IMB trustees rescind action to remove trustee

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TAMPA, Fla.–International Mission Board trustees meeting in Tampa March 20-22 rescinded without opposition an earlier call for Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson’s removal.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While the earlier board action was rescinded, Hatley said he would continue not allowing Burleson to serve on Trustee committees.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.”

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