A formal document regulating International Mission Board trustee conduct and relationships is not intended to stifle honest differences among board members, a Texas trustee said after the IMB’s meeting in Tampa, Fla., March 20-22.
Mike Smith, director of missions in the Dogwood Trails Association and chairman of the IMB’s orientation subcommittee, presented to the trustees the new policy, which passed with three dissents. The new, four-page guideline includes five areas: general responsibilities, specific responsibilities, legal status and duty, standards of conduct and disciplinary action.
The document says trustees “are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees” and that trustees “must refrain from public criticism of Board approved actions.”
“We really got started on this two years ago, way before Wade Burleson or anything like that,” Smith told the Southern Baptist TEXAN in a phone interview March 23, referring to the Oklahoma trustee whose board status was in question until the board’s vote March 22 to rescind an earlier action requesting his removal. “We ourselves said we need something (drafted) in a concise way for being accountable when attending meetings and being faithful (as trustees).”
IMB board chairman Tom Hatley said March 22 the policy governing trustee expression is a “very healthy guideline” which gives clarity to Burleson’s case. Burleson is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
The trustees’ action on Burleson came after a dispute over Burleson’s posting on his blog–kerussocharis.blogspot.com–during the board’s Jan. 9-11 meeting in Richmond, Va.
The trustees claimed Burleson’s removal was necessary because of “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability, not Burleson’s opposition to policies recently enacted by the board,” Hatley stated in January.
The board’s attempt to remove Burleson was apparently unprecedented among SBC agencies. He was elected to his first four-year term on the IMB in 2005.
Burleson’s blog characterized the meeting and stated opposition to missionary personnel guidelines and policies which the trustees adopted during their Nov. 4-17 meeting in Huntsville, Ala. Trustees approved a guideline for IMB counselors to evaluate candidates’ baptism testimonies, and enacted a policy preventing appointment of those who practice “a private prayer language” which was described as “glossolalia (speaking in tongues).”
Burleson, on his blog, contended the November actions were overly restrictive, even among some Baptists who hold to the inerrancy of Scripture. He voted against the measure.
Hatley told the Florida Baptist Witness he believed the board’s new trustee guideline 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 in 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.
Smith told the TEXAN the adoption of the new guideline “is a learning process for a lot of us” and provides some needed in-house accountability for trustees.
“It’s the same thing I’ve said for 17 years as a pastor and 18 as a DOM: Certainly there’s room for disagreement that’s healthy and any kind of debate when you are in the family,” Smith said. “When you are in that arena, when you are in the board room, have the discussion then. But once the decision has been made by the body as a whole, we ought to go out with a supportive front before the people.”
“It’s the same thing I used to tell my people. There’s nothing wrong with us disagreeing in here in the business meeting. But when we go out to the world and everywhere else, though I may not agree with this or I may not think that way, I want to support the body,” Smith continued.
“No, we’re not saying no one can disagree or even express that they do no go along with (a decision), we just do not want continuous open criticism.”
Smith said the new guideline provides an accountability framework that might have helped trustees avoid the Burleson controversy.
During trustee debate March 22, Oklahoma trustee Rick Thompson asked: “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?”
Florida trustee Ken Whitten responded that he would either support the policy or have a “personal choice to make rather than being critical or slandering” anyone. He later cited Matthew 18 as the biblical way to handle disagreement.
Trustee Jerry Corbaley of California, reminded trustees that once a policy is approved, although trustees may not publicity 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.”
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 with 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 trustee’s “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.
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 we be no criticism of any board decision and I’ve disabled the comment section [of the blog],” Burleson said. “No feedback.”
As to whether he will resign from the board given the new policy, Burleson said he would reserve an opinion until hearing from IMB missionaries.
TAMPA, Fla.–International Mission Board trustees meeting in Tampa March 20-22 rescinded without opposition an earlier call for Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson’s removal.
The board also adopted a formal document explaining trustee responsibilities and how trustees are to relate to each other. Further, the new standards regulate what trustees may say publicly about board policies and personnel once the board has acted.
The vote on Burleson, which was unanimous, rescinds the earlier vote asking convention messengers to remove Burleson during the SBC annual meeting in Greensboro, N.C., in June.
The trustees voted on Burleson in executive session. When the meeting reopened, trustee Lonnie Wascom of Louisiana read the trustees’ decision into the official record. Wascom made the motion to rescind the previous vote on behalf of the board’s executive committee.
In January, IMB trustees said Burleson’s removal was needed due to “issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability.” Burleson had posted comments on his weblog–an Internet diary–disagreeing with recently passed missionary policies concerning baptism and private prayer language.
“The wisdom of the board is evident in this action,” Burleson said after the decision. “I also reiterate that I stand by every word, sentence and paragraph of that which I have blogged. If I am ever shown something I said that someone thinks is not true, I will immediately defend it or [if proved wrong,] change it and apologize.
“I am grateful that the ‘Wade Burleson issue’ may be put behind us in order that our focus and attention can be where it should be at all times: the fulfilling of our mission to reach the nations for Christ. That is what we’re about and side issues should never distract us.”
Board chairman Tom Hatley of Arkansas said trustees understand that processes are now in place for dealing with trustee interpersonal relationships that were not previously established. Those new processes were included in a recommendation trustees passed during the meeting.
“By dealing with this under the new guidelines for trustee relationships,” Hatley said, “we have now led our board and Southern Baptists at large to refocus our attention on the needs of reaching this world through our mission force. We want the attention back on the task.”
While the earlier board action was rescinded, Hatley said he would continue not allowing Burleson to serve on Trustee committees. The concern of trustees, he said, was that trustee relationships with Burleson would be built over a period of time and he could be brought back into committee involvement.
“As chairman, I gave the board my assurance that I would extend the exclusion of his participation in committees through the May meeting,” Hatley said, “which would allow a new process time to bring its sway over the current situation and, hopefully, to resolve it.”
Citing the Internet and weblogs, Hatley said March 22 the policy governing trustee expression is a “very healthy guideline”—especially in light of recent controversy over trustees’ attempts to remove Burleson from the board.
Although the new, four-page guideline for trustees was crafted over several years, Hatley told the Florida Baptist Witness that it does give clarity to Burleson’s case. Burleson is pastor of Immanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
“It would be wrong to say [the policy] is unrelated to him,” said Hately, 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 it’s 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.”
After the meeting Burleson said he would follow the new policy. He voted against it.
“I affirm the decision of the board…and will faithfully abide by the new policy,” he said. “In full compliance with new policies there will be no criticism of any board decision and I’ve disabled the comment section [of the weblog].”
John Floyd of Tennessee reported that the mission personnel committee affirmed the process that resulted in the guideline on baptism and policy on private prayer language enacted last November. In addition, he said the committee would appoint an ad hoc committee to revisit these measures to clarify the board’s position. Hatley said he recommended the personnel committee “revisit the policy on glossolalia and the guideline on baptism.”
NEW ORLEANS–Seventy-five West Texans worshipped at Grace Baptist Church in the Upper 9th Ward neighborhood of New Orleans known as the Bywater on Sunday morning, March 12. The team, representing 24 Baptist churches from two associations–Lamesa and the Southern Baptists of the Permian Basin–along with the Basin Baptist Network, gave a needed boost to the New Orleans church.
Last September, Hurricane Katrina displaced all five of the church’s deacons and about 75 percent of the congregation. The changes have been hard, but hope looms, the pastor said, thanks to a changing neighborhood and Southern Baptist missions volunteers like the Texans, many of whom spent their spring break laboring in the name of Jesus.
Bill Rogers has been the pastor of Grace for 29 years and his father-in-law, Leslie Scharfenstein, was the pastor before him for 36 years. During these two pastorates, the Bywater neighborhood, so named in the 1940s because of its proximity to the Mississippi River and the canal, has experienced many changes.
Before Hurricane Betsy destroyed the community in 1965, blue-collar whites lived there; after the storm, a majority of the white community moved to St. Bernard Parish and the homes became subsidized rental property for a poorer, mostly black community. In recent years, Bywater became a historic district, and interest rekindled in home ownership, but this brought another transition in the mid 1990s. The bohemian culture, known for attracting disenchanted people wanting to live alternative lifestyles, became a growing segment of the community, creating a proverbial gumbo with one of the poorest segments of New Orleans. The area is known for its art and homosexuality, and underperforming schools, drugs and multiple murders plague it.
Months after Katrina, the schools remain closed with little hope of reopening but murders no longer dominate the news. Rogers said the neighborhood was only about 6 percent children and youth before the storm. The church averaged approximately 70 attenders pre-Katrina, with the majority of the families coming from St. Bernard Parish and eastern New Orleans. Associate Pastor Charlie Dale said since the storm he is seeing more families with young children moving into the neighborhood.
Both pastors, with the support of the Texans and others, have a renewed sense of economic and spiritual hope for their community.
“This area, since most of it did not flood, is called the ‘Sliver on the River,'” Rogers said. “This is going to be a land of opportunity.”
While the Texans were painting, hanging sheetrock and wiring new air conditioning units, the mail arrived with more encouragement to Rogers in the form of a $1,500 check from an Arkansas church. Rogers is a retired parole officer, but his retirement checks have not arrived since the first of the year.
Not only did the team do manual labor during its week at Grace Baptist, but also they went door to door and invited people to the church for an evangelistic event that promised 200 pounds of boiled crawfish.
Team leader John Taylor, pastor at Kingston Avenue Baptist Church in Odessa, said prior to the event, “I hope a lot of people come because I don’t think many of us from Texas are going to eat a lot of crawfish.”
Josh Lomax, an Odessa teenager, said the trip “has reassured me of why I surrendered to the ministry this past year at church camp, to do [ministries] like this.”
“I was just so excited to get down here and get my hands dirty, then I found out I could go door to door and actually meet the people,” Texan Grant Kellar said. “I really wanted to do that and show the people of New Orleans that there are people who care about what’s happening to them.”
One of the people that the team met this week was Tracey, a roofer who professed faith in Christ, yet was struggling with smoking marijuana.
Kellar said, “He was trying to get his life together. We talked to him, gave him a tract and prayed for him. His church was destroyed, so he was looking for a place to go. We told him that Grace was open and that there were good people to talk to him and care for him.”
“This is an opportunity for our church to get a practical view of domestic missions,” said Ivy Shelton, pastor of Sherwood Baptist Church in Odessa. “It is an opportunity for people to see in a very practical way how to serve others and to see what the gospel means. You can tell people about the gospel all day long, but this is a way to put hands and feet to it.”
DALLAS?Criswell College has selected the leading Southern Baptist expert on Jewish ministry to direct the Pasche Institute for Jewish Studies. In its March 4 meeting, the board welcomed President Jerry Johnson’s recommendation that Jim Sibley be named the full-time director of the institute that he described as “part of who we are and who Dr. W.A. Criswell was.”
With the reorganization of the North American Mission Board’s evangelization division, Sibley’s decade-long service as a national missionary directing Jewish ministries recently ended, freeing him to consider the leadership post of the Pasche Institute beyond his interim status.
Johnson projected a “long-term, deep-rooted commitment to this ministry” based on the school’s theological convictions, philosophy of ministry and biblical foundation.
The Pasche Institute was formed in 2004 as a part of Criswell College to train Christians in Jewish ministry, offering the only such accredited master’s degree program. A flexible schedule of semester and intensive courses attracts undergraduate and master’s level students. A special collection of Jewish resources is being assembled in the college’s library, featuring rare books and research tools. The institute is named for the late Albert and Dorothy Pasche of Dallas, early supporters of Criswell Bible Institute and Jewish ministries.
Through the broader assignment at Criswell College and continued workshops on behalf of the North American Mission Board, Sibley anticipates an even greater focus on the needs in Jewish ministry. Southern Baptists have a long history of reaching out to Jewish people in America, he observed.
“By whatever means, I want to try to stimulate Southern Baptists to share the gospel with Jewish people. It has been a real privilege to work in Jewish ministry at NAMB for the past 10 years and I’m grateful for the commitments that NAMB has exhibited in reaching our country for Christ.”
NAMB vice president for evangelization, John Avant, congratulated the college where he once taught for making the commitment to Jewish ministry.
“We rejoice with Criswell College at this exciting announcement,” Avant told Baptist Press. “We are so very thankful for Jim Sibley’s unique blend of training, experience, calling and passion which have allowed him to make such great contributions over the years to Jewish ministries.”
Avant said NAMB’s intention “at this time is not to attempt to replace Jim, but to continue to use him on a contract basis to assist NAMB and our mission partners to better understand and share our faith with Jews throughout North America.”
Sibley is a frequent speaker on seminary campuses in such conferences and will teach a fall class on Jewish evangelism at Criswell College. Last year he led a mission trip to the Jewish communities of New York City. This summer he will return to Israel where he and his wife, Kathy, served as Southern Baptist missionaries for nearly 14 years.
In the past decade Sibley, more than any other Southern Baptist, has been the foremost spokesman for evangelicals and Southern Baptists in attempting to explain Jewish outreach.
Recent misrepresentations of views advocating dual covenant theology in a March 1 front page Jerusalem Post article demonstrated how evangelicals are misunderstood regarding the salvation of Jews.
When Southern Baptists were asked by their domestic mission board to pray specifically for the evangelization of Jews, Sibley fielded media inquiries to clarify the denominational emphasis.
“There was a great deal of concern when it was claimed by the secular media that Southern Baptists were targeting the Jewish people, but in reality what we are presenting is a way that we can share the gospel with the Jewish people with sensitivity and understanding so that the love of Christ can be communicated and so we can relate to the Jewish people as individuals and friends rather than as objects of a c