The International Mission Board convened this week in the Dallas/Fort Worth area for a trustee meeting. The Chairman of the Board for the past two years has been Dr. John Floyd, an administrator at Mid-America Seminary. Dr. Floyd was Chairman of the IMB Personnel Committee that introduced the policy changes for missionary candidates regarding baptism and a private prayer language, and he often publicly chided me for my blog. I felt I was keeping the Southern Baptist Convention informed of events occuring at the IMB, but obviously, he and others viewed it differently. Dr. Floyd believes that ministry matters involving the IMB should be dealt with behind closed doors, and the Southern Baptist Convention at large should not be informed of issues being dealt with by the board until after decisions have already been made. The notion that a blog would inform the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole of the issues, and the debate surrounding them, was anathema to certain trustees. One such trustee. a member of Dr. Floyd's generation, publicly informed the full board that she believed blogging was like 'internet porn,' an obvious indication she had never seen either.
The International Mission Board has been tightly and secretively controlled by a handful of trustees over the past few years, and the politics of getting additional like-minded trustees appointed to the IMB and elected to board leadership was often more manipulative than national politics. It is not widely known that the real control of the Southern Baptist Convention is not through the President of the SBC, but through the trustees who control the boards. I served six months on the International Mission Board of trustees (June 2005 - December 2006) before I ever began to blog. The reason I began to blog is because I saw trustees who were undermining the leadership and vision of the President of the International Mission Board, using power and control to silence dissent on the board, unfairly marginalizing those who dared to disagree, and ultimately attempting to remove anyone from staff positions or trustee positions that they could not control.
I'll give you one example. When trustee leadership, led by Dr. John Floyd, began to propose that new policies on private prayer language and baptism were needed, Dr. Rankin expressed his belief, in writing, that if the proposed policies being pushed by Dr. Floyd and his Personnel Committee were actually implemented they would be "detrimental to the unity and focus of the board." Dr. Rankin wrote a nine page letter on April 28, 2005 articulating his concerns and showing, point by point, why the proposed policies would create unnecessary difficulties for the Board. Dr. Rankin requested assurances that his letter be given 'appropriate consideration" and that his concerns "be communicated (to the board) constructively."
I do not know if Dr. Rankin was ever given any assurances, but his requests were not granted. I and other trustees did not find out about the President's letter till the fall of 2005, six months after it had been written, and it took a motion from this 'rookie' trustee (as Dr. Tom Hatley called me), to get the letter before the Board before the vote on the policies. My recommendation for the trustees to see the letter, a recommendation opposed by trustee leadership, barely passed during a lunch meeting of the full board, and when it did, we were told that we would be given the letter several hours later, after trustee leadership had an opportunity to prepare it for distribution. We did get the letter several hours later, with hand written notes from Dr. John Floyd scribbled all over it. Dr. Rankin's letter may be viewed here, exactly as we trustees received it, with Dr. Floyd's handwritten notes penned in the margins.
The notes that Dr. Floyd wrote speak for themselves. It illustrates the very thing I have said has been taking place for the past few years in the IMB and the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole. Ideological like-minded Southern Baptists are attempting to marginalize, and in some instances remove, those who disagree. To call the arguments and conclusions of the President of the IMB "ridiculous," "unscriptural," "illogical," and the like, is unconscionable conduct, particularly considering the timing of the release of the letter (right before a vote by the board on the policies).
I have a question. What is the difference between a blog that sways SBC opinion after the adoption of a policy, and Dr. Floyd who used his position to keep from the board of trustees valuable information in a letter from the President, only to release it when forced to do so, and then with handwritten criticisms all over the letter? The old way of keeping control by limiting the flow of information, stifling dissent, and ridiculing those who disagree is over. The Southern Baptist Convention needs and demands transparency, the free flow of information, the ability to dissent, and cooperation in the midst of differences on tertiary issues.
Our convention of cooperating churches is harmed over demands for a uniform, homogenous Baptist identity that some seek. In addition, agencies are harmed when there is never any true debate allowed among the trustees. To act as if God is only on one side of an issue, and it is 'our side,' is the heighth of spiritual arrogance. Unhindered and transparent debate keeps all Southern Baptists humble and honest. Southern Baptists better realize that the power of the gospel must not be replaced by the power politics of a Baptist identity religion.
Finally, I believe the letter above proves that the reason some don't like blogs is because they lose control of the both the amount and kind of information they wish released. The IMB President desired his letter to be communicated widely. Southern Baptists operate CHRISTIAN ministries, and Rankin's request for open communication is the mark of genuine, Christ-like leadership. The ability to debate issues among Southern Baptists with civility, cooperate with brothers holding to divergent views, and keep our focus on the gospel is the need of the hour. Hopefully, the new IMB Chairman, Paul Chitwood from Kentucky, will help the board keep the focus on the mission and purpose of the IMB and not digress into narrowing the doctrinal parameters of participation by adopting policies that exceed the BFM.
John 12:42 said that of the many who believed on Christ some "did not confess Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." It is high time Southern Baptists become more concerned about cooperative missions than we are our fear of being branded or removed from denominational service by leaders who wish to define Baptist identity according to their narrow beliefs. In time, the SBC will be better because the pastors and churches who support her Cooperative Program speak up and speak out for cooperation and not against it.
In His Grace,