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IMB trustees censure, suspend Burleson

SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (BP)–Trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, meeting in executive session Nov. 6, voted to censure trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma and suspend him from their next four meetings for multiple violations of the trustees’ code of conduct.

The censure motion stated that Burleson had “repeatedly failed” to abide by provisions in the code of conduct adopted in March 2006 governing trustee service, including requirements that trustees “refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions” and “scrupulously avoid either the fact or the appearance” of having disclosed information or private conversations from trustees meetings.

The motion also cited requirements that trustees “speak in positive and supportive terms as they interpret and report on actions by the board, regardless of whether they personally support the action” and that trustees “are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees.”

Burleson, pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., became the focus of controversy in 2005 when he used his blog, Grace and Truth to You, to publicly disagree with actions taken by the board.

In two meetings Nov. 5 with the trustee executive committee and senior board staff, Burleson was asked to apologize for the violations. He reportedly offered to apologize for making disparaging remarks, which he said were unintentional. He refused, however, according to the motion of censure, to apologize for publicly criticizing board actions. Burleson noted that he had voted against the standards of conduct when they were adopted in 2006.

IMB trustee chairman John Floyd said he was deeply saddened at the course events had taken.

“Wade Burleson has shared private conversations with fellow trustees on his blog and with others who are not trustees,” Floyd said in a prepared statement. “He has spoken in disparaging terms of his fellow trustees and has persisted in public criticism of board policies for missionary qualifications, adopted by the board in 2005 and reaffirmed by the board in 2007, instead of supporting our policies or, if he has nothing good to say about them, simply remaining silent on the issue.

“As trustee chairman, I have sought to be patient with Brother Burleson and have made efforts to restore him to full and effective service as a trustee without allowing his actions to distract the board from its focus upon the urgent need to take the Gospel to all the nations,” Floyd added.

“Efforts have been made by individual trustees, myself and the trustee executive committee to get him to apologize for his violations of our standards of conduct and to agree to refrain from further violations. It is my great sorrow to report that those efforts have not met with success.”

The action taken during executive session was reported out during the trustees’ Nov. 7 plenary session in Springfield, Ill.

After the meeting adjourned, Burleson released a handwritten statement that read:

“I shall faithfully fulfill the four-year appointment I have received to serve as a trustee of the International Mission Board. Rachelle [Burleson’s wife] and I will gladly pay our own way to attend the IMB trustee meetings, including overseas meetings with missionaries, and we are thrilled that the money saved can be used to support the IMB’s overseas mission work.

“I respect my fellow trustees and humbly accept the censure and pray they understand I cannot violate my Baptist distinctives, particularly the freedom to dissent. I am an IMB trustee but for a season. I am a Southern Baptist for a lifetime. I am a follower of Jesus Christ for eternity.”

The trustee action suspends Burleson “from any active involvement with the board of trustees for at least the next four trustee meetings.” It will prohibit his participation in any meetings, business sessions and committee meetings and he will not be reimbursed for expenses incurred if he chooses to attend meetings. The action further provides for a review of his status after those four meetings, with a decision to be made at that time about lifting the suspension.

Burleson’s suspension can be reconsidered before the four-meeting time period expires if he apologizes for the violations and promises to work within the board’s structure and policies.
Mark Kelly is a freelance writer based in Gallatin, Tenn. To view the censure/suspension motion of Wade Burleson as adopted by trustees of the Southern Baptist International Mission Board, click here. To view the code of conduct as adopted by the IMB trustees, click here.

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  • Mark Kelly