GRAPEVINE, Texas. (BP)–Responding to an inquiry by the Southern Baptist Texan, Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary Board Chairman Van McClain confirmed plans for the board’s officers to meet privately with Dwight McKissic of Arlington to address what McClain deemed possible trustee policy violations during McKissic’s first year on the board.
In a phone interview, McClain said the planned meeting would be held immediately prior to the April 2 board meeting in Fort Worth, Texas.
Stating his desire for reconciliation, the New York trustee said he was not optimistic disagreement between the board and McKissic could be settled to the satisfaction of board officers and the pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington.
“He has not worked with us in a way that gives many hope that there will be reconciliation and redemption,” McClain said. “I’ve tried to work privately through correspondence and he’s made that private correspondence public. He quotes me out of context and does not give the full context of our conversation, so he slants the conversation however he wants to.”
If the board officers cannot come to an agreement with McKissic, they may recommend to the SBC meeting in San Antonio this June that he be removed from the board, McClain said. Such a request would be reported to the full board, but does not require action on their part.
A past effort to meet with McKissic fell apart when he wanted to bring other people to the meeting and to tape record it, McClain said. “We tried to set up a private meeting with him in accordance with our constitution and bylaws,” McClain said. “He refused to come to this confidential meeting unless certain conditions were met, and basically the conditions he wanted would be such that it would no longer be a private meeting between the trustees.”
Contacted by the Texan March 5, McKissic sent a statement, saying, in part, “I have received word through the media that the chairman of the board of trustees for Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Van McClain, intends to consider asking the Southern Baptist Convention to remove me from the board. The reason he has given to the media is his ‘lost confidence’ in me due to his perception that I have breached confidentiality. In the past months, I have asked Brother McClain to provide me with copies of any confidentiality policies governing trustee material. I have not received any copy of such policies, and I have been told by Brother McClain that no confidentiality policies exist.
“The Executive Committee of Southwestern’s board of trustees has requested a meeting with me in writing. I have responded to that request, explaining my desire to meet and the conditions under which I am available for such a meeting. No specific details were given to me for this meeting, and I am only now learning of Brother McClain’s specific concerns through the media. I have not yet received any correspondence from him giving me a statement of his specific concerns, though I requested such an enumeration on February 23, 2007. The effort to remove me as a trustee at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is nothing but a twenty-first century lynching of an independent-thinking Black man who has demonstrated strong support for the Southern Baptist Convention.”
At issue are concerns about the manner in which McKissic has expressed his disagreement regarding board actions and seminary policies, McClain said. The board chairman also claims McKissic inappropriately used confidential material sent to him as a trustee in advance of the board’s Oct. 16-17 meeting.
McKissic made headlines last August when he preached in a Southwestern chapel service and spoke of an experience of “private prayer language” during his seminary days. Included in his sermon was criticism of a 2005 policy approved by the International Mission Board that would bar candidates who speak in tongues or practice a “private prayer language.”
Last October, the seminary’s board passed a resolution by a vote of 39-1 that declared “private practices of devotion” which are kept private to be “beyond the purview of Southwestern Seminary.” Trustees insisted, however, that neither the seminary board nor the staff and faculty will “endorse in any way, advertise, or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including ‘private prayer language.’” McKissic was the lone dissenting vote on the resolution.
Since that time, McClain characterizes McKissic’s actions relative to the seminary as “detrimental.”
“This is not a question about the issue of private prayer language; he has the right to believe whatever he wants about private prayer language,” McClain said. “He has the right to influence the convention however he wants about private prayer language. This is about his conduct as a trustee of Southwestern Seminary.”
On March 5, McKissic e-mailed to the Texan a letter from McClain dated Feb. 19 asking for a meeting between McKissic and SWBTS board officers on either March 5 or March 26 to discuss “concerns that we have that you have possible violated the policy manual of the seminary trustees (in particular, you may refer to pages 65 and 71 in the Policy Manual),” the letter stated.
Also, McClain stated a desire to discuss the issue of faculty hiring and tenure “and not the particular case of Sheri Klouda,” a former Hebrew professor who was denied tenure when the seminary opted for a male-only, pastor-qualified theology faculty. McClain said he preferred a meeting to “extended correspondence.”
McKissic replied in a letter dated Feb. 23 that he would meet with trustee officers on March 26 or thereafter upon certain conditions. McKissic’s conditions for the proposed meeting, his letter stated, included:
— specific allegations of misconduct, in writing by March 12, to give ample time to prepare responses;
— a list of questions to be asked of McKissic at the meeting;
— third-party observers of McKissic’s choosing;
— ability to audio record the entire meeting;
— no discussion of faculty hiring or tenure matters unless it specifically regarded Klouda.
If such a discussion of Klouda took place, “I certainly would not record” the session and would meet privately with trustees on that topic only, McKissic wrote.
McKissic wrote to McClain: “I have absolutely nothing to hide or be ashamed of, so please circulate all correspondence to me to all of the trustees and the administration. My love and support of SWBTS is well documented.”
Regarding the prayer language issue, McKissic also argued his case last fall by writing Southern Baptist Convention President Frank Page and Executive Committee President Morris Chapman, asking that the Baptist Faith and Message be changed to include a policy “regarding our position on spiritual gifts, private prayer language and speaking in tongues.” He stated his intention to make a motion at the SBC annual meeting regarding his proposed change to the BF&M if he does not receive a satisfactory response from convention leaders.
In December McKissic hosted a roundtable designated the “Sandy Creek-Charleston Convergence” in reference to two prominent streams of Baptist tradition that fed into the Southern Baptist Convention. Those attending the roundtable approved a resolution that affirmed “free expression” in public and private worship and opposing “any attempt to narrow the parameters of cooperation” within the SBC.
McKissic’s church has also planned an April conference on the Holy Spirit.
While maintaining that there is no effort to deny McKissic the right to his opinion or voice, McClain says the way in which the disagreement has been expressed is an ongoing problem.
Having kept all of his e-mailed correspondence with McKissic, McClain recalled, “At one point in our correspondence he indicated to me if I ever lost confidence in him, on the very day I asked him to resign, he would resign. I sought after that time to work redemptively with him,” McClain said, reiterating that McKissic was the one to first broach the subject of resigning.
“At the point where I lost confidence in him — that I couldn’t see a way to work with him, I, at that point, asked him to resign. All of this was confidential information and he told me then he’d decided not to resign — which in my estimation, he’d broken his word to me.”
McClain said McKissic then disclosed the confidential correspondence.
“Immediately, he began telling other people I’d asked him to resign without the full context of the situation, without — as far as I could tell — any reference to the fact that he had offered to resign if I asked him to do so. So, again, this just demonstrated that there was no way that we were going to be able to work with him,” McClain insisted.
In addition to making the correspondence public, McKissic has published on the Internet his own commentary and letters between himself, McClain, and Southwestern President Paige Patterson that were further circulated on blogs and websites, as well in secular and religious newspapers, McClain noted.
Although the publishing of correspondence has made dialogue more difficult, McClain said the sharing of confidential trustee information is a more serious concern. “He’s taken that type of information [confidential material sent to trustees], as best I can tell — given that information to other people,” he said. “Some of this information was even put on a blog before we even had a trustee meeting.”
He declined to describe the specific nature of the confidential material but said that McKissic would be made aware of the specifics if he attends the private meeting with board officers April 2.
When asked about the board’s stated policy regarding confidential material and McKissic’s argument that no written seminary policy prevented him from disclosing information, McClain responded that they’d previously not needed one. “It’s arguable that the seminary has not done as good a job as we should have in setting up confidentiality policies,” he said. “In the past there was just no problem in this area. People understood the need for confidentiality.”
On the subject of publicly criticizing the seminary and its leaders, McClain says there are appropriate forums for airing disagreements, but that other, more public, means of continuing an argument may be harmful to the institution.
“This trustee board and this president of this seminary, Dr. Patterson, are committed to openness. Every trustee has this opportunity at our semi-annual meetings to meet with the president,” McClain said, referring to a pre-meeting, closed-door forum. “They can correspond privately with the president or with the trustee chairman. Our desire has been for openness and for explanations to the questions that are asked,” McClain contended.
McKissic concluded his statement by saying, “At this point, I will issue no further comment regarding this matter. My ministry at Cornerstone Baptist Church and the planning for our Baptist Conference on the Holy Spirit, April 27-29, 2007, controls my greater spiritual attention and personal preparation. Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is very dear to my heart, and I consider my trusteeship to be a great privilege and responsibility given by Southern Baptists. I am unwavering in my support of the institution, and I am resolved to walk prayerfully and sensitively through these troubling times.”
A check of SBC records shows that in recent history there has been no action to remove a trustee of an SBC entity.