This year’s Southern Baptist Convention might be the most important in a quarter century, say bloggers supportive of an International Mission Board trustee recommended for removal at the annual meeting scheduled June 13-14 in Greensboro, N.C.
“Under no circumstances can we not go to Greensboro,” wrote Marty Duren, lead pastor of New Bethany Baptist Church in Buford, Ga., and author of the “SBC Outpost” weblog. “Without sounding like an alarmist, Greensboro 2006 will be viewed historically, in my opinion, on the same level as Houston 1979.”
That was the year that fundamentalists organized to elect Memphis pastor Adrian Rogers as SBC president, setting off a string of election victories that brought about a leadership change termed the “conservative resurgence.”
A handful of weblogs–including one that prompted trustees of the International Mission Board to request removal of Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson on charges including lack of accountability and loss of trust–contend that with liberalism no longer a threat, the greatest danger facing the next generation of Southern Baptists is legalism/fundamentalism.
“I believe the most crucial group of SBC’rs right now are not those in power, nor those serving on trustee boards or important committees,” he wrote. “The most important group of SBC’rs right now are our seminary students. Those who have the chance to get this Titanic steered clear of disaster.
“I ask you as a seminary student to consider the greatest poison in our convention, fundamentalism/legalism…. We are looking less like Jesus and more like Pharisees with every decision and direction.”
Jason Sampler, a Ph.D. student studying theology at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, said IMB trustees’ new policies on “prayer language” and what constitutes a valid baptism “overstepped biblical and confessional beliefs” by adding doctrinal requirements that aren’t in the Baptist Faith & Message or Bible.
Sampler said he expects a motion will be made in Greensboro to rescind the policy change.
“IMB trustees have overstepped biblical and confessional beliefs and must be corrected,” Sampler wrote. “Trustees are elected by SBC church messengers at annual national conventions. Trustees are elected to oversee and to hold accountable the various SBC entities (IMB, North American Mission Board, seminaries, etc.). They are elected by us and are accountable to us. When they err, they should be corrected.”
Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and former two-term president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, wrote in his blog that there is no IMB rule against blogging by trustees, but if the board had adopted one he would have obeyed it.
“I said to anyone who would listen in the hallways, parking lot and hotel that I would stop blogging if the trustee board passed a policy that blogging by trustees was detrimental to the IMB,” he wrote. “I would not stop because people wanted me to stop, I would only stop because policy required me to stop. I still am amazed that the motion was to remove me rather than a recommendation for a policy that all trustees stop blogging.”
Burleson said he thinks the real reasons behind the action were that he was too vocal as a new trustee and that board leaders could not control what he said in his blog. He said there was no attempt at any private mediation prior to the motion to dismiss him, and that only two or three trustees ever wrote with disapproval about his blog.
“It seemed to me a leap across the Grand Canyon for any trustee to recommend my removal without first trying to arrive at a compromise,” Burleson said. “I could not understand the sudden action. Maybe I am missing something. I am sure willing to listen to the explanation from someone in the know, but I am clueless as to why the recommendation to remove.”
Burleson said the biggest issue for him is not the new IMB policies but the questions: “Are we going to continue to narrow the parameters of cooperation in our convention by tightly controlling trustee boards and agencies to the point that that those who disagree on minor doctrinal issues are excluded from service?” and “Are we going to allow principled dissent?”
“I am just one trustee among over 80 trustees from around the world,” he said. “Surely, the convention is big enough for people who disagree to work together? Cults conform. Christianity connects. I definitely enjoy being connected with fellow conservatives who cooperate in fulfilling the Great Commission even though there is no conformity in minor doctrines. That is the Baptist way!”
Duren said in his blog that going to Greensboro just to “save Wade” will miss the big picture, which is keeping the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message the basis for cooperation and not allowing convention leaders to impose a narrower agenda.
“We really don’t need a ‘counter-revolution’ as much as we need a ‘course correction,'” Duren wrote. “The swing from liberalism to conservativism was long and difficult, taking much strength, prayer and effort. It is a given that, given the task, there would be over-steering. And so we shouldn’t be surprised, but we should be alert. The reality is that a setting that is a mere 1 degree off will equate to hundreds of miles astray of the destination at the end of the journey. We simply cannot afford that kind of mistake.
“I cannot shake the feeling that what happens in Greensboro will set the course for the SBC for the next 30 years. Can we afford to allow anything short of death to keep us from attending? I don’t think so.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.