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Trustees at IMB meeting adopt new document concerning ‘public criticism,’ formalize new missionary selection process

Updated March 29

TAMPA, Fla. (BP)–International Mission Board trustees formalized a new process for approving missionary candidates and adopted a formal document explaining trustee responsibilities and relationships during their meeting March 20-22 in Tampa, Fla. Trustees also passed a motion requesting new trustees to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

One significant board action formalized a new process that involves all trustees in examining and approving candidates for long-term service. The new procedure, implemented on a trial basis during the past two board meetings, will now be continued for the foreseeable future.

“There always is the need for refining the process we have for (the missionaries’) approval for their appointment,” said trustee John Floyd of Tennessee concerning the Mission Personnel Committee motion. Trustees approved the recommendation.

During regular board meetings, personnel subcommittees — made up of at least two regional committees — will review missionary candidate applications for their specific regions, Floyd said. The subcommittees will recommend candidates for appointment to the personnel committee, which will recommend them to the full board.

Formerly, only trustees on the personnel committee reviewed material related to the missionary candidates. This board action opens the candidate-review process to all the trustees.


Trustees also developed and adopted a formal document explaining trustee responsibilities and relationships.

Trustee Mike Smith of Texas, chairman of the orientation subcommittee, presented the new policy. 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. Three trustees voted against the new policy, which supersedes the older policy, dubbed the “Blue Book.” The board has 89 members.

Discussion on March 21 focused on broader trustee accountability to include relationships and not just board actions or decisions. The orientation subcommittee met with the administration committee to add trustees’ comments to the document. When the document was introduced in the March 22 plenary session, it incorporated trustees’ requests for broader accountability to include relationships, not just board actions or decisions.

“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.”

The document represents two years of work for a three-member subcommittee, but its release follows a controversy over the use of “weblogs,” particularly the one by IMB trustee Wade Burleson of Oklahoma.

Trustee Allen McWhite of South Carolina spoke against the recommendation, specifically the document’s provision that says “individual IMB trustees must refrain from public criticism of board-approved actions…. Freedom of expression must give way to the imperative that the work of the Kingdom not be placed at risk by publicly airing differences within the board.”

McWhite voiced concern that any trustee who felt a board action was not in the best interest of the larger Southern Baptist constituency would not be able to express that concern to fellow Southern Baptists.

“I want to draw a great distinction between being critical of this board, which I would never do, and expressing disagreement, honestly, based upon personal conviction with a board policy or action,” McWhite said. “I would hope no trustee would ever want to be put in the position where he or she could not share with the larger constituency…. The possibility exists that this may really tie our hands in some matters.”

McWhite also said, “I believe my trusteeship primarily is to the Southern Baptist Convention. They are the ones who have given me that trust. Out of trust, I must relate to my other trustees in a trustworthy manner.”

But trustee Randy Davis of Tennessee, referencing the ability to speak out against board policy, said, “[W]hen we become trustees we give up some things, and that’s one of the things that we give up…. The first thing we learn is that we do not campaign against the board that we are serving on…. I especially appreciate the accountability built into (the document). That’s new, and that’s different, and that’s been needed a long time.”

Another comment in favor of the motion came from trustee John Schaefer of Georgia. He said trustees have opportunities to voice concerns or disagreements at the time a board action is being discussed.

“The key point we all need to recognize is that once this board has voted and spoken that your personal opinion or preference or concern does not go to head of the line,” Schaefer said. “Our … missionaries are far more important than your one mindset. And we have to put the greater good of our mission force before your own personal opinion. You have an opportunity to voice your concern or criticism prior to that approved policy, so I suggest you pay attention to proposed policy changes and make yourself heard.”

Trustee David Button of New York added: “Ephesians 4:3, ‘maintaining the unity of the spirit in the bonds of peace,’ trumps our constitutional desire to protect our free speech after a decision has been made. We’ve not seen that over the past couple of months. We’ve had things that are tearing our board apart…. It’s a good policy (that) adheres to those biblical maxims.”


The trustee board dealt with two motions in its final plenary session March 22. A motion from trustee Bill Sutton of Texas called for all trustees to affirm the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

“Somewhere between where it was last signed, and where I am, there are a group of trustees who have never signed the Baptist Faith and Message,” Sutton said. “I just think if we are going to lead and we ask missionaries to do something, we need to do something.

“So my motion is I appreciate what was done (in 2000) but for those of us who have come on (the board) and not signed, it’s time for us to step up to the plate.”

The motion passed and board chairman Tom Hatley of Arkansas said the forms would be mailed to every trustee who has come on the board since 2000 so they can sign the document and bring it with them to the next meeting, May 22-24, in Albuquerque, N.M.

That concern was also included in the new policy on trustee responsibilities and relationships passed during the meeting. A statement was added to the “General Trustee Responsibilities” section that read: “Trustees of the International Mission Board are to covenant with the Southern Baptist Convention by wholeheartedly affirming the current edition of the Baptist Faith and Message, as the standard for carrying out the programs and ministries of the board. Annually, the new trustees will be given the opportunity to express this covenant by signing a statement affirming the BF&M at orientation.”

In the final plenary session, Button made a second motion that IMB administrators honor all trustee requests for information subject to the discretion of the chairman. After discussion, Hatley referred the motion to the administration committee and said he would ask that committee to include Button in the discussions.

As part of his board report on March 21, IMB President Jerry Rankin showed trustees a videotaped message he presented to IMB staff in chapel discussing media attention given to two measures passed at the board’s November 2005 meeting in Huntsville, Ala.: a guideline on baptism and a policy on private prayer language.

The videotape drew discussion the previous day when Button complained he earlier had requested a copy of the tape but Rankin had declined his request.

Addressing Rankin, Button noted, “You said chapel was an internal matter…. I wasn’t trying to accuse you of anything. 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” as a trustee.

However, Rankin said his message had to do with staff speaking to staff internally on a sensitive subject. He then chose how the message would be distributed.

“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,” Rankin said.

Said Davis, “I appreciate our brother’s {Button’s) individual opinion, but … my opinion is that Dr. Rankin acted prudently in deciding when and where and how to display (the videotape)…. (It’s) that trustee’s opinion it was a bad decision. This trustee’s opinion is that it was a good decision.”

Hatley pointed out that there is a “healthy tension” in the board of trustees’ process.

“It’s created to be that way,” he said. “Not a tension of personalities but a tension between administration and trustees to be sure we are walking that fine line of cooperation.

“There was a clear focus (in the meeting) on important tasks and yet all was done in a spirit of joy. Problems were being addressed and healing, while not complete, was evident. We want to thank Southern Baptists for their many expressions of support and for the many prayers that have gone up as we face difficult issues.

“Every compliment and criticism is important to us because that indicates we share a burden for the lost and a love for the Lord. With that in common we will find a way to reach this world no matter what it takes.”

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  • Michael Chute