Unfortunately, the Springfield, Illinois trustee meeting may be remembered as the time when a rare, possibily unique, censure was issued against a sitting trustee. The very sad and unfortunate truth is that this censure, and the resulting distraction from our mission work, was absolutely avoidable. I feel it is necessary to show that if there is a loss of Southern Baptist focus on missions during this very important Lottie Moon season, it is because a few leaders chose not to follow the very clear path laid out for them that ensured missions, and not conflict, stayed in the forefront of the IMB. I will avoid using names to keep anyone from feeling my words reflect poorly on them. However, Southern Baptists should ask the question 'Why?' Why did this censure have to happen? Why now? For what purpose? The fact that it did occur, in light of what I am about to tell you, is a sign that some Southern Baptist leaders have either lost perspective about what is really important in SBC life, or are so obsessed with the stifling of any dissent, or are so consumed with keeping power and control that comes with absolute authority, or (and I pray this is not true) they have been so blinded by either vendetta or personal ego that they can't see any higher calling.
Even though the censure was a majority vote, I am absolutely certain that the majority of International Mission Board trustees did not know the information this post contains when they voted to censure. However, a few trustees in leadership were told, in detail, what I am about to tell you. It is not confidential information. though it should have been shared with the entire board, it was not. It was not shared with the trustees in the Monday night trustee Forum because my censure was not even discussed. It was not shared with the full trustee board during Executive Session Tuesday night when my censure was voted on. I probably would have shared the information with all the trustees had I been asked to address the board before the vote, but I was not afforded the opportunity to address the trustees before they voted on my censure.
No Executive Session rules of confidentiality are being broken in this post. The information that I am about to share with you was given to two IMB trustees who serve on the Executive Committee as well as an administrator of the IMB. These three men were sent to meet with me by the Executive Committee late Monday afternoon (5:30 p.m. to 6:30 p.m.) to seek out a resolution that would stop short of a public censure.
I am free to give the details of what I said to these men in that meeting - a meeting which occurred at the end of a hotel hallway as the four of us sat on a couch and two chairs - because the Executive Committee themselves reported in the Censure Recommendation, what I said. The Censure Recommendation states the following about this four man meeting:
Trustee members of the Executive Committee and a senior staff IMB staff member met with Burleson on the evening of November 5, 2007 for further discussion. Burleson was asked to apologize for the following violations:
(a) Making public private communications with fellow trustees;
(b) Speaking in a way that reflected poorly on fellow trustees; and
(c) Publicly criticizing board approved actions instead of speaking in positive and supportive terms as he interpreted and reported on actions of the Board of Trustees, regardless of whether he personally supported those actions.
Burleson stated that the violations regarding speaking in a way that reflected poorly on his fellow trustees were unintentional offenses for which he would gladly apologize. However, he stated that he intentionally chose to make public private communications with the trustees and that he intentionally chose to publicly criticize board approved actions instead of speaking in positive and supportive terms as he interpreted and reported on board actions.
That 'official account' of the meeting is correct - as far as it goes. It does not say enough. Not near enough. But before I tell you the critical information that is left out of the Censure Recommendation, let me tell you what the Executive Committee did get right about what I said to those three men sent by the Executive Committee to meet with me.
The Details of What Was Said Are Accurate
I did tell the men that I would personally and publicly apologize to Winston Curtis, Jerry Corbaley, and John Floyd for posts on my blog, posts that I was told 'reflected poorly' on these men. I stated that though none of these men had ever approached me personally with his offense, and though I had never intentionally sought to disparage these trustees, I would accept the word of the Executive Committee that the men had been offended, and would issue an apology to them publicly - without reservation - immediately.
I also said to them, and it is reported correctly by the Executive Committee, that I could not apologize for making public so called 'private communications' with fellow trustees. But the rationale for not apologizing is not given. Why would I not apologize? Because the alleged 'private communications,' were conversations that occurred about International Mission Board business, and were questions being asked of me by Southern Baptists. I asked these questions to keep Southern Baptists informed about their missions agency (see my explanation here). In no form or fashion did I violate Executive Session rules of confidentiality in any of my blog posts. Also, if someone I visited with at the trustee meetings, either missionaries or trustees, stated that our conversation should be 'private,' I always abided by their request.
Finally, the Executive Committee accurately reports in the Censure Recommendation that I said I could not apologize for my public dissent of board approved action. However, again, the explanation was not fully given. I do appreciate the Executive Committee reporting that I said the following:
"Burleson further stated that he would not apologize for these intentional violations of the Trustee Standards of Conduct and Trustee Responsibilities. Burleson stated that he had voted against these standards of conduct when they were adopted because he believed in the principle of dissent."
The Executive Committee left out the word 'Baptist' before the word 'dissent.' I'm sure this omission was unintentional. I told the three men that I was a Baptist first, and the principle of courteous dissent was a cherished one. I could not apologize for publicly opposing the private prayer language and baptism guidelines, nor could I refrain from opposing the 'New Trustee Standards of Conduct' because those 'new' standards contained a very un-Baptistic policy. The 'new' trustee standards, adopted March 22, 2006 in Tampa, Florida, say this:
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.
I told them that I could NOT, in good conscience, abide by that policy. When they told me that I was bound by the 'New Trustee Standards of Conduct,' I reminded them that I voted against the 'New Trustee Standards of Conduct' on March 22, 2006. They said it made no difference, and they could not understand why I would 'intentionally' violate the public dissent rule and then refuse to apologize. I told them that my Bapist principles were higher than 'new' trustee guidelines, and I could neither violate my conscience nor my convictions by abiding by the 'new' trustee standards of conduct that prohibited public dissent of board approved policies.
Why Were New Standards of Conduct Needed in 2006?
March 22, 2006 was the day the International Mission Board voted to adopt 'The New Trustee Standards of Conduct' in Tampa, Florida. It also happens to be the very trustee meeting where trustees voted to rescind the recommendation for my removal from the board - a recommendation that would have had to be offered, debated, and voted on by the messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention in Greensboro, North Carolina three months later - June 2006. But before the IMB trustees went into closed door session to rescind the recommendation for my removal, and eventually expunge it from the record, the 'new' Trustee Standards of Conduct, which stifled dissent, were passed. At the time, and during the debate, I said to anyone who listened that 'the new guideline prohibiting dissent is the worst policy passed in the history of any agency of the Southern Baptist Convention.'
For years the International Mission Board trustees were guided by the conduct guidelines contained in what is known as the 'The Blue Book.' There was no prohibition against public dissent in 'The Blue Book.' Why, all of the sudden, were 'new guidelines' needed to stifle dissent in March of 2006? Well, I think it was because my blog was causing a stir in the SBC. I always spoke courteously and graciously in my dissent, but I tried to explain why the new private prayer language and baptism guidelines were ultimately harmful for the SBC - an agency was narrowing the doctrinal requirements for missionary cooperation beyond the convention wide accepted Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
Simply put, rather than having the Southern Baptist Convention deal with the recommendation for my removal for dissenting against the guidelines passed by the IMB that went beyond the BFM 2000, trustee leadership tried to deal with me by passing 'new' guidelines that stifled dissent and threatened 'censure' or 'discipline' if the 'new' guidelines were not followed.
Initially, I really thought it best to attempt to follow the guidelines prohibiting dissent, and I did my best to 'support that which I didn't support,' but I saw very quickly that when Baptists, or any Christian group for that matter, take away the cherished principle of free and courteous dissent, the group can quickly deteriorate under the whims of autocratic leadership. Exerting absolute authority over missionaries, fellow trustees, or IMB administrators, to the point that everyone fears to speak out lest they lose their job, their position, or their reputation is highly unhealthy and dysfunctional for any organization, but particularly any Christian organization. Further, when you publicly state you support what you don't actually support, you are at best pretending, and at worst lying. Transparency is the opposite of such pretension.
So, for the past several months my writings have always been supportive of the mission and work of the IMB, respectful of my fellow trustees (even those with whom I disagree), and always for the purpose of bettering the IMB and the SBC - but I have publicly dissented when I felt it necessary and I have always sought full transparency in our work. It seems that many people have been encouraged by my blog to become more involved in mission work, particularly SBC mission work, through what I have written, including this missionary appointee who note sent me the following comment this week while I was in Springfield:
Wade, my wife and I saw you this afternoon when you came into the hotel in Springfield. I wanted to come up to tell you hello and that you are one of the reasons that we decided to proceed with an appointment with the board and soon we will be moving our family to a restricted access area and it really helps us to know that men like you are standing up for what is right.
New IMB M
Even if some of my fellow trustees cannot see the positive in my blog, it is certain that others do. My goal has been to increase missionary participation, increase giving to missions, and to increase the number of missionaries appointed to serve the SBC.
Displeasure Expressed for Using the IMB as 'A Platform.'
However, the trustee spokesman for the three men who met with me that early Monday evening, November 5, said he was upset that I (and I quote), "used my position as a trustee on the IMB as a platform to raise concerns in other Southern Baptists over what I was calliing 'the narrowing of the doctrinal parameters for missionary cooperation and participation in the Southern Baptist Conventon.'"
They felt my bog was a detriment to missions. These men said the Executive Committee desired an apology for all three things on the list given to me - and my willingness to only apologize for the personal offenses, but not apologize for intentional violations of the 'new' trustee guidelines put us in a quandry. There was a stalemate.
What the Executive Committee DID NOT Report
Toward the end of the meeting I was finally asked the million dollar question:
"Wade, what solution would you propose?"
I told the three men, two Executive Committee trustees and the IMB administrator, my proposed solution to the stalemate. Again, my proposed solution was NOT reported in the Executive Committee's Censure Recommendation description of my meeting with these three men. Again, the full board of trustees was NOT told what I had offered in the Executive Session.
Here is what I said.
I did not desire Wade Burleson to be an issue at this meeting. I wanted people to focus on Lottie Moon, missions, and the great things that were happening around the world. I did not wish to be the focus of this meeting. I did not intend to say anything about Jerry Corbaley's 153 page email and believed that since Southern Baptists could read for themselves what he wrote (which, by the way, was all about me), there was no need to discuss it any further. It had nothing to do with our missions purpose.
Further, I said that I was feeling it was time to move forward in my own ministry, and that I was feeling led to do four things, and would do all four if the Executive Committee would simply ignore any attempts to censure me, and move forward in the IMB's work.
(1). I would, without hesitancy, apologize both publicly and privately to the three men who felt certain of my posts placed them in a poor light, and,
(2). I would, from this date forward (November 5, 2007) abide by the 'new' trustee guidelines prohibiting dissent, because . . .
(3). I was closing my blog on December 6, 2007, as it related to the IMB and the SBC, choosing to concentrate on personal ministry, and
(3). I would step down as a trustee of the International Mission Board before the end of the year, but . . .
(4). I would not apologize for any violation of the 'new' trustee guidelines regarding public dissent of board approved guidelines and would leave my posts up as a testimony that I stand by the veracity of all I have written.
I further told them that I believed the majority of Southern Baptists agreed with me that Baptists should have the right to graciuosly and courteously dissent from the majority, and that the Garner Motion, adopted at the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention, indicated that the majority of Southern Baptists agreed that the IMB had gone too far in passing doctrinal guidelines that exceeded the BFM 2000.
I could not apologize for saying that there was the 'narrowing of the doctrinal parameters of missionary cooperation' because I could never apologize for telling the truth, even if it was not what trustee leadership, or other leaders in the SBC wanted to hear. However, for the sake of avoiding further controversy, and for the purpose of keeping the International Mission Board focused on missions, and not 'the Wade Burleson issue,' I would do the four things above.
I told them that if the Executive Committe would wait until the NEXT IMB Board meeting that Wade Burleson would be no longer an issue. I would be gone. But if they pressed for an apology, they would not get it.
The Decision To Censure Shows a Lack of Southern Baptist Statesmanship
I honestly thought that the issue was resolved. We closed that little four man meeting in prayer and the next day, I was absolutely convinced that I would not be censured. I called my wife and told her nothing was forthcoming. I told my Dad the same thing. I told Ben Cole everything was off. They all knew of my impending resignation.
In my mind, I was attending my last IMB trustee plenary session Tuesday night, when, out of the blue, we were called into Executive Session. I was, just like two years ago, completely blindsided. I had not been told the censure was coming. I had not been given the three page Censure Recommendation. I was not asked to speak to the motion. I have no clue how many trustees knew what I offered to do, but I am honestly clueless as to why my offer was not accepted. Maybe stunned is a better description than clueless.
The Lord Is In Charge
I am grateful that I learned from a young age to trust in God's providence. There is no human, logical explanation as to why I was censured. I realize that some might say, 'Well, if you had just apologized, it wouldn't have happened.' I don't know how to respond to that kind of thinking except to say that an apology for publicly dissenting, or an apology for keeping Southern Baptists informed in as transparent of a manner as possible would be a violation of my principles and my conscience - as a Baptist Christian and as a trustee elected by the SBC to serve Southern Baptists - not my fellow trustees.
So . . . because a majority of fellow trustees voted to censure me . . .
(1). I will NOT resign from the International Mission Board and will faithfully serve out the tenure assigned me by the Southern Baptist Convention, and
(2). My wife and I will gladly pay our own way to International Mission Board meetings and rejoice that the money saved for our expenses can be used in overseas missions work, and
(3). I will continue blogging about IMB trustee meetings, including all the information needed for Southern Baptists to understand what is taking place in the largest missionary sending agency in the world.
(4). I will continue to be gracious and kind to all my trustees, and will be supportive of the mission of the International Mission Board, but will continue to publicly dissent, when appropriate, if there are IMB policies implemented, guidelines approved, or actions taken that either violate Scripture, Baptist principles, or Christian charity, and finally,
(5). I will humbly accept any future censures from my fellow trustees, for my conscience is bound to a higher principle than that guideline which stifles dissent.
Let me encourage you to give to Lottie Moon this Christmas season. Let me also encourage you to increase your Cooperative Program giving. This week the Lord has shown me that I couldn't get out of the IMB and the SBC even if I wanted, and I definitely desire the IMB to be strong as ever.
The Lord must have a plan for this current controversy. Heaven knows I offered the olive branch.
In His Grace,