TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–Trustees of the International Mission Board, during their meeting in Tampa, Fla., March 20-22, overturned their action in January to recommend that the Southern Baptist Convention remove trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma.
The decision, which was unanimous, rescinds the earlier vote asking convention messengers to remove Burleson during the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June.
The trustees took the action on Burleson in executive session. When the meeting reopened, trustee Lonnie Wascom of Louisiana read the trustees’ decision into the official record. Wascom made the motion to rescind the previous vote on behalf of the board’s executive committee.
In January, IMB trustees said Burleson’s removal was needed due to “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability.” Burleson had posted comments on his weblog disagreeing with recently passed missionary policies concerning baptism and private prayer language.
“The wisdom of the board is evident in this action,” Burleson said after the decision. “I also reiterate that I stand by every word, sentence and paragraph of that which I have blogged. If I am ever shown something I said that someone thinks is not true, I will immediately defend it or [if proved wrong,] change it and apologize.
“I am grateful that the ‘Wade Burleson issue’ may be put behind us in order that our focus and attention can be where it should be at all times: the fulfilling of our mission to reach the nations for Christ. That is what we’re about and side issues should never distract us.”
Board chairman Tom Hatley of Arkansas said trustees understand that processes are now in place for dealing with trustee interpersonal relationships that were not previously established. Those new processes were included in a recommendation trustees passed during the meeting.
“By dealing with this under the new guidelines for trustee relationships,” Hatley said, “we have now led our board and Southern Baptists at large to refocus our attention on the needs of reaching this world through our mission force. We want the attention back on the task.”
While the earlier board action was rescinded, Hatley said he would continue not allowing Burleson to serve on trustee committees. The concern of trustees, he said, was that trustee relationships with Burleson would be built over a period of time and he could be brought back into committee involvement.
“As chairman, I gave the board my assurance that I would extend the exclusion of his participation in committees through the May meeting,” Hatley said, “which would allow a new process time to bring its sway over the current situation and, hopefully, to resolve it.”
During the meeting, trustees also approved the selection of 45 new missionaries who were appointed March 22 at Tampa’s Idlewild Baptist Church. The appointment service kicked off a West Africa Summit at the Idlewild church. The summit drew participants from 75 Southern Baptist churches that gathered to receive information and training for IMB work in West Africa.
In other action, the trustees learned IMB officials are predicting possible record giving to the 2005 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. The reporting period for the 2005 offering ends May 31.
Trustees also adopted a formal document explaining trustee responsibilities and relationships. Mike Smith of Texas, chairman of the orientation subcommittee, presented the new policy that was passed. The policy, presented to trustees from that subcommittee and the administration committee, includes five areas: general responsibilities, specific responsibilities, legal status and duty, standards of conduct and disciplinary action. The document says trustees “are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees” and that trustees “must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions.”
“We’re just trying to look at each other and hold each other accountable, and to be really Christ-like and to conduct ourselves in that kind of a spirit and attitude as trustees,” Smith said. “That’s really the spirit behind this document –- that we follow Matthew 18 and serve in that capacity.”
After the meeting Burleson said he would follow the new policy. He voted against it.
“I affirm the decision of the board … and will faithfully abide by the new policy,” he said. “In full compliance with new policies there will be no criticism of any board decision and I’ve disabled the comment section [of the weblog].”
John Floyd of Tennessee reported that the mission personnel committee affirmed the process that resulted in the guideline on baptism and policy on private prayer language enacted last November. In addition, he said the committee would appoint an ad hoc committee to revisit these measures to clarify the board’s position. Hatley said he recommended the personnel committee “revisit the policy on glossolalia and the guideline on baptism.”
AUTHORITY OF LEADERSHIP
As part of his board report on March 21, IMB President Jerry Rankin showed trustees a videotape of a chapel address he presented to IMB staff discussing the “distraction” and “diversion” caused by media attention to those measures.
“The spiritual nature of our task of reaching a lost world is so critical and important to the heart of God that our enemy is not just going to roll over and relinquish the dominions of darkness and power becoming the kingdoms of our Lord,” Rankin said in the video.
Rankin said submitting to leadership and being accountable to those in authority is often a struggle for Christians. He reminded the staff of the constant battle between “the “flesh and the spirit” that the Apostle Peter talks about in 1 Peter. He said the “nature of our carnal flesh is self-centered –- focusing on us.”
“There’s only one thing I have control over and that’s my heart,” Rankin said in the video. “Whatever is happening around us, whatever it is, however harmful or hurtful or painful it might be, or however untrue or slanderous it might be, we don’t lash out, we can’t attack, we can’t defend ourselves. That’s the fleshly nature. All we can do is guard our heart.”
He said the Bible teaches Christians “not only to be submissive, but with all respect.”
“We need to stay focused on our task, and focused on the vision of what God has called us to do, and not let these things distract us and divert us from what we’re here to accomplish,” he said. “Let’s encourage one another, not letting the enemy pull us into controversy, backbiting and reactions, but just trusting the Lord and showing respect to those under whose authority we serve.”
Rankin finished his report saying he felt compelled, on behalf of the missionaries, to say he was not aware of doctrinal problems among IMB missionaries. He said he knows the rumors and innuendoes and that they have been going on a long time.
“You screened them, you examined their denominational loyalty, their faith, their church background and commitment, their affirmation of the Baptist Faith and Message, and our regional leaders are in touch with them, monitoring them,” Rankin said. “If there were any problems of doctrinal aberrations, of charismatic influences or practices, or even tolerance, or anyone not practicing baptism, or contributing in any way to ecumenical-type practices, we would know about it and deal with it.
“It is disrespectful to missionaries –- those giving their lives and sacrifices and taking their families and laying their lives on the line -– that anyone, without identifying and verifying facts, would spread rumors and innuendoes about doctrinal issues on the field. I want to make a public comment and stand for our missionaries in defense of their faithfulness.”
Rankin’s remarks drew applause from trustees.
Trustee Bob Pearle of Texas said from time to time doctrinal issues on the field do have to be considered. He added that board committees at the Tampa meeting were looking into three instances brought to their attention.
“So there are those issues there and there’s an appropriate process in which to investigate and to resolve those issues,” Pearle said. “I just think it needs to be known that, yes, we are (looking into doctrinal issues) when we know them, that we do follow up, and we’ve done that. In fact, as we speak, we are doing that on at least three instances.”
Rankin responded: “I appreciate you making that point, because the very fact that you’re dealing with (these issues) is because administration does respond and deal with those.”
Said trustee Gary Crawford of Florida: “Regarding the comment of the missionaries, the whole point of our process is that we have process. There has always been, there will always be some problems on the field. We have a procedure and a process to deal with them and for that I express my appreciation.”
Trustee Jerry Corbaley of California voiced some misunderstanding about Rankin’s comments that there are no doctrinal problems on the field among the missionaries.
“Your statement there is no doctrinal problems on the field -– (that) if there were they would be recognized by staff –- seems to be in direct conflict with the fact we are dealing with several such instances now, Corbaley said. “Perhaps some clarification can help everyone.”
Rankin replied: “There have been several comments made, particularly that the policies were necessary because we’re sending missionaries out that are not truly Baptists, are involved in ecumenical movements, are tolerating, even promoting and practicing charismatic practices.
“(T)hroughout the process of our policies, I’ve asked for evidence — for verification — if that is so then tell us who and where, and we’ll deal with it. But I have yet to have anyone document where there is a problem that we aren’t dealing with or haven’t dealt with when we became aware of it. That was the intent of (the statement).”
However, Hatley said: “We’ve done that in several instances, and we’ve done that in conjunction with others who’ve given us reports. We’ve funneled a lot of those through your staff…. There are instances where we’ve had problems with doctrinal aberration on the field. It’s always corrected. Now if you mean 100 percent of the time, we don’t let it go on, then yes I’ll agree with (Rankin).
“But we have had times in the last two years where we’ve had people point out such problems on the field and they are dealt with immediately — and dealt with well on the field. I commend staff and all of our missionaries for that, but … we do have such things that have been turned into us and we’ve had to deal with them.”
Rankin added, “We do have policies and processes in place and we act responsibly to respond to those. We just don’t need to be making those allegations [to] our constituency that we’ve got a doctrinal problem out there and we aren’t dealing with it.”
Hatley replied: “No, and I agree with that. I just didn’t want an absolute statement … because out of 5,200 missionaries, we aren’t that perfect yet. At the same time, we are very proud of our organization, proud of our doctrinal integrity, very proud of our missionaries and the efforts they are making around the world.
“And, we sure are not set up to be the critic committee but if we find something that’s hurting the work we invite that to be turned into the proper staff people so it can be investigated and dealt with and in most instances there’s not a problem.
“But where there is a problem, staff has always been effective at taking care of that and making sure things were handled appropriately. And I think that’s been a commendable process.”
Trustee Ken Whitten of Florida said: “There’s a process in place –- when we know it, we get on it -– and that needs to be the spirit that goes out to Southern Baptists…. Doctrinal issues of the heart, every single time, we’re going to take a stand on the side of God’s Word and God’s truths.
“I really don’t hear a conflict. I think this administration has proved that’s what we’re going to do when we know. Let’s don’t shoot them and then blame them for limping. I mean, let’s tell them, ‘This is the problem’ and expect the results to be taken care of. We’re trying to do that.”
Rankin’s videotape comments to IMB staff drew discussion when trustee David Button of New York complained that he earlier had requested a copy of the tape but Rankin had declined his request.
Button told trustees Rankin had said the message in chapel was an internal matter.
“I wasn’t trying to accuse (him) of anything,” Button said. “I just wanted a copy of the tape, and think what comes out of the board is something I ought to be able to have.”
However, Rankin said his message “had to do with staff speaking to staff internally on a very sensitive subject, and then choosing how that message should be distributed and exposed…. I felt I had the prerogative of determining whether or not that was distributed outside of staff, and if so, how it was to be distributed.
Trustee Gary Crawford of Florida said: “I want to express to our president appreciation for that kind of message to the staff of the International Mission Board at a critical time. I would also like to express appreciation for his discernment, to be open and transparent appropriately, with trustees and others.”
Trustee Mary Nichols of Alaska said she was concerned a trustee request for information would be denied. “Anything like this sends a red flag,” she said. “I want to always be able to have a trustee ask for something like that and be given (it) without judging the motive -– just be able to share that information if it’s public.”
Rankin responded: “That’s certainly justified. It was just my choice on how to share it and for David (Button) to have access to it…. But in response to that request, there was nothing to hide and I was very willing to share it with all of the trustees because you wanted access to the message. That’s one reason I shared it tonight. I feel this is the appropriate forum to respond to that request rather than to an individual (trustee).”
RECORD LOTTIE MOON OFFERING PREDICTED
David Steverson, IMB’s vice president for finance, estimated the 2005 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering will mark an increase over last year and may be the largest offering ever received. With this year’s offering, Southern Baptists will move beyond $2.7 billion dollars in cumulative Lottie Moon Christmas offering receipts.
“While numbers will be more complete when discussed at the May (board) meeting, preliminary reports indicate this may be the largest offering in history,” Hatley said. “Considering all that Southern Baptists did to minister to the hurricane relief efforts this is a phenomenal offering.”
Steverson reminded trustees that the Cooperative Program formula was modified last fall to direct additional funds to Hurricane Katrina relief. He said the IMB portion of that redirection of funds was approximately $6.6 million. Those funds, coupled with the trustees’ appropriation of $2.5 million from IMB reserves, put the IMB-related contribution to hurricane relief at about $9 million. The IMB receives 50 percent of Cooperative Program funds that are given for SBC national causes.
“These churches affected by the hurricane support us through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering. This is what cooperation is all about –- to help each other in times of need,” Steverson said.
“We are pleased to be able to participate with our fellow institutions and churches in helping our partners and supporters get back on their feet after this disaster. The Cooperative Program has allowed us as a denomination to move forward far more than if (the entities) were all out raising support.”