Three weeks after I began my public dissent on this blog I received an email from the attorney of the IMB, a very godly man who is no longer with the IMB, who clarified the freedom of sitting trustees to publicly dissent from board approved actions. In the email, dated January 6, 2006, the IMB attorney states:
I know of no bylaw or policy that would preclude public expressions of opposition to Board approved policies on various blogs. As long as you act in good faith, you can, in my opinion, publicly oppose and even seek to pressure other trustees into re-examining past decisions.
That was exactly what I was doing. My blog was designed to inform Southern Baptists of two doctrinal policies that exceeded the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and that otherwise God-called and qualifed Southern Baptist missionary candidates were being excluded from missions service and ministry participation. I began to call these policies "the narrowing of the doctrinal parameters of Southern Baptist cooperation."
Within three days of receiving this January 6, 2006 email from the IMB attorney, trustee leadership of the International Mission Board sought the adoption of a recommendation for my removal. This recommendation had to be presented to the June 2006 Southern Baptist Convention for approval. The basis for the recommendation for my removal changed from time to time, depending upon who one asked and when one asked, but it was obvious to everyone in the know at the time that my blog - filled with what I believed courteous dissent and written in good faith - was the issue to the trustees who voted for the recommendation.
Then, with a sudden change of heart, on March 22, 2006, just three months before the Southern Baptist Convention was to vote on the motion for my removal, the IMB trustees who sought the recommendation just a scant two months earlier, unanimously reversed themselves and voted to rescind the motion for my removal and expunge it from the record. Ironically, that same day, the trustees passed a four page Trustee Standards of Conduct designed to any stifle public dissent.
The March 22, 2006 'Trustee Standards of Conduct'
For 162 years, the International Mission Board did just fine without a guideline that forbad public dissent. But on the very day the motion for my removal was rescinded, the IMB board of trustees passed a statement saying:
Individual IMB trustees must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions . . . trustees are to speak in positive and supportive terms as they interpret and report on actions by the Board, regardless of whether they personally support the action.
What is not known by many is the last paragraph of the new "Trustee Standards of Conduct." It made clear what would happen if a trustee chose to 'publicly dissent.'
Depending on the circumstances, appropriate action could include . . . a motion to censure the violating trustee or trustees, or suspend their active involvement with the Board or to take the final action of removal from the Board by action of the SBC.
I opposed this policy, stating to anyone who would listen at the time, that it was the worst policy ever passed by any agency of the Southern Baptist Convention. It was illogical, irrational, and violated the very essence of Baptist identity. We Baptists are, by nature, dissenters. To stifle free and courteous dissent is to deny our Baptist heritage and identity.
I initially thought I would stop my public dissent of Board approved policies on this blog - simply because I did not enjoy the prospect of a censure. But then I realized the only way Southern Baptists even knew about the new policies that were excluding missionaries was through my blog. The only way the SBC knew we were 'narrowing the doctrinal parameters of missionary cooperation and participation' was through this blog and others like it.
I told my wife in April of 2006, less than a month after the policy that forbad dissent was passed, that I was going to intentionally violate it by continuing to publish my courteous dissent of the two policies that continued to exclude otherewise qualified Southern Baptists from missionary appointment. Everyone who reads my blog knows that I have been only affirming of the vision of President Jerry Rankin, am absolutely supportive of the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Offering, and desire MORE missionaries on the missions fields not less. But I intentionally chose to express my public dissent to help get those missionaries on the fields white unto harvest - the very place they belong. I also submitted myself to the guideline which calls for my censure if trustee leadership so desired.
However, in 2007 the Southern Baptist Convention passed the Garner Motion which stated that agencies SHOULD NOT exceed the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message through the implemention of doctrinal policies that go beyond the convention-wide approved confession of faith. I not only felt affirmed in my gracious and courteous dissent, I looked forward to the Board rescinding the two doctrinal policies that went beyond the BFM 2000, and I looked forward to seeing the appointment of those Southern Baptist missionary candidates who were wrongly being excluded.
Yet, the two unbiblical and narrow policies were not reversed after the convention, and I wrote a post about the unwillingness of trustees in our agencies to follow the desires of the SBC. This was one of the posts referred to last week as the basis for the censure. The majority of the IMB trustees last week (not all) voted to censure me. It seems there has been another overwhelming backlash toward the actions of the IMB Board of Trustees regarding this censure. The anger of grassroots Southern Baptists, however, is misplaced.
You Should Be Upset Over the Policies, Not the Censure
I humbly and genuinely accept the censure approved by the majority my fellow trustees. They not only were within their rights to censure me, they should censure me to abide by the illogical policy they passed on March 22, 2006. I chose to publicly dissent knowing full well I would likely be censured. I told my wife last year that the day might come when a motion to censure would be brought.
So be it. I accept it. I will not apologize for courteous public dissent.
I will continue to respectfully and publicly dissent when I cannot privately support board approved actions. To publicly dissent is not a question of loyalty, is not evidence of a lack of unity in the Spirit, but it is in the end, the only way to ensure that the boards and agencies of our Southern Baptist Convention maintain our Baptist identity and live by Christian principles of openness and transparency and refuse to change the Baptist Faith and Message - the doctrinal basis of our cooperation - through back door, hidden agency policies.
The Southern Baptist Convention will eventually decide if it is wise, prudent and Baptist to stifle dissent. I already believe I know their answer. The adoption of the Garner Motion affirms my place in the SBC. Southern Baptists do not desire the largest missions sending agency in the world to narrow the doctrinal parameters of missionary participation beyond the BFM 2000. I am also convinced that the SBC will desire to hear from any trustee who feels we are in danger of violating Scripture and exceeding the BFM 2000 by narrowing the parameters of our cooperation to exclude otherwise qualified, Bible-believing Southern Baptists from SBC missionary and ministry service.
What should upset Southern Baptists is not the censure of Wade Burleson. What should upset Southern Baptists is the policy that stifles the dissent of majority opinions through threat of censure.
The Offer to Resign
There have been some who have questioned why I would offer to resign at the last Board meeting. Quite simply, it was the first time I had ever been confronted by trustee leadership about violating the 'new' guidelines that forbids public dissent and I knew a censure, which would distract us from our mission and purpose, was more than likely coming.
So, instead of distracting the Southern Baptist Convention our from mission business during Lottie Moon, I offered to . . .
(1). Shut my blog down on December 6, 2007, the two year anniversary of it's start, and
(2). Until December 6, 2007, since I was now being confronted about my public dissent, I would abide by the March 22, 2006 guideline that forbids it until I shut down my blog, and
(3). I would resign before the end of the year, and
(4). I would apologize to any trustee who was personally offended by anything said on my blog, because I have never sought to disparage any trustee, but only to write about the issues we face.
However, I said, quite emphatically, that I would NOT apologize for my public dissent because I INTENTIONALLY violated the policy that forbad public dissent because there was, for me, a higher principle at stake. It is like an ambulance speeding because a wounded passenger needs to get to the hospital. It is like a pastor who breaks confidentiality because he has heard that abuse is taking place. To break the guideline that forbids dissent is the lesser of two evils: It prevents our convention from losing her sense of Baptist identity by modeling gracious, courteous dissent.
However, I also said, IF trustee leadership decided to put the focus on Wade Burleson and censure me, then I would accept their decision to censure, respect them for it, humbly receive it as fulfillment of the 'new' Trustee Standards of Conduct, BUT
(1). I would also continue my blog, and
(2). I would not resign, but fulfill my term as appointed by the SBC, and
(3). I would also continue my public dissent, if and when needed (that is, when I could not privately support a board approved action because it exceeded the BFM 2000 or violated Scripture), and
(4). I would humbly accept any future censures as the fulfillment of the March 22, 2006 'Trustee Standard of Conduct Guidelines.'
In other words, nobody should be upset over the censure. I'm not. I freely admit I violated the March 22, 2006 new guideline that forbids dissent. I knew that a censure - more than likely - would be coming. Southern Baptists should be upset with the policy that forbids dissent and threatens censure when it occurs. In other words, if you are angry today, your emotion is misplaced by about eighteen months. You should have been upset, as was I, eighteen months ago on March 22, 2006.
Don't forget that others besides me are being excluded by illogical and ill advised policies, but these God-called missionary candidates are not being heard at this time. They have no appeal. I do, and I intend to represent them to the end.
Also, it is ironic to me that I heard from a former trustee who gave me multiple examples of public criticism by sitting trustees of Dr. Jerry Rankin and his vision for the IMB over the past fifteen years. This trustee asked a very simple question to me: "Is public dissent only forbidden when trustees express disapproval of trustee decisions, or is public dissent also forbidden by trustees for decisions made by the IMB President and his administrators?"
I believe that Southern Baptist trustees should be free to express courteous public criticism and dissent for decisions made by both trustees and administrators.
The SBC will soon decide.
In His Grace,