Saturday, March 25, 2006

Why Does It Not End?

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette ran an article yesterday where the reporter quotes Chairman Hatley talking about the unanimous action of the Board to rescind the recommendation for my removal. The reporter writes:

"Burleson is in a 'status pending' and cannot serve on any International Mission Board committees until issues between him and other board members are reconciled, Hatley said. "We're going to deal with some of those problems we've had in relationships with him under these new guidelines." Burleson disagreed with two policies passed by the board in 2005. One prevents people who speak in tongues or have a "private prayer language" from becoming missionaries, and the other requires that missionary candidates be baptized again in a Southern Baptist church if their baptism doesn't meet certain criteria.

Burleson began a blog - a sort of Internet journal - in December and wrote about the (baptism and tongues) policies online. Hatley said the blog itself was not a problem, but some content on it was. Hatley said Burleson aired "information and criticism that is not proper for a trustee to engage in a public forum" and (Hatley) acknowledged that the blog is one such forum."

I have four observations and corresponding questions about Chairman Hatley's statement given to the Gazette. I offer these as genuine, heartfelt questions, and would like either answers or correction to my thinking.

(1). I am quite certain that there has been no public distribution of the basis for the charge that my blog contains information and criticism that is not proper. I am certain of this because nothing has even been given to me in private to substantiate that claim. In fact, even though I have asked anyone and everyone who is offended at the content of my blog to show me the offending content, I have yet to receive anything hand written, via electronic mail, or via post that shows the offending material.

Giving to me the offending material is easily done. Someone could email me the text. Someone could write me a letter. Someone could simply print my blog and highlight with a yellow marker the offensive material (this is what I have suggested). I have repeatedly, consistently, and doggedly stated I am ready to defend what I have written, or if it can be proven to be false, to repent. But I must first SEE what I must defend.

The new policy on trustee accountability states under the section General Responsibilities "Trustees are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees."

Definition of disparage: 1. To speak of in a slighting or disrespectful way; belittle. 2.To reduce in esteem or rank.

Question 1: "Is Chairman Hatley's statement disparaging of a fellow trustee?"

My judgement may be clouded on this issue, so it is very possible that his remark is not disparaging of a fellow trustee. Since he made it publicly I think it is appropriate to ask the above question publicly. The new policy on trustee accountability forbids disparaging statements of fellow trustees. I am sure Dr. Hatley does not intend to violate the policy and I give him the benefit of a doubt, but I guess I am wondering why Dr. Tom felt that statement needed to be made in public.

(2). The Board voted unanimously to rescind the recommendation for my removal. This is a Board approved action. To rescind means to make void, to repeal or annul.

I would love to quote the official recommendation for my removal that was rescinded, but I am unsure what will be released to the public regarding the minutes of the January meeting. The approval of January minutes, which contained the actual text of the motion, was on the agenda of the public meeting in Tampa, but we went into Executive Session (closed door meeting) to approve the minutes, and I do not recall the (amended) minutes ever being released publicly.

I do think it is fair to say that the words "gossip and slander" were a part of the motion. I can say this because I heard these words read into the official public record in January. Since the "content" of the blog is the issue, I'm quite sure the trustee who made the original motion meant "gossip and libel" (since the blog is written, not spoken), but I would agree with Dr. Tom --- the content of the blog was the issue, but rather than give specific examples, the charge was always the very nebulous "gossip" and "slander" because as Dr. Hatley told the Gazette in January, "We are not going to mudsling publicly. It's not Biblical."

It sure feels like mudslinging when "gossip and slander" are charged publicly with no written substantiation privately. Matthew 18 demands a private encounter where the offense is clearly revealed. I am very comfortable with those words that offend people being made public, because as anyone who thinks through this should know --- THE BLOG IS ALREADY PUBLIC! Show me the improper content and I will vigorously defend it according to policy and documentation or I will "repent" if I can be shown I am wrong.

Question 2: If the content of my blog was the basis for the original recommendation for my removal for "gossip and slander," but that motion has been now rescinded unanimously, is it not a criticism of the Board approved action to continue saying that the content of my blog was the problem?

If any trustee ever publicly criticizes the unanimous Board action to rescind the motion to remove, then he is in violation of the new policies on trustee accountability. In the section entitled Trustee Standards of Conduct the policy states: Individual IMB trustees must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions

(3). I followed the old trustee manual, called "The Blue Book," very meticulously as I blogged beginning in December and through the middle of March. I followed all policies that were in effect at that time. Therefore, any criticism and information on my blog about Board approved actions or Board approved policies was perfectly legitimate and proper. Of course the new policies that forbid criticism of Board approved actions make my old posts improper, but the new policies are not retroactive. So it is difficult for me to understand how Chairman Hatley could say that on my blog there was "information and criticism that is not proper for a trustee to engage in a public forum."

Question 3: If I am bound by policies in my IMB service, and the content of my blog falls within the adopted trustee manual (i.e "The Blue Book), then what makes the content of my blog "not proper?"

I think this is the heart of the issue. I believed I was fulfilling my duty according to policy. Even more, I felt COMPELLED to write my blog because of what the Blue Book demanded of IMB trustees. Trustee leadership wanted me to stop. I said no. This is what became "resistance to accountability" and "loss of trust."

Trustee leadership said, "Wade won't do what we say." Wade said, "I will do what the policy demands." Impasse.

New policies solve the impasse. But how can it continue to be said the content of my blog was "improper" if I was abiding by the old policies that were in effect while I blogged?

(4). I have repeatedly asked that every issue that involves me be dealt with in public. I have blogged this request. I have emailed every trustee this request. I have told trustee leadership on several occasions.

I am willing to let this issue go away, but when I read statements like I read today in a PUBLIC newspaper, then I go back to saying, "Please, please, please, let's make this public. If we are going to continue making disparaging allegations publicly, let's resolve this publicly."

Question 4: Why is there a resistance by trustee leadership to make the specific charges (the actual content of my blog that is offensive) public?

Please understand I am simply asking questions. I respect the fact that Chairman Hatley may be under a great deal of pressure. I frankly compliment him, very sincerely, on his demeanor and spirit toward me this past Board meeting. I enjoyed our conversations.

If there are no answers, so be it. I at least thought the questions were worth asking.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

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