions and of the IMB — they just recognize that IMB trustees have gone way beyond the bounds of Baptistness in approving the restrictive policies.

I’m delighted that these folks have decided to speak out on the subject.

I wish more of them had spoken up when the policies were still a matter of debate, and when Wade Burleson was being hung out to dry for saying precisely the same things.

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