Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Open Meetings Mean Fewer Misunderstandings

"In 43 years there have been fewer than six executive sessions (closed door, private meetings) . . . The Executive Committee (SBC) has an open ear for anyone one who wants to speak to it. For almost 25 years the gallery has been two to three times bigger than the size of the Committee, and the gallery has been permitted to ask any question, to give any information, to make any point and to offer any objection." Dr. Albert McClellan, December 31, 1980, The Baptist Program.

SBC leaders would do well to imitate Dr. Albert McClellan and the Southern Baptist Executive Committee of the mid-20th century. Some Southern Baptists feel that our agencies should follow the example of corporate boards and keep all things private except what 'corporate officers' want you to hear. Public relations departments, press releases, and image surveys are all tools used by the corporate world to keep the 'reputation' of the business intact. Christian ministries, however, should desire to thrive on genuine integrity, full transparency, and complete openness. Reputation should not be nearly as important to followers of Christ as integrity. Christ is the light of the world, and all things done in His name, including the spending of donated monies, debates about how to best fulfill our mission and purpose, and questions - asked and answered - that lead to greater organizational accountability should all happen in public forums. It goes without saying that concerns for missionary safety must take priority, but except for that single concern, every other Southern Baptist item of business should be offered, debated, and settled in the full public view of the Convention herself. Lawyers may not like that model, but grassroots Southern Baptists should.

Two examples from last week's IMB trustee meeting serve as an example of the benefit of debating issues publicly rather than behind closed doors.

(1). First, the debate over what trustee Hershael York calls The Most Important Business at the IMB Meeting - the adoption of 'Five Principles of Contextualization' - took place behind a closed door Executive Session instead of in an open 'plenary' session of the board. I felt that all the comments during the debate, on both sides, were excellent and explained how Southern Baptists can effectively share Christ with Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and other religious people. Trustees, staff, and special guests discussed how the issue, what is appropriate and what is not in terms of contextualization (presenting the gospel in the context of the culture in which the person finds himself), and various related important issues. Unfortunately, nobody but those behind the closed doors last Tuesday night will ever hear the excellent discussion. It might be argued that to discuss the evangelizing of Muslims or people of other faiths is 'dangerous.' All that needs to be said in rebutting that argument is one sentence: 'When we are more afraid to talk publicly in our religious meetings of leading Muslims to know the Prince of Peace than the Muslims are of allowing radicals to speak openly in their mosques of putting to death those who shall not submit to Islam - then we show ourselves to be ultimately more fearful of man than we are faithful to God.' Southern Baptists must begin to talk openly about our desire to evangelize the world instead of acting as if it is some big secret.

(2). Had the presentation and 'discussion' over the motion to censure me taken place in public, then there would have been less of an opportunity for anyone to misunderstand the basis for the censure. Though I would have desired for the focus of the meeting to be on missions and not me, I humbly accept the censure for persisting in 'public dissent.' IMB trustees were well within their rights to censure, based on the irrational March 22, 2006 'new' Trustee Standard of Conduct guideline that declares 'trustees must publicly support board approved policy even if they do not privately support it.' Baptists are true dissenters in both religious identity and actual history. To stifle dissent is to deny our heritage and nature. When the doors of meetings of Southern Baptist agencies are opened again, and people get familarized again with the practice of civil debate, gracious discussion, and courteous dissent, then there will no need to feel the need to stifle dissent to preserve 'unity.' But most of all, when there is full and free debate for all to hear, then there will be fewer opportunities for misunderstandings.

For example, a Southern Baptist named Bob A. emailed one of my fellow trustees (whom I shall not name) and requested the 'basis' for the censure motion. The IMB trustee emailed Bob back with his answer - which was then forwarded to me. When I read my fellow trustee's email I called him immediately to help clear up his confusion, but I marveled at his rationale for the basis of the censure. The IMB trustee responded to Bob's question "Since when in Baptist life can there be no public disagreement with actions of one of our agencies?" by writing the following:

That is NOT the issue we are facing . . . What happened is that Mr. Burleson began a critical and scathing blog against the leadership of the trustees and the IMB president. He was publically critical of our leadership - not the issues. He was repeated asked to stop from this personal attack of our leadership and he refused. It has nothing to do with the issue or his dissent. It was his unchristian criticism of our leadership.

This IMB trustee, who 'voted' for my censure, admitted to me today that he rarely reads my blog, and when he does, he finds I am always courteous and gracious. The reason I oppose closed door meetings is because the people who want the doors closed control the flow of information. I couldn't help but think that the average Southern Baptist who read blogs understands more of the issues at play than some trustees.

I believe that we will one day see the benefit of holding open door meetings and will refrain from closed door Executive Sessions except for rare occasions. I give absolute, unconditional and irrevocable permission for any and all relevant information related to the censure to be made available to anyone who asks. This is not a sensitive issue. It is a simple disagrement among believers over the right for sitting trustees to publicly and graciously dissent over board approved actions of our agencies.

When agencies practice open meetings, there will be no need for public dissent because all dissent will already be heard - in the meeting itself.

In His Grace,



Anonymous said...

Wade, I suggest you delete this post, or at least the quote from Albert McClellan, before the "powers that be" see it. We know what was starting to happen around that time, and they are likely to view it as approval of that earlier time in SBC history, before things changed, in their opinion for the better, in my opinion, for the worse. (Though my opinion does not matter to them since I am female and thus not supposed to disagree with males.)

Or do you already figure you are enough on their "bad list" that saying such things no longer matters.

And whatever happened to the old joke my pastor said last week in an entirely different context: If you have two Baptists together you have three different opinions.


wadeburleson.org said...


Thanks for the comment, but I'm sure if you've read my blog you know I don't do anything based upon perceptions. Also, i happen to believe everyone, regardless of their conservatism or lack of it, can see Dr. McClellan represents a generation that believed in the principle of open communication.

Anonymous said...

While I appreciate Susie's well-meaning advice to Wade, I appreciate his response more.

The SBC has officially been in existance since 1845 and - its now repudiated slaveholders views notwithstanding - surely most of us can agree that much good has been done prior to the Conservative Resurgence began approximately 30 years ago.

For that matter we need to get used to the fact that much good has been done in the name of Christ prior to the SBC's formation -- and much good will likely be done when it is finally gone.

The cause of Christ is eternal.

The denominations of man will exist but for a blink of God's eye.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for enduring these attacks for all of us who want to know what is going on. You are helping the convention not hurting it.

Anonymous said...

Of course, a part of the tactic for control is to obfuscate the true issue. Again, this is the methodology of the leaders of the SBC for the past 30 years. Wade Burleson says the issue is the right for courteous dissent, the leaders say it is something else. Since the leaders are the leaders, then the one who suggests the issue is different is wrong by definition since the leaders are always right.

Openess takes away the ability of the leaders to control the spin on the issues. This is a long-standing tactic of the secular world and of authoritarian governments. No surprises.

Anonymous said...

I think this was "public dissent" and believe that everyone among us is proud of it:

". . . The Presbyterians and the Baptists were the two principal forces who successfully fought for religious freedom in Virginia against the 'Established' Anglican church, the official state church of Virginia under its colonial government.

"Governor Patrick Henry of Virginia, a dedicated Christian, and Governor George Clinton of New York led the fight for Religious Freedom and Freedom of Speech and the other Bill of Rights guarantees, forcing James Madison to introduce a Bill of Rights to the Continental Congress in June 1789 which was approved by the Congress in September 1789 and sent to the states for ratification.

"Andrew McCord, close friend of Governor George Clinton of New York State played a role with Clinton in that successful fight for our Bill of Rights, it is reported.

"James Madison had opposed a Bill of Rights. Clinton and Patrick Henry's role in the Bill of Rights has been described earlier (see New York) . . ." (from: http://www.mccordfamilyassn.com/virginia.htm).

Long-live public dissent appropriately done in any forum by God's people led by a right conscience and the Spirit.

Anonymous said...

November 14, 2007
You are correct when you said, “Or do you already figure you are enough on their ‘bad list’ that saying such things no longer matters?”

A man with an arrow through his heart is not worried about more arrows.

It’s like my brother in a police station overhearing, a sergeant saying, “You guys, (policemen) come quick, there’s a man on our ‘list’ here…I want you to see him so you can recognize him!”

The district attorney had sent my brother to get papers to fill out a complaint for ‘false arrest’ charge. (The sergeant had seen him paying a fine for an overdue car inspection and arrested him for disturbing the peace. The DA knew the sergeant was lying when the ticket lady said my brother had not been yelling.)

Hearing the sergeant’s remark and walking into the room, my brother said, “Who’s in charge here.”

“I am!”

“You don’t have brains to be in charge of a chicken-coop!”

So you see Suzie, my brother had nothing to loose since he was already on their list.

The trouble started when my 23 year-old niece was stopped for expired tags, and the sergeant said he was going to keep her in jail 24 hours because she had a suspicious substance in her purse. (Unlawful search)
The sergeant was given a Dr.’s phone number that would verify the pills were for cancer. (She died 5 years later.)

But he would not call. Upon hearing his daughter crying, my brother asked for permission to talk to her since she was sick. Being denied, my brother told the sergeant he was not attacking anyone but he was going to talk to his daughter and did a head-first dive through the ticket window.

This caused such a disturbance, a captain came in and called the Dr. and my niece was released. This ‘bad element’ of the police has been removed, but not before my brother’s testimony at a trial kept the captain from being fired and further embarrassed the sergeant, or before my brother moved to another state.

As in the case above, the censure of Wade is all about personal revenge as seen in:

“Mr. Burleson began a critical and scathing blog against the leadership…”

How long will it take before this ‘bad element’ is removed?...hopefully before the SBC sinks completely into Catholicism.

Rex Ray (couldn't get blogger to work)

Bob Cleveland said...

Thomas Jefferson said something that seems applicable here, albeit he said it about government.

"And say, finally, whether peace is best preserved by giving energy to the government or information to the people. This last is the most certain and the most legitimate engine of government."

We seem to have too much energy in part of our SBC government.

wadeburleson.org said...

Bob, your quote just one tomorrow's quote of the day!

Jeff said...

Rex, Wade believes these men to have the best interests of the SBC at heart, but you believe they are doing all this for personal revenge.

So you disagree with Wade?

david b mclaughlin said...

This IMB trustee, who 'voted' for my censure, admitted to me today that he rarely reads my blog...

And this is the kind of garbage that make me sick. It's like a Senator voting on a bill and then when criticized he says, "I didn't read it!"

David Mc

Anonymous said...

Wade, I was very disappointed in the censure action and believe it will only serve to create more frustration and, ultimately, more distrust toward the board. The very idea that you can only speak positively of board actions even when you personally disagree smacks of a paranoid controlling mindset. You are right that it looks more like a PR firm or worldly corporation than an institution formed for the glory of God and the advancement of the gospel throughout the world.

Anonymous said...

I believe in open meetings
in fact I attended the IMB meeting in Tampa that you have reference in the past .
The problem is not that meetings are not open but that you continue to drive your agenda even though the Board has spoken .You remind me of a child who's toy is taken away and won't stop whining

Anonymous said...

Othoniel A Valdes Sr wrote: "The problem is not that meetings are not open but that you continue to drive your agenda even though the Board has spoken."

-Sir, as a denominational employee your job is not to instruct its churches and its members but to serve them.

Steve said...

We always need openness between Christians. Spin doctors and political control junkies go out of business when everyone has the information they need. One day SBC'ers will attend and take part in meetings over the Internet, and information will be even more vital then. Roosters may crow during their "agency reports" all they want (not that I'm thinking of anybody in particular, you understand!) and spinning facts will be even more useless. Not only will this energize the believers but it will let strangers to Christ see how much like them we are (on the outside!)

david b mclaughlin said...

The problem is not that meetings are not open but that you continue to drive your agenda even though the Board has spoken.

Uhhhhh...if the meetings were open there would be nothing for Wade to "whine" about.

So yeah, the problem IS that the meetings are not open.

Charles R said...

The date of of McClellan's quote is telling. The need for "executive sessions" for agency and institutional boards at both the state and the national level seems to have grown in direct proportion to the growth and strengthening of the CR through the 80's and the 90's. Regardless of the purity of motive, the methods used have NOT been, nor will they ever be, able to withstand the light of day.

Anonymous said...

Whatever happen to "agree to disagree?" In the heat of debate, this one option.

It is good to see Dr. Albert still influencing.


Anonymous said...

I have a question for you. Would you blog all the details of your deacons' meetings? Are they not behind "closed" doors? Why not invite the entire church to sit in on them and discuss the issues? Because some things need to remain private and so it is with the IMB closed sessions.

Anonymous said...

I would agree with those who, like Wade, support a position of openness in meetings and speech for the IMB, and all our SBC entities.

However, I don't agree that we ALWAYS have certain rights -- or that we, even when we DO have rights, should always seek to assert them.

There is much to be said, in my opinion, for acceptance of authority - in the Bible. Now, before some of you throw the rock that you've picked up, let me finish....

I believe that I am under the authority of my employer and my pastor (at least, maybe others). If I disagree with my employer, I do feel that I can go to him with my concern, but if I can't convince him and I still argue the point I'm just asking to be fired. With my pastor, after making my point to no avail, if I continue I could be a disruption to my church.

The best position - in my opinion - would be to distance myself. In other words, find a new job or a new church. THEN, I would be free to say or do whatever I felt necessary with regard to the former situation. If I don't remove myself from the situation first, couldn't I be seen a rebelious, or as a trouble-maker?

Please understand I'm not trying to say Wade's position is wrong....in fact, I can agree with much of what he states he believes. I am just questioning the wisdom of trying to remain under the authority of the IMB BoT rules, all the while intentionally breaking them by dissenting.

Dissenting, wrong? No.
Dissenting when you know it's against the approved rules, wrong? Maybe.

Just my thoughts....for what they're worth. Thanks, Wade, for allowing me to post them!!

Charles Brazeale,
Neosho, MO

Rex Ray said...

Belief Matters,
I was wondering who you’d pick on to start your usual dissent of Wade. No, I do not disagree with Wade.

Your words would carry more weight when you say what a man believes if you would quote what he said that supports your conclusion.

I will take my own advice:

On Wade’s post today, this question was asked of the IMB: “Since when in Baptist life can there be no public disagreement with actions of one of our agencies?”

The IMB responded: “That is NOT the issue we are facing…What happened is that Mr. Burleson began a critical and scathing blog against the leadership of the trustees and the IMB president. He was publicly critical of our leadership—not the issues. He was repeated asked to stop from this personal attack of our leadership and he refused. It has nothing to do with the issue or his dissent. It was his unchristian criticism of our leadership.”

The way I see it, even thought these men were trying their best with their rules to win the world to Christ, their warped thinking for power and control, caused them to censure Wade out of revenge.

“He was…against…the IMB president.”

Hey! Rankin is Wade’s hero. Where did they get that untruth?

The same place the CR used so much…guilt by association.

On Wade’s post of October 31—forth from last comment I quoted a letter I had written Rankin:
1. King Saul thought priest were disloyal and wanted them killed, and the Executive Committee thought unsigned missionaries were disloyal and wanted them fired.
2. The army refused Saul’s request, and you delayed.
3. Doeg killed the priest, and Avery Willis demanded signatures of missionaries on stateside assignment.
4. You duplicated Pilate wilting to religious leaders.
5. I think you saw your job fading and stated May 5, 2003 as the deadline or be fired.

I’m the one (NOT WADE) who accused Rankin of firing missionaries to stop a 9-11 attack on the IMB.

Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

If you all have not read Jerry Grace's blog this week you need to - he has two excellent postings dealing with the quashing of dissent, and control by the "leaders" of the resurgence


Jim Champion

Bennett Willis said...

Alan Cross wrote a blog posting on the death of dissent. I’m not sure I recommend reading it because I think that he is unnecessarily gloomy, but in it he did suggest that the SBC needs to have to deal with a little less money than they presently do. Since we are not comfortable with cutting back on funding for missionaries, the way for us to make a bit of a statement (and not hurt those we love) is to sit down with our church budgets (currently in preparation in thousands of churches) and identify all money that will go to the SBC. (Look at your state convention’s usual split with the SBC and any other ways the money gets divided—do it very honestly. Be focused here.) Then shift that money into the Lottie Moon offering check for 2008 along with the usual offering. This would put the monetary support where we really want it to go. It is something that can be presented cleanly and clearly to the people preparing the budget or even brought to the church floor if needed. It is relatively easy to explain and defend should that be needed. One small step...

Bennett Willis

James said...

Bennett Willis,

You recommendation seems to presume that the SBC does not do anything good except send money to foreign missionaries. It also funds mission work throughout the US as well. It funds literature and media projects.

I think your proposal is dreadful. The proper answer is to go to the convention next June to elect people committed to holding our trustees and boards accountable. Also, to go there and offer motions to reverse the bad behavior of our representatives. Finally, the answer is to talk to your pastor and staff about the importance of the issues in question.

Anonymous said...

My only question to you Mr. Burleson is this: Do you ever have a positive thought, remark or anything that resembles that happen to you or has ever happened to you since you've been representing me as a trustee of the IMB? From what I have been able to read, you are very high on your own graciousness, and I believe you do speak with a gracious tone, and attempt to be as fair as possible. It's just that you cannot seem to withhold a "but" comment. You applaud your fellow trustees, but it's like you're doing it with your fingers crossed. I for one would enjoy you, as a man that is willing to blog about the IMB leadership, to interject some of the positives...the victories. Surely there is some, sir. I cannot believe that this agency only has bad things to report, and always needs change. No, you shouldn't just "go along" with policy, but we are supposed to be on the same side, aren't we?


Anonymous said...

I support open meetings. However, given the nature of trustee discussion and action over the past few years, they are the last people I want publicly discussing missiological contextualization. I would be surprised if the majority understands the concept and I would greatly fear what pronouncements might come from such a discussion.

Gary said...
This comment has been removed by the author.