ROGERS, Ark. (BP)–“Constructive conversations appear to be bearing fruit” in the conflict between the International Mission Board’s trustees and an Oklahoma pastor, chairman Tom Hatley told Baptist Press Feb. 16.
Hatley had announced Feb. 15 that the trustees’ nine-member executive committee is recommending that the board withdraw its Jan. 11 request to the Southern Baptist Convention to remove the pastor, Wade Burleson, as a trustee.
“I have spoken several times since our [January] meeting in extensive conversations with Brother Wade … and I am very optimistic that our relationships will be more harmonious in the future,” Hatley told Baptist Press.
Hatley noted Feb. 15 that the trustee executive committee had moved toward options by which trustee accountability can be handled internally.
In the interview Feb. 16, Hatley recounted that after the board’s meeting last November in Huntsville, Ala., he had asked the trustees’ orientation committee to study the accountability of trustees to each other — “to sharpen the guidelines that we’re going to hold each other to.”
The orientation committee has forwarded a preliminary report to the trustees’ administrative committee, which will discuss the report during the March 20-22 board meeting in Tampa, Fla.
Trustee accountability guidelines and a possible committee to handle trustee-to-trustee conflict, Hatley said, “can be helpful to every trustee, not just to Mr. Burleson.”
Hatley said he has recounted the recent developments to Burleson and senses that “he is excited because he has matters of trustee behavior he would like to bring up, and he sees this as an internal forum for him to get that done.”
“So, it’s not going to serve just as a point of accountability for Wade Burleson, it’ll be good for all us as far as knowing where we stand with one another and what we expect of one another.”
Burleson, in a statement to Baptist Press regarding these steps toward reconciliation, said, “I never felt unreconciled with our board. I believed from the beginning the recommendation for my removal was unsubstantiated, without precedent and ultimately unnecessary. Healthy boards learn to work with people who disagree for the good of the Kingdom. We are getting there. I have the utmost respect for the men and women who serve the IMB as a trustee. I remain steadfast in my desire to work with my fellow trustees to make the IMB even better. I reaffirm my commitment to abide by every policy and procedure of the board as I continue blogging.”
Burleson’s Internet weblog about IMB trustee actions had been a key factor in the action against him during their Jan. 9-11 meeting in Richmond, Va. In a statement about the action, the trustees cited “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability.”
Burleson posted a blog Feb. 16 that expanded on his conversations with Hatley. The discussions were prompted in part by a statement in Baptist Press Feb. 15 that “the committee determined that the matter of disciplining a trustee can be handled internally.” Hatley confirmed the phraseology to Baptist Press but clarified that he was speaking about the proposed accountability guidelines.
In his blog, Burleson wrote, “I discovered that Tom did not mean to imply that the Board would discipline me…. In no way was he referring to me specifically. I thanked Tom for this explanation, and I told him that people reading the article, including Baptist editors nationwide[,] were adding a subtitle that said, ‘Trustees to seek discipline internally’ and made it sound like the Board would seek discipline behind closed doors….”
Burleson also blogged about his exchange with Hatley as to why this option [to remove him as a trustee] was selected in the first place and his concern that the record be expunged regarding the original charges. Burleson’s blog can be read at kerussocharis.blogspot.com.
Both Hatley in his statement to Baptist Press and Burleson in his weblog spoke favorably of the candor and graciousness in their exchanges.
Burleson, in his statement to Baptist Press, said he hopes 2006 will be “the best year ever for the International Mission Board. I look forward to working on a framework through which principled dissent is not only well received, but used to make the IMB an even greater mission-sending ministry.”
The trustee orientation committee’s report likely will become public as a result of the administrative committee’s discussion, Hatley acknowledged to Baptist Press.
“The administrative committee can add or subtract or suggest [changes to the report] and then begin to educate the board and see if the board would like to adopt that,” Hatley said.
“We’re not going to publish it until we see it in a final form,” he said, “because it can change along the way.”
Hatley commented that, “Right now if you have a problem, it’s in one person’s head and then it goes to the full board, and there’s nothing in between,” potentially detracting from the board’s foremost focus on “how to reach the world for Jesus.”
A trustee accountability committee could “hopefully screen 90 percent of [potential trustee conflict] and solve it before it gets to the full board. And if it needs to go to the full board, then we’ll have a committee in place to recommend that.”
With reporting by Will Hall and Art Toalston.