Private prayer language policy continues to plague Southern Baptists

Harold Schiffman hfsclpp at
Thu Jan 31 16:24:21 UTC 2008

Thursday, January 31, 2008
Far Enough: The Imbroglio in the IMB and SBC

I have read a handful of comments by people who appreciate the spirit
and tone of my 'letter of apology' but can't understand why I would
not seek forgiveness for violating the 'new' trustee standard of
conduct (2006) that states an IMB trustee must publicly affirm a board
action even if he cannot privately support it. Allow me to explain why
I cannot apologize for violating that standard in 2006 and early 2007,
and why I believe it to be a 'standard of conduct' that may well go
down as one of the worst policies ever adopted by any Southern Baptist
agency in the history of our Convention.

When an agency of the Southern Baptist Convention allows her trustees
to ask any and all questions related to a proposed board action, when
agency business and all corresponding debate by trustees is held in
plenary sessions under the open view of Southern Baptists rather than
behind closed door in Executive Sessions, when every agency trustee is
allowed to follow through with due diligence when attempting to
examine proposed policies, and when trustees experience a free and
open debate on important issues before the board, then it is
absolutely unnecessary for an agency to pass a 'standard of conduct'
that prohibits trustees from public dissent of any board approved
action. For 161 years every agency of the Southern Baptist Convention,
including the International Mission Board, did not feel it necessary
to stifle trustees from expressing public reservations over board
approved actions. But in March 2006, IMB trustee leadership led the
board to adopt a four page document called 'Trustee Standards of
Conduct' that forbad public dissent of board approved actions by IMB
trustees and it superseded the fifty page policy manual (called the
'Blue Book') that formerly governed IMB trustees in terms of their
responsibilities and accountability. It was at that same March 2006
trustee meeting in Tampa, Florida where IMB trustee leadership also
led the board to rescind the recommendation for my removal from the
board, a motion that they had just passed the meeting before.

I was recommended for removal from the IMB board in January 2006 after
months of attempting to work behind the scenes as a duly elected
trustee to wrestle through some serious issues before our board, but
being stymied at every turn by trustee leadership as I sought to find
answers to some very important questions that I had as a new trustee.
It was only after I repeatedly experienced an unconscionable and heavy
handed attempt to stifle debate over the proposed doctrinal policies,
and received no anecdotal evidence for their need - though I
REPEATEDLY asked for it - that I wrote in December 2005 that certain
trustees (without naming them) were pushing some horribly written
doctrinal policies for political purposes, including the end of Dr.
Rankin's era as President of the IMB. You can rest assured I can
support what I have written on this blog, and I will soon do so with
the names of those involved. Further, I wrote that these two policies
would exclude from Southern Baptist missionary service otherwise
qualified Southern Baptists. I also pointed out that both doctrinal
policies in question (baptism and private prayer language) exceed the
clear statements of the BFM 2000. I said it was time to stop 'the
narrowing of doctrinal parameters' of cooperation within the Southern
Baptist Convention. The post was entitled "Crusading Conservatives vs.
Cooperating Conservatives: The War for the Future of the Southern
Baptist Convention."

I felt the need to go public with my opposition to the new 'doctrinal'
policies at the IMB because the Southern Baptist Convention needs to
see clearly the danger of excluding her own from cooperative mission
work, and the importance of a Convention based on cooperaton expanding
her cooperative mission efforts, not reducing them. Trustee leadership
absolutely refused to allow me to ask IMB staff and Candidate
Consultants their opinions of the trustee 'proposed doctrinal
policies,' and NOBODY in trustee leadership would or could give me ANY
evidence that problems on the mission field necessitated such policy
changes. In the end, I was told by John Floyd that there was NO
anecdotal evidence from the field that these policies were needed. To
him this was a 'doctrinal' issue and the IMB needed to be
'doctrinally' pure and those who disagreed with him and others on the
Board on these 'doctrinal' issues were not 'worthy' of appointment.
That, my friend, spells trouble with a capital T.

The IMB Trustees Exceed Their Convention Authority

So, you have the very bizarre scenario of trustee leaders of the
International Mission Board exceeding their convention mandated
responsiblities and taking the action of implementing doctrinal
policies that exceed the BFM 2000. Ironically, if those new policies
were to be made retroactive, then Dr. and Mrs. Jerry Rankin would be
terminated. Of course, it was stated at the time that the new
'doctrinal' policies would not be made retroactive. Yet, the same
thing was said in 2001 when missionaries on the field were told that
they would NOT have to sign the new BFM 2000 and could serve under the
old 63 Faith and Message. Later, the trustees broke their promise and
terminated more missionaries in one day than any other day in the
history of the IMB. Who's to say those kind of broken promises would
not occur again?

At the IMB in 2005 you had the absurd circumstance of a former
employee of the International Mission Board, John Floyd, who himself
left the IMB as a regional supervisor for reasons that will be
articulated at a later date, now serving as the Chairman of the
Personnel Committee of his former employer and pushing policies that
would disqualify the very President under whom he had previously
served if those policies were to be made retroactive. Trustee
leadership was furious that I publicly questioned the rationale for
their actions. When, in then end, the trustee board voted to adopt the
new policies (by a controversial vote total), I took my objection to
the SBC through my blog.

Trustee leadership then recommended my removal for 'gossip' and
'slander' but immediately changed the wording (when challenged to
prove it) to 'loss of trust' and 'resistance to accountability.' When
they realized I would be able to defend my objections to the IMB
policies before the entire convention (as I did for over one hour to a
select group of Convention leaders in February of 2006 in St. Louis),
trustee leadership led the IMB board to unanimously rescind the
recommendation for my removal at the very next IMB meeting in Tampa,
Florida, in March 2006. In that same meeting trustee leadership asked
that a NEW Trustee Standard of Conduct be adopted which states that
"trustees must publicly affirm a board action even if they cannot
privately support it." I voted against the 'new' trustee standard of
conduct, arguing that (1). it was the worst possible policy any
Baptist agency could ever pass because it violates every sacred and
historic Baptist principle associated with religious liberty and
freedom of conscience, and (2). it was a cowardly way to deal with my
public dissent because it removed the issue of my objections to the
doctrinal policies that exceed the BFM 2000 from being dealt with by
the SBC at large. Trustee leadership felt it was better to seek to
control me and contain me within the board than to allow the full and
free public debate that would occur over these very important issues
before the entire SBC if the recommendation for my removal were to
move forward.

The Reasons The 'New' Standard That Forbids Dissent Was Violated

After March 2006, several important motions began the process of
appearing before the Southern Baptist Convention. One of these motions
was offered by me and necessitated that I intentionally violate the
'new' standard of conduct in order to explain the need for the motion.
Some of the motions before the Convention included the request to
establish an investigative committee to determine whether or not
prospective trustees of the International Mission Board were being
called, vetted, and approved by sitting IMB trustees to the Board in
violation of the bylaws of the Southern Baptist Convention, and the
infamous 2007 'Garner Motion' where the Convention was asked to adopt
the statement that requested SBC agencies to view the BFM 2000 as the
only convention-wide approved doctrinal statement, and as such, a
sufficient guide for cooperation. I intentionally violated the "new"
trustee standard of conduct that prohibits dissent and wrote about the
two poor doctrinal policies of the IMB and how they were damaging to
the future of the SBC in order to 'garner' support for those motions.
By the way, the Convention passed both motions.

I do not regret violating the 'new' standard of conduct that forbids
dissent in 2006 and early 2007 and therefore I cannot apologize for
it. The Convention needed to address the issues at the IMB, and they
did for the good of our cooperative mission work. I can and do
apologize for the fact that my dissent has distracted board leadership
from focusing on missions, but I make no apology for following my
conscience. Even though I have not written anything about trustees in
the last several months, every IMB meeting since the summer of 2007
has been filled with attempts by trustee leadership to 'deal' with
Wade Burleson, and I absolutely regret that. However, I have no
regrets that I joined dozens of other Southern Baptist leaders in 2006
and early 2007 throughout the Convention to speak to the very
important issues within our Convention. The SBC eventually adopted the
2007 Garner Motion and now everyone knows that the narrowing of
doctrinal parameters of cooperation at individual SBC agencies is
unacceptable in the SBC.

An Olive Branch Rejected

My heartfelt statement last night was an attempt to extend the olive
branch to my fellow trustees and put the focus on missions at the IMB
and off of me. However, my statement was not accepted. Trustee
leadership desired for me to state I was wrong in violating the new
trustee standard of conduct that forbids dissent. I cannot apologize
for that which I believe is right. My public dissent expressed over
the IMB trustees adopting 'doctrinal' policies that exceed the BFM
2000 only BECAME a violation of 'Trustee Conduct' in March of 2006; I
had been publicly dissenting for three months. This blatant attempt to
stifle me placed me in a position of either continuing and being
censured or resigning. I chose the former. I chose to follow the path
that I deemed would bring about the higher moral good for our
Convention. Others may disagree with my view that I was doing the
higher good, but I was willing to put my name, my reputation, and my
future on the line. That is how deeply I believed in resisting the
narrowing of the 'doctrinal' parameters of cooperation (regardless of
the motivation of those pushing it), and how strongly I felt about the
attempts to stifle dissent

I have seen the good that has come to our Convention through the
Garner Motion and the election of Frank Page. There are a great number
of new IMB trustees who do not have any historical context, but
certain other trustees have been around for a long time, and they are
the ones who are now in leadership. These trustees now understand they
are under a great deal of scrutiny in any action they take - as it
should be. Nevertheless, current trustee leadership led by John Floyd,
Chuck McAlister, Jerry Corbaley and others would not accept anything
from me last night but a statement that said, "I was wrong for
violating the 'new' trustee standard of conduct that forbids dissent."

Again, I cannot apologize for those things that I did that I do not
believe are wrong. History will be my the judge. It did become crystal
clear to me last night that for me to continue in my service as a
trustee of the IMB, I would be a distraction. Questions would
continually be asked, "Has Wade apologized yet?" or "Is Wade on a
committee yet?" or "Has the censure been lifted?" These questions are
a distraction for the board when they meet. The board needs to focus
on missions, listen to the vision of the President and staff, and help
them implement that vision.

A Needed Reprimand

The Executive Committee of the SBC strongly reprimanded the Executive
Committee of the IMB this past Monday for seeking to bar me from
trustee meetings, stating that the IMB Executive Committee had opened
up the IMB to a lawsuit from the SBC or myself for violating the
bylaws of the convention. The inability for trustee leadership to
understand they were violating Convention bylaws when they sought to
bar me from meetings is ridiculous, particularly when I told Chairman
Floyd this very thing prior to their action. I would have informed the
entire board before they voted, but I was not given the opportunity to
speak, and after the vote, when I went to the microphone to ask a
question, I was told I would not be recognized.

Last night in my final plenary session with the IMB I went absolutely
as far as I could go in seeking to bring about a resolution through
drafting the statement I read to the full board. I even offered to
shut down my blog immediately if the statement were accepted. The
Executive Committee said that my statement was not acceptable. The
impasse is clear and no resolution can be seen; and the impasse is is
distracting to our mission work. The idea that the board 'removed' the
restrictions this Monday to my participation in board meetings and was
reaching out to me is absolutely absurd. Several trustees told me that
both I and the SBC Executive Commitee were excoriated behind closed
doors Monday by trustees who were furious that they would have to
remove the 'restrictions' from me serving on the Board. One trustee
went so far as to say something needed to be done to bar me from
trustee meetings, just as if I were a 'pedophile' or a 'murderer.' Two
trustees told me they almost resigned on the spot when they heard
that, but others 'amened' the suggestion. Such speech would be
tempered in open meetings. Nevertheless, any trustee who is tempted to
be giddy that I am no longer serving as a trustee might consider
waiting until June before they allow themselves to rejoice.

For the sake of the Southern Baptist Convention as a whole, I will
continue to stay involved in seeking to keep the basis of our
cooperation intact and resisting the temptation in the hearts of some
to narrow the doctrinal parameters of SBC missionary and ministry
cooperation. The Convention will change - or we will die a thousand
Convention deaths (Dwight McKissic, Sheri Klouda, Jason Epps, etc . .
. ). Jerry Rankin will not now be a victim as others before him. By
God's grace, the SBC fold will stop decreasing and start increasing
because we are NOT interested in disqualifying everybody who disagrees
with us over tertiary issues.

I'm sure not going anywhere.

In His Grace,

Wade Burleson

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