Throughout my year long service as a trustee of the International Mission Board I have sought the counsel of many people who have helped me work through a few problems that have risen as I sought to fulfill my duty to the Southern Baptist Convention as a trustee of the IMB.
At the request of these counselors and advisors, I continue to work on a succinct post that will detail events that eventually led to repeated attempts by certain trustees to remove me from the IMB either by force or resignation. Through last Wednesday morning, May 24, 2006, I was content and satisfied to quietly serve on the IMB, work through any problems with other trustees internally, as I have sought to do from the beginning of my service, and to focus solely on supporting the direction and vision of our President and IMB administrators as they lead our IMB by keeping the grassroots constituency of the SBC informed. I also expect all trustees, including me, to fulfill all our duties and abide by policies prescribed by SBC and IMB governing documents.
My relationships with trustees have solidly improved over the last two months. At this Board Meeting in Albuquerque I enjoyed breakfast with Bill Sanderson from North Carolina. My wife and I had great conversations with David Button of New York. I laughed with Bill Sutton from Texas and he and I talked about how we could move forward as a Board. Kevin King from Colorado is a wonderful guy who laughs easily as well and enjoys my company as I his. Though these four men and I would not see I to eye on some of the issues, I KNOW I can work with them because we know how to talk, fellowship and work together.
There are many more men and women like these four on our Board. The issue is not whether we all agree, but rather, "will we as trustees abide by policy; will we follow the vision and direction of our President, and will we allow full and free debate on all issues." I believed that we were headed in the right direction since March. These issues were now on the forefront of every trustee's mind.
That is why I was absolutely shocked at the allegations from Tom Hatley at our last meeting. I assumed we as trustees were moving in the right direction. I was very hopeful about the future of my relationship with every single trustee. I have some VERY solid relationships with about thirty trustees, but I was excited about building relationships with the others.
What Went Wrong Wednesday Morning in Albuquerque?
Chairman Hatley issued an Executive Committee report on the "Wade Burleson Issue" Wednesday morning. I knew a report was coming, but I did not know what was in the report. After the Trustee Forum on Monday, Tom Hatley, the IMB Attorney Matt Bristol, and I sat down to discuss "the report."
Tom began reading the intended report and he got no more through the first paragraph when I stopped him and said, "Wait a minute Tom, I am confused. You talk about "reconciliation" and "healing" that is needed as if I am the one in need of these things. Tom, I'm fine with every single trustee. I'm ready to move forward."
Tom relayed to me how the problem was in other trustees who were not fine with me. These trustees felt that my blog had disparaged them. He then began to read from my blog posts that were written prior to the effort to remove me during the January Board meeting in Richmond. He said I should "apologize" for the things I wrote or allowed to be written by others in my comment section. I reiterated to Tom that I will apologize ONLY IF I AM SHOWN WHERE I AM WRONG. I won't apologize to make people feel better.
To this day I can't understand how there is a motion to remove me in January, a unanimous rescinsion of that motion same motion March, AND I NEVER APOLOGIZED FOR ANYTHING. Either you have the goods to support the removal of a trustee and you do it, or you don't. Why would the motion be rescinded if the trustee in question never apologized. I have issued an expression of regret on my blog that the tone of my December 10th blog was too militant, but I have never apologized. On Monday Tom pleaded with me to apologize in order for other trustees to be able to "work with me." I told Tom for the umpteenth time that I stand by everything I have written. Again, let me reiterate, I will always apologize when and if I am shown what it is that I have written is wrong, but I won't apologize just because people want me to in order to feel better about their situation.
In Albuquerque things went out of control Wednesday morning because I refused to "apologize" -- again. I constantly stand ready to defend what I have written if and when given the opportunity. In fact, in an ABP story released last night, new Chairman Dr. John Floyd says that if I had simply apologized the first time discipline would have ended. It is difficult for me to understand how some can't understand these simple words, "I will not apologize. I will not apologize for "gossip." I will not apologize for "slander." I will not apologize for "resistance to accountability." I will not apologize for "loss of trust." I will not apologize for "multiple breaches of confidentiality." I will only apologize if I believe that what I have written falls under these categories, and I categorically deny anything I have written falls underneath these charges.
Please don't misunderstand. I have no HESITANCY to apologize to my wife, my kids, my church, my friends, my enemies, anyone to whom an apology is owed, and yes, even to the Board of Trustees, but I apologize when I am shown what it is that I have written that is factually wrong. I won't apologize just because I expose a problem that needs exposed.
When we were flying home from Albuquerque my wife said to me, "Wade, since you have tried to present the proof for what you have written on your blog to the trustees on various occasions and have been denied the opportunity, and because you continue to come under attack regarding your character and integrity, I think it is time for you to make public the basis for your concerns regarding the behavior of certain trustees and you should give details."
Do people desire to know how I know that some trustees (a diminishing number because of recent events and attrition) are violating Board policy and trustee accountability guidelines by seeking to subvert the leadership of Dr. Jerry Rankin and his administration? In other words, do they want proof that stands as the support of my December 10th post?
I'm happy to give it. However, from the beginning, I have believed the best environment in which that information is to be released is the trustee environment.
I wrote at least two emails to every Board member and Chairman Hatley prior to the attempt to remove me in January, 2006, requesting permission to address the entire Board, uninterrupted, as I laid out my concerns. These requests were denied. Since the decision to rescind the recommendation for my removal, I have requested, again, to address the entire Board with the information. This request was denied as well.
Dr. Hatley stated to me in March, after the vote for my removal was unanimously rescinded, that he would not appoint me to a Board committee. When I asked him why, he said, "Because we still have issues with your relationship with some of our trustees. They are offended with you." In an attempt to bring "reconiliation and harmony" to the Board, he desired for me to meet with three people from the (former) Executive Committee and they would hear the information I had gathered to give to the SBC in my defense against the original charges of "gossip and slander," and then they would issue a report to the full Board. I was not to be allowed to address the full Board myself. I was as comfortable with Dr. Hatley's suggestion as an Eskimo lighting a bonfire in his igloo.
I told Dr. Hatley, again, that I would only speak to the entire Board as I had requested. I also volunteered that he could choose to let this "Wade Burleson Issue" end, and I would continue my work as a trustee. But for the latter to occur, he would have to assign me to a committee, and we would forget those things which were past, and move forward into the future. Unfortunately, Chairman Hatley bowed to the wishes of a few very vocal trustees and stated he would not allow me to serve on a committee of the IMB.
I think at the time Chairman Hatley felt that was a very reasonable thing to do (though I and others thought it very UNreasonable) because a few trustees, typified in one particularly angry trustee, who will be named in the near future but not now, tried to make it so that I would (1). Never serve on a committee for my entire tenure as a trustee, (2). Not be renominated to serve a second term because a letter would be written to the Nominating Committee members of the SBC from Oklahoma urging them to not reappointed me for my second term, (3). Never be allowed to speak in a microphone during business meetings (ding!), and (4). I would have to pay my own way to all IMB meetings. I received a phone call from a SBC member not associated with the Board who told me of the desires of this trustee, and of course, I can confirm them as well.
So, I guess Chairman Hatley thought I should be happy that the motion to remove was unanimously rescinded in March, and the Chairman simply refused to place me on a committee because in his mind, others wanted much more "punishment."
Of course, in my mind, I'm thinking true leadership stands on principle and not the fear of rejection by a few vocal trustees who pat you on the back as the leader and constantly praise you for your actions. Chairman Hatley could not give me a reason for not being on a committee, except that to be fully restored would "anger" some on the Board. Again, the implication to me was that I should be grateful I was back on the Board!
Ok, I thought to myself in March when told I would not serve on a committee, fine no problem. I knew the Chairman had the perogative and the authority to do as he pleased when it came to the appointments for committees, and if he felt this would pacify those few trustees who were having mild heart attacks at the very thought of Wade Burleson being on the Board because the Board refused to follow through with the motion to remove, then I'll live with it for the sake of peace. I am learning quickly that ANYTHING you do for the sake of peace rather than principle ultimately does more damage than good. (P.S. The consitution and bylaws do not grant the authority to the Chairman to bar any trustee from offical trustee meetings where the entire full Board is invited, that privilege lies with the SBC alone. The Chairman only has the authority over committee assignments for individual trustees).
So with the actions to restore me in March without a committee appointment, the next question became, what would it take to get me back on a committee? I was told by Chairman Hatley in response to this question either an apology from me, or the revelation of the facts that support what I have written and a corresponding report exonerating me for what I have said on my blog would give my back my trustee privileges of serving on a committee. Since Oklahoma becoming annexed by Texas is more likely than me apologizing for the content of what I have written, then I chose to not complain about my lack of committee assigment and simply wait things out for the opportunity to defend my words on this blog or allow everyone to press forward and forget the past.
The Debate for the Procedure for a Fair Hearing
Tom called me in April and asked if I would meet with the Executive Committee in Dallas to lay out before them all the information I had which would justify my blog entries (particularly the December 10th entry). I thought to myself, "Isn't this reversed of the way it is supposed to have happened. Wasn't Chairman Hatley supposed to come to me in January, PRIOR to the motion for my removal, and ask for substantiation for the things I had written?" But of course, as you know, nobody EVER approached me with ANYTHING remotely associated with the basis of support for my removal from the IMB in January. The charge then was gossip and slander, but NOBODY ever showed the basis for the charge. It's like everyone just assumed that Board leadership should be trusted.
Initially I consented to Hatley's request to meet the Executive Committee in Dallas, but then after seeking counsel, I reconsidered and said I did not believe this would in the best interest of anyone involved.
Instead I told Chairman Hatley, through IMB counsel, that I would share the information to an ad hoc committee composed of new trustee Andy Johnson, seasoned trustee Bill Hickman, fellow trustees Wayne Marsall and Rick Thompson. This group could then issue a report to the full Board regarding the information they received and any appropriate action in response.
This request was denied by the former Chairman Hatley. He said only the Executive Committee would be allowed to see my material. Again, please remember, it is not I who is seeking to meet with anyone. I was completely willing, as Bill Sutton suggested to me, to "Put the Wade Burleson issue behind us."
But for reasons I do not fully know (but have strong suspicions regarding), Chairman Tom Hatley did not want to let "The Wade Burleson Issue" die, and wanted "resolution" before he gave up his chair in May at Albuquerque.
This brings us to our meeting in Albuquerque.
I refused to apologize for what I have written on this blog as Dr. Hatley requested.
If you read Dr. Hatley's offical statement from his report on Wednesday morning regarding "The Wade Burleson Issue" you will notice he says, "Wade apologized on his blog" and then makes a statement to the effect "That's a good start." I laughed and told my wife when I heard him read that, "Well, if he can't get an apology out of me, I guess he'll make one up for me." The "apology" he mentions from my blog was simply a statement saying I feel very sorry that "unnamed" trustees are hurt that they have been lumped into a class of trustees who have violated Board policy by seeking the removal of Dr. Rankin. Notice, I did not apologize for saying certain trustees were doing this.
Dr. Hatley selectively reads from my blog. I have said often that my blog is my salvation. I have been consistent --- I will not apologize for anything I have written.
A Funny Story from the PUBLIC Board Meeting
To show you the how common the knowledge is that certain people have been out to get Dr. Rankin since he was elected President, let me tell you a funny story from the Tuesday afternoon Board meeting when my friend Trustee Johnny Nantz from Nevada was recognized for his eight years of service. Johnny was one of several trustees who were attending their last meeting. Plaques were given to all --- but Johnny. It seems his name was accidently left off the list and he did not get a plaque.
After making some very light hearted comments about being forgotten, Johnny went up to Dr. Rankin and gave him a big hug and said, "That's the only thing I need at my last meeting." Dr. Rankin retorted, "But Johnny, you can't nail me to the wall" (as you can a plaque), to which a trustee hollered out, "It's not like some haven't tried."
Everyone died laughing. You don't laugh unless there's truth to the statement.
Why then are people offended when I simply say what everyone knows to be true? Could it be that I have thwarted the very thing intended?
I think I have, and because of that, I am ready to move on to focus on the important issues of SBC missions.
Last Wednesday things changed for me tremendously. I was blindsided, again, with charges that were unsubstantiated. The charges this time were "multiple breaches of confidentiality." When I asked for the rationale for not following Christian protocol and IMB policy by making public very serious charges WITHOUT coming to me in private with substantiation for the charges, the former Chairman refused to even talk with me. What kind of organization do we have when leadership picks and chooses what rules they wish to follow?
It was very evident to me, my wife, Pastor Clif Cummings and other trustees who have contacted me and are writing letters to the Board themselves, that I was the target of a public attempt to discredit my character, disparage my reputation, and in general, cause people to question my integrity.
Where Things Stand Now: Three Options to Consider
I close by sharing with you my perspective of where things are with me now and I am going to ask you to participate in my decision process. There are three options that the Board of Trustees can take in correcting wrong I have seen on the Board of Trustees.
Option (1). I am of the opinion, as well as at least two other trustees who voted to remove me in January, that we should "forget" about "The Wade Burleson" issue, reinstate me to full trustee privileges and work toward the future together. The past is past, the future is the future. This has been my desire ever since the trustees rescinded the recommendation for my removal --- until last Wednesday.
Option (2). The unwarranted, ill-advised attack last Wednesday morning has led me to to seriously consider the decision to publicly reveal names, dates, and events that prove a pattern of behavior of certain trustees that reveal a disrespect for IMB administration, an intentional violation of Board approved policies, and an agenda that is contrary to our President's. Unlike charges that are publicly made against me, I have chosen NOT to reveal names at this time, and you can rest assured, that when this decision to reveal names is made, every single person named will have heard from me privately before it is posted. Everyone except two persons have already heard from me at least once.
The reason I have not quickly made all this public already is because I want to make double dog sure this is the absolute best decision for the SBC as a whole and I am not doing anything to "defend" my name. This is tough for me determine by myself, and that is why I am seeking counsel, praying, and not moving hastily. If there is even an iota of desire to defend my reputation I do not wish to choose this option, but if this is the only way resolution of these of "The Wade Burleson" issue can occur, then by all means, it must be done.
Option (3). A pastor friend who is aware of the situation has composed a recommendation that he would like to present to the SBC that the Executive Commitee appoint an Ad Hoc Committee of people who are not a part of the IMB to investigate the internal trustee workings of the IMB for the last five years to determine whether or not undue influence has occurred, whether or not intentional and willful violations of Bord policies and procedures has occurred by individual trustees, and whether or not there is reason to believe certain trustees are promoting an agenda contrary to the desire and vision of the President. The wording on the motion is being worked on as we speak, and he has requested my permission to be able to make this as a recommendation.
My question for you is simply this: Which option do you like best?
I personally like Option (1) best.
I feel compelled that Option (2) may be needed for the good of the SBC.
I wonder if Option (3) might be the most effective way for this to be handled.
All three options have strengths and weaknesses to them. I would like to know which option you think is best for the SBC at large.
You have till Monday to give me your opinion.
In His Grace,