Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Recommendations and observations on the attempt to remove a conservative IMB trustee

Both Baptist Press and Associated Baptist Press have released reports about the effort of some International Mission Board trustees to get rid of one of their fellow trustees by asking the convention messengers meeting in Greensboro, NC this summer to vote him out. Wade Burleson has raised concerns from his fellow trustees by questioning the wisdom of recent policy changes for appointing missionaries. The policies involve tighter restrictions on where and by whom a candidate was baptized and on the practice of tongues as a "private prayer language." I have only seen excerpts of the actual new policies, as reported in various press releases and on the blogosphere, so I have been unwilling to comment on them.

People whom I trust and who have read the new policies have expressed concerns about them. These concerns stem from two fears, as far as I can tell. First is the fear of a creeping landmarkism. Landmarkism is a particular view of baptist origins that requires a certain kind of historical succession in order for present baptist expressions of church to be valid. In the case of baptism it would argue that only those are properly baptized who have been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself has been baptized by a proper administrator, who himself...(you get the picture). Some are concerned that this is what the new policy tends toward.

A second fear is that the tongues issue has been raised not primarily for theological reasons but for political reasons, in order to embarass or actually get rid of IMB President, Jerry Rankin, who is on record of using a "private prayer language."

Wade Burleson has written about these things in his blog. He also makes references to having other information that incriminates the actions of certain IMB trustees who have privately planned strategies in violation of board policies.

All of this, as you would imagine, has created quite a fuss. It is hard for those of us on the outside of the trustee meetings to know what to believe. The official statement from IMB trustee chairman, Tom Hatley, about the disciplinary action against Burleson is very vague. Here it is in total:
The trustees of the International Mission Board voted to recommend to the Southern Baptist Convention that Wade Burleson of Oklahoma, be removed by the convention as a trustee of the International Mission Board.

This difficult measure was not taken without due deliberation and exploration of other ways to handle an impasse between Wade Burleson and the Board. In taking this action, trustees addressed issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson's opposition to policies recently enacted by the board.

The trustees consider this a rare and grievous action but one that was absolutely necessary for the board to move forward in its duties as prescribed by the SBC.
Burleson issued a statement that says, in part:
I am greatly saddened by the action taken by the IMB board of trustees. I have yet to be presented with specific allegations but I am willing to respond to the particulars of these allegations should they materialize.

In recent days I have expressed deep concern with a precedent set by certain IMB Board members who voted to establish IMB missionary policies that reach beyond the guidelines of the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.

Secondly, I have also questioned and brought to the attention of the full board the inappropriateness of certain IMB board members, who in violation of IMB board guidelines, have held private caucuses to develop and craft IMB motions and policy.
Here are my recommendations on this matter:

The IMB should state their specific allegations against Burleson in writing. He should do the same with his allegations against the trustees who allegedly violated board policy. There should be a full hearing of these charges by the whole board, perhaps with selected disinterested parties who are people of known integrity within the SBC. If this effort does not result in some genuine resolution, then let the documents become public so that the SBC churches for whom the trustees work can have full access to the information.

Here are my observations:

1. This further highlights what I have stated before about the crumbling trust at strategic levels of SBC life. No amount of political posturing can cover it up. No amount of wishful thinking can make it disappear.

2. Wade Burleson may well be on his way to becoming the highest profile example to date of what happens to those who refuse to go along with questionable practices of conservative leaders "for the sake of the cause." Time will tell. If he is guilty of conduct unbecoming a trustee, then the board ought to spell it out and not simply make vague accusations against him, with the implied declaration, "trust us; we are good guys!"

3. If this recommendation makes it to the floor of the SBC in Greensboro without further clarification, and if the procedure by which it is dealt with is not rigged, then it will be defeated, maybe resoundingly. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that a growing number of churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly suspicious of certain sectors of denominational leadership. In other words, as I have written before, there is a fractured trust that only grows deeper when things like this happen and are handled the way that this one has been so far.

The IMB trustee chairman should not think that he can simply stand before the SBC and say, "trust us," and receive a sympathetic hearing. Those days are over. Trust will return when honesty, openness and integrity are put on prominent display. We could use some huge doses of these virtues at the present hour.


Steve said...

Very interesting Tom. I'm not sure I agree on how the vote in Greensboro would turn out, but I'm happy to hear we may not have so many mindless zombies at SBC conventions.

GeneMBridges said...

First, I want to thank you for addressing this issue, Tom. I have been one of the very vocal voices opposing this, in part, because some trustees from NC live nearby. 3 of 4 of them voted against the IMB policies. 1 is part of the Caucus group. I have heard from a former trustee, who is the wife of one of the leaders of Conservative Carolina Baptists in NC. She has informed me that she knew about the caucusing before she finished her tenure. She has personally recounted the story of her last meeting in which she heard slanderous speech outside of her hotel room at 1 am. She declined to name names at this time, because dissent could be "the kiss of death" for her husband with the Convention leadership. How sad.

3. If this recommendation makes it to the floor of the SBC in Greensboro without further clarification, and if the procedure by which it is dealt with is not rigged, then it will be defeated, maybe resoundingly. Why? Because the truth of the matter is that a growing number of churches and church leaders are becoming increasingly suspicious of certain sectors of denominational leadership. In other words, as I have written before, there is a fractured trust that only grows deeper when things like this happen and are handled the way that this one has been so far.

The IMB trustee chairman should not think that he can simply stand before the SBC and say, "trust us," and receive a sympathetic hearing. Those days are over. Trust will return when honesty, openness and integrity are put on prominent display. We could use some huge doses of these virtues at the present hour.

I'd like to respond to this. There are some ideas being discussed in various informal manners right now, including a resolution to reaffirm the Convention's 19th century repudiation of Landmarkism and condemning it as a grievous error.

Also, you are correct, and I think it smacks of a certain presumption that the IMB trustee chairman can simply say "Trust us," when the rules on this are very clear. I quote:

The motions to remove a trustee shall be made to the messengers at an annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention by the Executive Committee or the Board, whichever has recommended the removal, or by the proponent of the motion if neither the Executive Committee nor the Board recommends the removal. The motion may be brought as a joint recommendation if both the Executive Committee and the Board have recommended removal. No single motion may undertake to remove more than one trustee. The motion to remove shall be adopted if it receives the affirmative vote of two-thirds of the messengers present and voting. If the motion to remove a trustee is adopted, the removal shall be effective immediately upon delivery to the Board's secretary of a written notice of removal signed by the president or recording secretary of the Southern Baptist Convention.

As you can see, a simple majority vote cannot unseat a trustee. It takes a 2/3 vote of the messengers. Handholding to the side, this is also about the IMB policies, not just Wade Burleson. A vote to not remove him may well be perceived as a repudiation of the new policies. Regardless, the trustees must believe that 2/3 of the messengers will support them. Unless they make their charges specific, I don't see that happening easily. The opposition only needs 1/3 of the vote to defeat the measure. That's not much. A minority can keep a trustee in office.

I would encourage all the readers of this blog to research this issue carefully. Marty Duren at has been reporting closely. Wade is more than willing to discuss matters, and the trustee information is available for you to contact them personally. Vote your conscience, vote for biblical doctrine, vote with propriety. If you come to Greensboro to vote on this issue, bring a full contingent of messengers. Every vote will count. A minority can keep Wade on the board, but the larger the vote, the more it will be perceived as a repudiation of the polices themselves.

Sojourner said...

To say that this is suspicious is an understatement. I have expressed my concerns over the policies adopted by the IMB as well. My thought was that the board overstepped its authority in addressing an issue that has not been dealt with by the convention as a whole. This action against a fellow trustee seems to be the same thing. Does the board think that they have the power to make policy for the rest of the SBC and then give the boot to those who disagree? It certainly seems that way. By the way, if saying such things publicly is "the kiss of death" for my future Convention leadership...whoop-de-doo. The fact that we even think that certain people 'control' the destinies of others in office is telling.

Tom said...


Thanks for informing us of the actual wording of the policy to remove a trustee. I was assuming a simple majority could do it. If it takes 2/3 of the messengers and if--and again, this could be a big IF--the process is not hijacked through political strong-arming or parlimentary incompetence, then I am confident that the recommendation to remove Wade Burleson will fail. Like you, Gene, I think that a vote not to remove would be a commentary on the new policies, but more than that, I think it would reflect the diminishing trust of SBC power-brokers.

Sojourner, you speak for many when you say, "whoop-de-doo!" Not only have you taught me how to spell a term that is becoming vitally important in our denominational dialogue you may also have inadvertently coined a new phrase that will help explain why things like political intimidation and political bribery are no longer as effective as they once were in denominational life. It's the "whoop-de-doo factor." I can hear it being reported even now, "The vote failed overwhelmingly. Long-time convention watchers attribute it to the "whoop-de-doo factor."

Paul Stith said...


If this move succeeds, it seems it would be easy pickin's to return to the days when no one could be appointed unless they had attended an SBC seminary, or even a particular SBC seminary.

Nick said...

The new IMB missionary selection policies in their entirety, as received from the IMB via email.

Rick said...

Tom -

Thanks for the voice of sobreity and wisdom, I appreciate your opinion on the matter before us and too, would like to hear the specific charges against Wade. We've been following this story through Wade and Marty Duren's blogs. And would love to hear "the other side" - if they are willing to present it. However, like others, we'll be in Greensboro and without further information will be voting "No"

Benji Ramsaur said...


Do you think it would be a good policy for the IMB committees to not be able to stop missionaries from going on to the field for doctrinal positions that the BF&M has not taken a stand on?

G. Alford said...

Thanks for the link to the full policy…

I do not know what Brother Wade has said concerning these new policies, but I can only assume that he has not been supportive of these new restrictions that go beyond what is expressed in the BFM-2000.

As I understand it the BFM-2000 is the “Theological Contract” between the Southern Baptist Convention (including all its separate entities) and the Local Baptist Churches?

Are we now saying that each SBC entity has the power to create it’s own Theological Standards beyond those expressed in the BFM-2000, and this without any input or approval from the Member Churches of the Convention? If this is the case then the BFM-2000 itself is pretty much a meaningless document! And we risk having Churches in good standing with the Convention, and full agreement with the BFM-2000, which cannot fully participate in the life of and missionary work of the Convention…

Brothers this is a very Dangerous Road to start down… it is without a doubt, as Tom has said, “Landmark-ism” and if followed it will, in the end, lead to the splintering of the Convention again!

Here is a portion of this new (and unapproved by the Convention) policy which goes far beyond what is expressed in the BFM2000, and which I disagree with in the strongest language possible as an Extra-Biblical mandate!

2. The Church
a. Baptism is a church ordinance.
Baptism must take place in a church that practices believer’s baptism by immersion alone, does not view baptism as sacramental or regenerative, and a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer.

Tom said...


The BF&M says some good things but as an overall confession of faith it is lacking. Granting that, it is what the SBC has adopted and therefore I do think it should be the guide for IMB appointments.

JBuchanan said...

This is a very sad development. I have been reading Wade's blog and trying to follow this as close as possible. Obviously none of us know for sure what has been said withing the trustee meetings but I think we all agree that something is not right. I also think that we are seeing a greater issue arising in the SBC. The "resurgence" was just the first step in reform. We need to wrestle with some of the lingering theological questions that are out there. Landmarkism, charasmatic issues, eccleisology, these are all issues that we need to discuss, but we also need to be able to graciously disagree. We need to pray for this upcoming convention. I hope that the convention will vote down this proposal of the IMB trustees and that we will find someway to address the IMB policies. I would also hope that we as a convention find a way to recognize and affirm Dr. Rankin. He is a great leader and I hope that he does not resign over this controversy.

Michael Spencer said...

Tom: I'm betting you dinner (at the BHT of course :-) that this passes, though with a significant no vote.

I hope I lose. I really do. I work with an IMB missionary- 12 years on the field- who is now home. He is Charismatic (privately) and is sadly not planning to return.

The quelling of honest dissent is a sign of rot. Something is rotten, and it is not "liberalism" this time.

Tom said...


You are on! If you win, we will eat at McDonald's. If I win, it's Ruth's Chris Steakhouse. :-)

nathan said...

I read Wade's blog and I like the guy, but are we really prepared to say that he is being ousted by trustees that we have appointed to conduct business on our behalf just because of corrupt political maneuvering? I mean, do we really think that our trustees only have a political agenda for the tongue's issue, for example? I need to hear both sides. I don't think Wade was wrong in the things that he is being accused of (from where I sit), but I'm also not ready to reject the entire body of trustees at this point.

When I say I need to hear both sides, I want to hear the trustees Biblical reasons for rejecting missionaries that have prayed in tongues, but I also want to hear some of you that have commented here, maybe on your own blogs what kind of theological statement you are going to make in defense of tongues from the relatively few verses in the Bible that actually talk about it.

I believe in tongues, healing, etc. I have seen healing take place (though I have never spoken in tongues), but are we really going to isolate ourselves from the SBC just because of some perceived political maneuvering without first getting to the bottom of the whole thing? If we don't trust them, why did we vote for them in the first place?

I don't know all of the details. I have been reading some blogs, I have seen the bp and abp news articles, but I'm not ready to admit that the SBC is so far removed from God that we are going to make major doctrinal changes in the requirements of international staff based on anything less than prayer and divine guidance. Most of what I hear is third-hand gossip and rumors. You may say the burden of proof lies on the trustees to tell us their rationale behind all of their decisions, and I agree, but for all the ranting going on, I don't see many constructive solutions being offered from this side.

By the way, I hate the politics of conventions and denominations more than any one and I don't think our convention has a pristine record. But I'm pretty sure I am an SBC reformer and not an SBC protestant. Does the SBC need reform or should we wash our hands of the whole thing? If it's reform that we want, what are we doing about it? Blogging? If any of you are doing something more than that, what is it and maybe we can join you in it? Has someone come up with the Biblical role of tongues in International mission? In the end, are we going to have minor differences with just about every human being on the face of the earth? Has anyone sent a letter to their trustees and, if so, who is going to post their letter on their blog so we can see it, learn from it, and maybe support it and be encouraged to write our own?

To the author of this blog: This comment is based on my reading of several blogs over the past couple of weeks, I just simply chose yours to get out all of my thoughts on this issue. No disrespect to you, I just simply want to be sure what position I really need to take on it and make sure my heart is right and ensure that I'm not taking up a brother's offense. I hope all of this makes sense and that it is received in the spirit in which it has been written (that is, with a genuine desire to know God's will, not as a point of contention with you or any of your commenters). Thanks for giving me a chance to say my piece.

Scripture Searcher said...

WHOOPEE! Those fussing, feuding, fighting SB (Southern Baptists) are at it again! What excitement!

And to top it off, we have at least two SB (Southern Baptists) doing a little SB
(Souther Baptist) "betting" as to the outcome of this hugely important theological

Perhaps we can sell this to Hollywood for a film. They hate Christians and would do
wonders with this script!

I know ABC, CBS, NBC and Fox News will give it plenty of air time in an effort to make fools of us in the eyes of a lost world that is rushing to hell every day and night!

Stephen Thomas said...

It's not really surprising to see a fellow being in fear of losing his position due to not towing the line of those in power, despite how conservative he may be. It's been this way for a long time. If you don't like a guy, just call him liberal and throw him out. Whether or not he is liberal is irrelevant.

bobby john said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
David B. Hewitt said...

Yikes...I don't think I've ever seen Scripture Searcher dive into the arena of satire...

...may it serve as a sobering word of caution to us, given the content of his post.

Godwilling, I'll be at Greensboro...but it was more for the debate on Calvinism than for this. It would appear that there are many important issues that will be brought to the forefront at our Convention this year.

May God grant us grace, mercy, and wisdom as we proceed.


Howie Luvzus said...

I thought you might like to read my post about the IMB controversy. Let me know what you think.

Howie Luvzus

Tad Thompson said...

We have to remember that this is not about tongues or baptism. It is about cooperation among conservatives that have differning opinions on the non-essentials. The BFM outlines the essentials for our cooperation. These new policies narrow the essentials. It does not matter what position one takes on tongues or alien baptism. The key is that we understand that there can be differences in opinion between those who affirm scripture and hold it as truth. The Scripture is infallible, man is not. This is not about tongues, liberalism, or baptism. Most of us cooperating conservatives are not charismatic, but we do believe in cooperation.

No Name said...

Tom, I think you make some great suggestions. I appreciate your opinions, suggestions, and your optimism. I share Michael's point of view. I am not so sure people will either be informed or care. I hope this recommendation is voted down, but I have this idea that the masses will pass over this and just blindly trust without examination of this situation.

I too hope I am wrong in this. I hope people will be informed and that common sense and true conservative theology will prevail. But when I speak to and hear of IMB trustees who have no clue as to why the baptism issue is so huge, I have cause for concern.

Daniel said...

I appreciate the discussion on this blog. At the risk of speaking off-topic, I must wonder why a denomination based on sound biblical interpretation is struggling with the issue of tongues this way. It strikes me as odd that leaders boldly interpret a passage such as 1 Tim 2, a passage requiring careful and humble study, as both literal and normative, yet fail to come to the same conclusion with 1 Cor 14:29, an unambiguous axiom.

Therefore, my brothers, be eager to prophesy, and do not forbid speaking in tongues. 1 cor 14:29

Tom said...


It sounds like you are not getting the point of this thread. No one here is debating the legitimacy of tongues as a "prayer language" for today. The issue here is the IMB trustees move to dismiss a fellow trustee, apparently for disagreeing with a board policy change.

For you to invoke 1 Timothy 2 and to contrast it as "a passage requiring careful and humble study, as both literal and normative" to 1 Corinthians 14:29 is disengenuous at best and betrays your true colors. Do you really think that 1 Timothy can be legitimately interpreted to allow for women pastors in a local church? If so, please be my guest and give us your best exegetical efforts to do so.

Kevin Lancaster said...

Reading Wade's letter and speaking with my DOM and fellow pastors there seems to be some things that he IMB is doing that seemto be going against what we as Baptist beleive there are real concernes and if thy why Bro. Wade went about doing or should i say exsposing these important issues we can forgive him but if the IBM is seeking to make changes that are questionable then who will stand.