Platt apologizes for “divisive” IMB amicus brief

NASHVILLE International Mission Board President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined last May in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.

“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif.

“I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.” 

Platt offered a similar apology to executive directors of Baptist state conventions, who met in the same location.

The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae—Latin for “friend of the court” —brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.

In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship. In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.

Going forward, Platt said, missions is “what I long for the conversation about the IMB to be focused on, for the sake of those who have never heard.”

Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”

In the future, a new process for filing amicus briefs is needed, Platt said, “that will involve my office and our trustees.” He pledged to discuss such a policy during a Feb. 28-March 1 IMB trustee meeting.

Platt also told editors, “Going back to at least 2010, so far before I stepped into this role, our … legal department has filed various similar briefs related to religious liberty. And since 2010, all of those matters have been handled by our legal department.”

Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former IMB trustee chairman, told Baptist Press Platt’s “remarks [to state executive directors] were very well received.”

Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, “I greatly appreciate the directness and humility that the leader of our flagship missions organization demonstrated in meeting with Baptist state convention executive directors. I saw the same spirit in one-on-one conversations with Dr. Platt.”

Haun Resignation 

Dean Haun, pastor of First Baptist Church in Morristown, Tenn., resigned from the IMB trustee board in November based on his conviction the IMB should not have joined a friend of the court brief last May supporting the ISBR.

Haun, a former Tennessee Baptist Convention president, told BP resigning from the IMB trustees “was one of the most heart-wrenching decisions that I’ve ever had to make in my ministry because I feel like I’ve been a faithful Southern Baptist all my life.”

Haun said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the gospel.

“I don’t think the IMB advocates the same doctrine as the Muslims,” Haun said. “But I do think that Paul warns us [in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15] about making these unholy alliances. And I think that’s where we’re scripturally on the edge.”

Regarding the IMB’s mission and purpose, Haun said, “I understand the religious liberty aspect of the entire argument. But I do not understand why the International Mission Board, with our mission to reach the world for Christ, would have to jump into the fray of a mosque being built in New Jersey.”

While Haun was still an IMB trustee, he contacted Platt with his concerns, and the amicus brief was addressed at a confidential “trustee forum” in August, the Baptist and Reflector reported.

Platt told BP in a statement in January, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs. IMB leaders are committed in the days ahead to speak only into situations that are directly tied to our mission.” He also expressed gratitude for Haun’s trustee service.

Religious Liberty

Clyde Meador, retired executive advisor to Platt, told BP the IMB joined the ISBR amicus brief in an effort “to support the USA’s foundational principle of religious freedom” and “to support Baptist partners and others around the world who seek permission to construct church buildings.”

Meador, who retired from the IMB in May, said in written comments the amicus brief “speaks to a matter closely related to International Mission Board work around the world. In a great many countries, especially but not exclusively Muslim-majority countries, Baptist churches with whom missionaries work find it very difficult if not impossible to receive permission to build church buildings.”

The IMB’s worldwide Baptist partners “emphasize the basic principle of religious freedom” in “seeking to obtain building permits,” Meador said. While religious freedom in the U.S. does “not necessarily” persuade other nations to grant similar freedom, “contrary action by the USA would be quite persuasive.”

“Should it be clear that the USA does not uphold its principle of religious freedom when applied to the building of mosques, an excuse is readily available to any Muslim or other opposing country to deny the building of church buildings,” Meador said. 

The Baptist Faith and Message, Article XVII, affirms, “Church and state should be separate. The state owes to every church protection and full freedom in the pursuit of its spiritual ends. In providing for such freedom no ecclesiastical group or denomination should be favored by the state more than others … The state has no right to impose penalties for religious opinions of any kind. The state has no right to impose taxes for the support of any form of religion. A free church in a free state is the Christian ideal, and this implies the right of free and unhindered access to God on the part of all men, and the right to form and propagate opinions in the sphere of religion without interference by the civil power.” 

—This story was compiled from 
two separate Baptist Press reports.

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