More on prayer language...

Harold F. Schiffman haroldfs at
Fri Mar 24 13:47:47 UTC 2006

>>From Florida Baptist Witness

New IMB trustee policy calls for increased accountability for members

Action to unseat Oklahoma trustee rescinded

Managing editor

Published: March 23, 2006

TAMPA (FBW)-Forecasting a need for increased responsibility in a world
where e-mail combines with the blogosphere to deliver information rapidly,
International Mission Board Trustee Chairman Thomas E. Hatley said March
22 a new policy governing trustee activities is a very healthy guideline
especially in light of a recent controversy surrounding an attempt by
trustees to remove Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson from the board. A new
four-page policy outlining the responsibilities of trustees and addressing
standards of conduct and disciplinary action was adopted by IMB trustees
meeting March 21-22 in Tampa. The policy has been in the making for the
past several years, Hatley told Florida Baptist Witness, but clarifies the
boards position in Burlesons case.

It would be wrong to say [the policy] is unrelated to him, said Hatley,
who is also pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark. It was not
generated just for his situation, but definitely in the future it will
relate to him because its the guideline under which now all trustees will
proceed to deal with interpersonal relationships and he is going to be one
of those as a trustee that will fall to its scrutiny. Considering a
recommendation by the trustees nine-member executive committee, the full
board met March 22 in executive session and adopted, without opposition, a
motion to rescind a previous action calling for Burlesons removal. In
January, trustees approved a motion requesting the Southern Baptist
Convention remove Burleson, senior pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in
Enid, Okla., and a former president of the Baptist General Convention of
Oklahoma, after a dispute over entries Burleson made to his blog,, during the boards Jan. 9-11 meeting in
Richmond, Va. The board claimed Burlesons removal was necessary because of
issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not
Burlesons opposition to policies recently enacted by the board.

The board's attempt to remove Burleson was apparently unprecedented. He
was elected to his first four-year term on the IMB in 2005. Burlesons blog
characterized the meeting and stated opposition to missionary personnel
guidelines and policies which the trustees adopted during their Nov. 14-17
meeting in Huntsville, Ala. Trustees approved a guideline for staff
counselors evaluating a candidates baptism testimony and enacted a policy
preventing appointment of those who practice a private prayer language
which was also described as glossolalia (speaking in tongues). Burleson,
on his blog, contended the actions are overly restrictive, even among some
Baptists who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. A blog is a type of
Internet journal frequently updated with personal views intended for
public consumption and feedback.

Hatley told the Witness he believed the boards new policy stops short of
prohibiting disagreement among board members before a policy is enacted,
but addresses the dissemination of information regarding the disagreement
to the public. To take something [after it] has been voted in and then to
go public and try to impugn the motives of the ones who passed it or
criticize the document itself is going to undermine the ability of the
organization to get its work done, Hatley said. The new policy addresses
general responsibilities; specific responsibilities; legal
responsibilities and duties; standards of conduct;  and disciplinary
action. It also calls for an opportunity annually for new trustees sign
the current edition of the Baptist Faith and Message.

In general, the new policy asks trustees to speak in positive and
supportive terms as they interpret and report on actions by the Board
regardless of whether they personally support the action. Further, it asks
trustees to speak the truth in love and to refrain from speaking in
disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees. The inclusion
of the reference to IMB personnel and trustees in the policy came after
lengthy discussion in the March 21 plenary session prompting the
administrative and orientation committees to meet early March 22 in order
to submit a revised policy to the full board for consideration. In the
March 21 discussion of the policy, Oklahoma trustee, Rick Thompson, asked
whether the committee drafting the report considered including IMB staff
members, IMB President Jerry Rankin or anyone in the IMB beyond trustees,
in an item directing trustees to refrain from criticism of board approved
policies [the initial wording was subsequently changed to board approved
actions]. He later suggested such a change.

There is a potential within our board to send negative messages, not just
about the board policy, but about the IMB in general and our president and
our staff, Thompson said. Trustee Ken Whitten, pastor of Idlewild Baptist
Church in Tampa, told trustees he believes the context of the text used in
the policy item to which Thompson was referring was in relation to a
policy or action that is approved by the trustee board and might not be
the best place to insert a directive concerning IMB staff or personnel. I
will tell you this, if we get a heretic in any person whos serving in
leadership, I am going to be critical and dont tie my hands with a policy
which says you cannot be critical, Whitten said, suggesting instead the
policy include somewhere a reference to a spirit of holiness walking hand
in hand, even though we dont see eye to eye.

Expressing appreciation for what Thompson said, Whitten reminded trustees
the policy will outlast those on the board and there may be a time when a
staff member needs to be rebuked or removed. I dont take that as
criticism, but I take that as critical judgment, Whitten continued. Theres
a difference between a critical spirit and being critical about a matter.
Thompson responded by thanking Whitten for his grace in disagreeing and
questioned whether he would use the same rationale if applied to board
policies. Can you ever imagine a scenario that the board approves
something that you believe wholeheartedly is outside of the parameters of
Scripture and even though you have argued against that board approved
policy, you feel in your heart that it is outside Scripture, do you then
feel as if this policy would be overly assertive on your ability to
communicate to others your personal feelings to what you had a conviction
about based on scripture? Thompson asked.

Whitten responded that he would either support the policy or have a
personal choice to make rather than being critical or slandering anyone.
He said later cited Matthew 18 as the biblical way to handle disagreement.
Thompson said both he and Whitten were expressing the very same principles
about the way trustees should talk about IMB personnel and IMB president,
Jerry Rankin. In principle and spirit we agree, Thompson said. We need to
have a spirit of cooperation. Trustee Jerry Corbaley of California,
reminded trustees the once a policy is approved, although trustees may not
publicly criticize it outside of the board, there is a process within the
board to reconsider policies. I think that that is sufficient to deal with
all of our doctrinal concerns, Corbaley said. Whatever the board has done
in one session can be at that next session improved.

Trustee Gary Crawford, pastor of Westside Baptist Church in Gainesville,
said he believed the inclusion of IMB staff and personnel in the trustee
policy would be a positive change, but suggested the place to add that to
the policy would be in the area of General Responsibilities instead, a
change that was reflected in the policy approved at the March 22 meeting.
Trustee Bob Pearle of Texas appealed to trustees to sustain the work of
the committee and not approve Thompsons amendment but agreed with Crawford
a more appropriate place to include those other than trustees would be in
the item concerning Christ-like decorum. Under the trustee Standards of
Conduct approved in the policy, individual trustees are to refrain from
public criticism of Board approved actions.  The policy says: [I]t is not
possible to draw fine lines in this area.  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.

Trustee Allen McWhite from South Carolina in the morning meeting March 22
spoke against the recommendation of the final policy related to the
Standards of Conduct. My concern is understanding that we must trust each
other as trustees, McWhite said. My position of trust is to the [Southern
Baptist] Convention. John Schaefer, a trustee from Georgia, said he
believes there are numerous opportunities for board members to disagree
and suggested once a policy has been voted in a trustees personal opinion
or preference or concern does not go to the head of the line and trustees
should count the cost of their disagreement to the 5,000 missionaries in
the field. Put the greater good of our missionary force before your
concerns, Schaefer said.

An additional item in the policy approved addresses a process for referral
to the boards general counsel for the purpose of determining if there is
probable cause for disciplinary action precedes the involvement of the
chairman of the board for further action. Disciplinary measures included
in the policy result in the censure or suspension of a trustee, or the
removal from the board by action of the SBC. All disciplinary action will
follow the pattern of Matthew 18:15-17 and 1 Timothy 5:19-20, according to
the policy. The policy, Hatley told the Witness March 22, clarifies what
is expected of trustees in relation to communication and evolving
technology. Theres more ways to distribute information to more people
quickly and therefore it calls for more accountability, because its so
easy for us to make a mistake, even inadvertently, Hatley said. This just
sends up another caution to the trustees. Youve got to be careful and it
can happen in the most innocent ways.

Hatley shared an example of a loosely worded e-mail shared with a buddy
which gets forwarded to another and before you know it, its halfway around
the world and it may hurt work in a place where sharing someones name and
country they are in puts them in danger, he said. Burleson affirmed March
22 that he was one of the three trustees who voted against the new policy.
Though Burleson did not participate in the open discussion of the policy
during the plenary sessions, he told the Witness later he did make
immediate changes to his blog. In full compliance with new policies there
will be no criticism of any board decision and Ive disabled the comment
section [of the blog], Burleson said. No feedback.

Burleson said he agrees with an assessment during the meeting describing a
difference between disagreement and criticism, but will err on the side of
caution and censor his blogging. Its difficult, I think maybe for some to
be able to discern the difference [between criticism and disagreement] and
so in order to just not cause any questions, I dont know that you will
find any expression of disagreement from me in the near future, Burleson
said, because I really think that thats what Ive attempted to do in the
past--to disagree in love, with respect and grace. As to whether he will
resign from the board given the new policy, Burleson said he will reserve
an opinion until hearing from IMB missionaries.

If I feel that I cant abide by these policies, obviously I will resign,
Burleson said. But there may be times when I have to debate whats better
for the Kingdom at large and it could be that its better for me to remain
on the board for the Kingdom at large. And if I do, I pledge my fidelity
to abide by the new policies . What regulates a trustee is policy and I
have always abided by policy. From day one, my heart has been for the
missionaries. From day one my heart has been for whats going on around the
world, Burleson continued. I have a heritage of family members who are
missionaries. We are a missions-minded church, sending our own
missionaries, [and] supporting the Cooperative Program [and] Lottie Moon.
I want to be a voice for people in the Southern Baptist Convention.
Burleson said he did not want any controversy to dominate the IMB and
believes the March board meeting has resolved some of the issues of which
he was concerned in the first place. He affirmed the announcement by the
boards mission personnel committee chairman, John Floyd of Tennessee, that
the committee would revisit the boards new policies on baptism and private
prayer language for the purpose of clarifying and providing position
papers on these.

I absolutely affirm that and think it is a wise move on behalf of Dr. John
Floyd and his committee, Burleson said. I think that shows tremendous
wisdom. Hatley said he believes the action of the board to study the
baptism and private prayer language policies further indicates there might
be a need for clearer language. I think that some of the rationale that
was given before the policy statement itself, but was included in the
entire document, was confusing to some people, Hatley told the Witness. As
a matter of fact, we probably had more criticisms over that than we did
the policy. Suggesting the IMB might take a page from the North American
Mission Board, Hatley said most NAMB policies dont list the rationale and
background used in forming the policy and so, perhaps, the IMB in the
future can include issue a news release and/or a position paper from the
committee most involved in formulating the policy.

Declining to speculate further on what changes might come of the review,
Hatley said his purpose in recommending the committee was for clarity. If
they wanted to take any other liberties with it then that will be at the
discretion of that committee, Hatley said.

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