I had a new reader of this blog write me and request a brief synopsis of the problem, from my perspective, at the International Mission Board. Interestingly, he told me that he was more excited about SBC missions and felt he knew more about our cooperative work because of my blog. He couldn't understand the basis of the censure after reading about it in his state Baptist paper and asked if I would write a brief synopsis to help him understand the issue from my perspective. With new readers in mind, and realizing that many, many great things are happening on the mission fields, I offer below a synopsis of the problem among IMB trustees.
The International Mission Board of Trustees passed two new policies on November 15, 2005 that forbids any Southern Baptist from being appointed for missions service who (a). honestly admitted when asked that he/she had a private prayer language, and/or (b). were baptized by an administrator of the ordinance, deemed qualifed by the candidate's local church, but 'unqualified' by the trustees of the IMB.
These two doctrinal policies put emphasis on two things the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message treats with silence. To exclude otherwise qualified Southern Baptist missionaries on 'doctrinal' grounds NOT addressed in the BFM is a backdoor way of 'narrowing the doctrinal parameters of Southern Baptist cooperation' without changing the BFM.
For six months I sought to reverse the new policies by working within the Board of Trustees. I was surprised at what seemed to me to be attempts by trustee leadership to stifle free debate and dialogue over the proposed policies. A letter from Dr. Rankin voicing his opposition to the policies - a letter which he requested be sent to all the trustees - was intentionally withheld from trustees by trustee leadership. My requests to hear from the IMB's Candidate Consultants and Regional Leaders (staff members) regarding the need for these policies was denied twice by trustee leadership. I found it very disconcerting that our focus on missions was being sidetracked by an attempt to narrow the doctrinal standards of cooperation - with no justifiable reason for doing so.
Public Dissent Begins
In December of 2005 I began this blog in order to graciously and courteously express to the Southern Baptist Convention my dissent over these Board approved actions. In January of 2006 a recommendation for my removal was presented to trustees, by trustee leadership, behind closed doors. Originally the recommendation was for 'gossip and slander' (which was completely without merit), but within twenty four hours the basis for the recommendation was changed to 'loss of trust' and 'resistance to accountability,' which I assumed meant 'you aren't doing what we want you to do.' There can be no legitimate or believable denial that the issue was my public dissent on this blog. The powers that be felt that the policies passed and I should be quiet. I remained both courteous and gracious to all trustees, including trustee leadership, throughout the effort to remove me.
On March 22, 2006, the Board of Trustees unanimously rescinded the recommendation for my removal. Though I was asked to apologize for my public dissent - before the trustees voted to rescind the recommendation - I graciously declined, telling all the trustees that I stood by everything I had written, and that courteous dissent is both healthy and Baptist. However, later that same day the BOT passed new policies that forbid trustees from expressing public dissent of Board approved policies. Rather than allowing the Southern Baptist Convention to decide if I should remain a trustee, IMB trustee leadership determined to deal with it internally by passing new policies that threatened censure for anyone who publically dissented.
I was not particularly keen on receiving a censure and so I initially thought I would cease any public dissent over Board approved policies that exceed the BFM 2000 and violate Scripture. However, I received affirmation from the Southern Baptist Convention through the LifeWay survey that revealed over half of Southern Baptists believe a private prayer language is a legitimate gift from God, and I was emboldened when the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention adopted the Garner Motion which states the Baptist Faith and Message is a 'sufficient' doctrinal standard for Southern Baptist cooperaton. I began to use my blog, again, to seek to implement the Convention's desires.
The Censure Motion
Late last month the trustee who originally went behind closed doors in January 2006 to seek my removal sent an email to all IMB trustees requesting I be censured because it is obvious I had not repented, much less apologized. I published the email for all to read. The email was about me, and I learned two years ago that the best protection for my reputation and character is to have everything said and done be in the open so all Southern Baptists can see. I am ashamed of nothing and welcome complete transparency.
When I arrived in Springfield, Illinois for the last trustee meeting, I felt that trustee leadership was desirous of censuring me. Though no trustee had ever personally contacted me by phone or email with concerns over my blog, I had grown accustomed to things being handled behind closed doors at meetings where the body only hears from trustee leadership.
In my meeting with the Executive Committee on the Monday before the start of the Springfield, Illinois Board meeting I made known my desire not to become the issue - again - within the IMB. I informed the Executive Committe that I would shut down my blog on December 6, 2007; I would resign from the IMB before the end of the year, and I would personally apologize to any trustee who felt he had been 'disparaged' by my blog. I did request to speak to the entire Board - uninterrupted - before I resigned. I asked to speak to the trustees in the Public session, but since I knew trustee leadership would not allow that, I said I would acquiesce to speak to them behind closed doors.
The trustee chairman asked me to put my proposal in writing and dismissed me from the meeting. I was interrupted in the process of writing out my proposal by an event that is so bizarre I felt I was in the Twilight Zone (one of these days I will write about it). I had not completed the proposal by the allotted time, so a sub-committee from the Executive Committee was sent to meet with me. I gave more information to the sub-committee, including the reasons for my decision to resign. They wrote everything down to 'report' back to the Executive Committee. I reiterated to this small committee of three that I did not want Wade Burleson to be the issue at this IMB meeting during the very important Lottie Moon season, and if they would just leave well enough alone, I would be gone by the first of the year. However, if the Executive Committee proceeded with a censure, then I would not be resigning - for reasons that were very clear to that committee.
I did not meet again with the Executive Committee. I assumed through conversations I had the next morning that nothing was going to happen in terms of the censure. However, that night, trustee leadership called trustees into Executive Session, read the three page motion to censure me, did not afford me the opportunity to speak to the Board, did not reveal my offer to the Board, and allowed 'Question' to be called after only one person spoke. One of my trustee friends said after the meeting 'those railroad tracks went right across your chest.' I just smiled.
The deacons at Emmanuel Baptist Church, Enid, met last Sunday night and voted unanimously to express to anyone who will listen their unqualified support for their pastor. They also did some other really nice things for me that I feel no pressing need to elaborate. I did not know the meeting was being called, and I was not present - having a previous commitment in Oklahoma City for our Oklahoma's Centennial. Needless to say, I have a church that knows me and understands my convictions well. They know their pastor believes courteous dissent is essential for any healthy organization, including their church. Sunday School teachers are free to teach opposite of what their pastor teaches on tertiary issues of Scripture. Deacons and members are free to publicly express their disapproval of church actions. All we ask is that everyone maintain a gracous, loving and courteous spirit. I think I just assumed all Southern Baptists were like us.
Let me assure my Southern Baptist partners in missions and ministry that I will continue to fulfill my service as a trustee of the International Mission Board. I will be paying my own way to the Board meetings. I will continue to try to keep grassroots Southern Baptists informed, and I believe with all my heart progress is being made.
Happy Thanksgiving to All!
In His Grace,