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Messengers route Burleson call for study of grievances to IMB

REVISED June 20, 2006.

GREENSBORO, N.C. (BP)–Messengers at the Southern Baptist Convention referred a motion to the International Mission Board raising concern over the appointment of trustees, alleged coercion of IMB staff and the narrowing of doctrinal parameters for missionary appointees. The board is to issue a report at the SBC’s 2007 meeting in San Antonio.

The call for an investigation of alleged impropriety among IMB trustees was made by Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee from Oklahoma and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, whose motion called for the SBC Executive Committee to handle the matter.

Burleson has been at the center of controversy with the board for several months, but controversy at the SBC was quickly diffused when both Burleson and convention President Bobby Welch said they saw wisdom in waiting a year for the findings of an internal IMB committee.

During the June 13 discussion of the motion, Burleson said he is grateful for his initial year of trustee service and looks forward to continued service on the board. He said he submitted the motion because the IMB had reached an “impasse” on addressing the sources of controversy at the board. He also said he objected to the chairman of the board of trustees appointing the committee to examine the issue.

But Burleson yielded to the idea of referring the motion to the IMB’s trustees, in part to ensure that IMB trustees were not “broad-brushed.”

“Some of the finest, most godly men and women serve there,” Burleson said.

Welch said it is “overwhelmingly critical” that the matter be handled respectfully and that those who address the issue do so in a “kindhearted manner.” For that reason, he suggested that the matter not be taken up by the Executive Committee until after it had been addressed among the mission board’s trustees.

Burleson’s original motion called for the Executive Committee to name an ad hoc committee to examine “the manipulation of the nominating process” during the appointment of IMB trustees, “attempts to influence and/or coerce the IMB trustees, staff, and administration” by SBC entity heads other than the IMB’s president, and also the manner in which new doctrinal requirements were developed for prospective missionaries. At issue are new policies prohibiting appointees with a “private prayer language” or those from churches with baptism practices that do not reflect the doctrine of the eternal security of believers.

Burleson’s motion also called for review of trustee policies that allow for closed sessions, and the “propriety and/or impropriety” of an IMB chairman excluding a board member from meetings when the full board is convened. Finally, the motion called for the proposed ad hoc committee to examine alleged suppression of dissent on the part of the board’s leadership, which by policy prohibit the public criticism of a board decision by individual trustees.

Burleson further stated that he wished that the ad hoc committee would utilize the Baptist Faith and Message 2000 as a guideline in the process of investigation.

Robin Hadaway, professor of missions at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Mo., said the policies of the board in question are needed and should be maintained.

“Most candidates are qualified, but some need a greater Baptist identity,” said Hadaway, a former career missionary to South America. He also said the issue should be resolved with consideration for the reputations of the IMB’s trustees –- who “don’t need an investigation, they need commendation.”

Messengers voted to refer the motion to the IMB for consideration and report at the 2007 SBC annual meeting.

Burleson indicated in early June that he would offer a motion to redress his grievances with the board. While Burleson has stated publicly that he disagrees with the mission board’s new policies on missionary qualifications, other IMB board members chastised Burleson for going public with his views since the decisions to enact the new policies were formed in closed or executive sessions.

Burleson also suggested that IMB President Jerry Rankin would be ineligible for appointment under the new guidelines since he has admitted to practicing a private prayer language for years. Burleson’s committee assignments with the IMB were later restricted when he wrote about developments at the IMB on his blog.

Arkansas pastor Tom Hatley, outgoing IMB trustee chairman, chastised Burleson during the board’s May 22-24 meeting in Albuquerque, N.M., and encouraged the board to continue the restrictions. Burleson’s actions, Hatley said in May, should prevent him from resuming his duties until he admits that his actions have “seriously eroded the confidence of his fellow trustees and that he can and will work with them in a way that will instill mutual trust.”

Other motions addressing the IMB included:

— a motion from a second Oklahoma pastor which, if passed, would have instructed the IMB to restore the duties previously restricted by Hatley and other IMB trustees. Clif Cummings, pastor of First Baptist Church in Duncan, read a motion which stated that the restrictions on Burleson diminish the representation of his state on the mission board. The motion requested the reinstatement of Burleson “to the full duties and responsibilities of a duly elected trustee of the IMB by the Southern Baptist Convention meeting in Nashville in 2005, which includes participation in all committee meetings and sub-committee meetings of the IMB.”

Cummings’ motion was ruled out of order by the chair because it pertained to Burleson’s previous motion still under consideration by the convention at large.

— a motion from Ron McGowin, a messenger from the First Baptist Church in Fairfield, Texas. His motion requested that the IMB conduct an external audit of all funds handled by the board’s Central Asia Region for the years 1999-2005 “because it has come to our attention that a 2002-2003 internal audit was done on the Central Asia region … in which ‘at best could only account for $372,831.62 of embezzled monies.’” The Committee on the Order of Business referred the motion to the IMB for consideration and report to the 2007 Southern Baptist Convention.

— a motion from Glynn Stone, pastor of West Rome (Ga.) Baptist Church, which requested the appointment of a study committee to examine ways the IMB and the North American Mission Board “may work in greater partnership and harmony.” Stone said the motion was intended to seek ways in which Southern Baptists could “reduce denominational inefficiencies and maximize the value of each Cooperative Program dollar that is given.” The Committee on Order of Business also referred that motion to the IMB and NAMB for consideration and report at next year’s convention.

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  • Gregory Tomlin