Wednesday, February 08, 2006

Georgia's IMB Trustee Speaks Out

I'm sure a hyper-critical analysis of IMB trustee John Schaefer's comments to the Georgia Christian Index ( isn't totally fair, but his interview does bolster my perception of the unfair treatment of Wade Burleson.

I’ve listed his statements in the interview below with a few comments. I ought to be quiet but Martin Luther King Jr. said "Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter." I’m not ready for my life to be over and I think this issue matters. So…my musings:

“It is unfortunate that Wade did not choose to follow established procedure to voice his concern,”

Unfortunate for whom? Why is the IMB's response to Burleson's response of the policy changes not "unfortunate"? Doesn’t “established procedure” maintain the status quo?

“I believe his heart is in the right place but trying to shape board policy by Internet postings is not the way to go.

There was no IMB trustee policy that stated internet postings were not the way to go. This is simple trustee bias against blogging. Also, if Burleson's heart is in the right place, why was his ousting handled within three days (apparently), maybe even less? Mr. Schaefer uses the present tense verb "is" so I assume he still believes Burleson's heart is pure. Yet, the trustee action is extreme and is an action that should be taken only against a "bad-hearted" trustee.

"Board deliberations should remain in the committees where they were discussed; that’s why committees are established, so all sides can engage in the discussion and come to a consensus.”

This is a very powerful statement, because on the surface of it, it denies any accountability to the members of the Southern Baptist Convention. Keep in mind that Schaefer is giving an interview, not postulating a paper. But if he would think through this issue a bit, and conclude that board deliberations belong to Southern Baptists as a whole, he might reconsider his actions. But the heart of this matter lies with how much knowledge the broader Southern Baptist family should have of trustee matters.

“Everything is done by committee and the discussions generated a lot of controversy, but it was a healthy exchange. If you are on the losing side of a vote you go back to the committee and try to bring clarity to an issue and change it. These committees change every year and there are opportunities to be heard.”

Had this strategy been followed, would the conservative resurgence have taken place? Wasn’t it fueled by trustees and other agency personnel letting the broader Southern Baptist family know what was taking place? Wouldn’t have “working within the system” slowed or stopped the theological conservative movement? And don’t trustees owe their conscience to the Southern Baptist polity.

Consider this ridiculous hypothetical. Trustees change the missionary policy to allow homosexuals to serve. A trustee, joined with a minority, unsuccessfully lobbies against the change. Should that trustee “go back to the committee and try to bring clarity…”? I would hope that trustee would not work within the system, but take his case to the broader body and I would think Mr. Schaefer would agree.

I am not contending the policy changes are on the same level as homosexuality, only that Mr. Burleson has the right to take his case to the broader community of Southern Baptists. I would further argue he has a moral duty to do so if his conscience is grieved by the change. He would be morally culpable if he stayed silent if he felt we were making a serious departure from established and/or commonly held beliefs and practices.

“Wade wasn’t happy with the vote on those issues and, not liking the results, went public with his views by expressing them in his blog.”

That’s the heart of the matter. Is it appropriate, wise, ethical and proper for a trustee of a Southern Baptist entity to communicate directly to Southern Baptists? An interesting research project would be to document how many trustees have spoken to Southern Baptists through the years. I would contend that it has occurred many times, albeit typically through the medium of state Baptist newspapers. I think the blogger culture has changed the dynamic of trustees communicating to the Southern Baptist constituency in at least two ways. First, blogging is interactive. The reader can engage, improve upon, challenge, refute, ignore and do a host of other things to the journal entry. Secondly, denominational leaders cannot exert as much influence on bloggers as they can on state Baptist newspaper editors. I think the sparse coverage by Baptist Press on this particular issue is a good case in point.

Had Wade Burleson stated his objections to the Oklahoma Baptist newspaper only and had not blogged his insights, would we be in this crisis?

“We run enormous risk in society if we begin using blogs to shape policy. There is great potential to destroy an organized, orderly process for governance, regardless if you are serving in the secular or denominational world.”

I think Mr. Schaefer raises a valid point here, at least for consideration. I’m not conceding he’s right, but I do think we’ve not adequately addressed whether blogs do have a down side that can harm our denomination. I don’t think they do, but there are some issues to consider to reflect upon. Having said that, I believe the issue boils down to whether having an informed and active Southern Baptist constituency is helpful. I suppose the harm could be micro-management. But all the blog did was get some Southern Baptists talking. How can that be harmful? I suppose some members contacted the IMB trustees to give their two cents. How can an IMB trustee object to that?

Had Burleson advocated some ridiculous notion that had virtually no support among Southern Baptists, would we be where we are today? Had he advocated wine drinking missionaries be approved, wouldn’t the trustees have blown him off as some quack from Oklahoma? And had he blogged about it (I’m assuming there’s some policy somewhere about alcohol consumption) wouldn’t most Southern Baptists have blown Wade Burleson off as well? I suggest if that scenario would have occurred there would have been no trustee motion to recall him. Didn’t this current situation get exacerbated because so many were resonating with Burleson’s blogs, particularly over the change in the baptism policy? And could that be what is at the heart of some trustees anger at Burleson’s blogging?

“Because his blog is mixed with truth and heresay [sic], people now don’t know what to believe.”

Mr. Burleson has stated he has never been confronted with specific charges. Mr. Schaefer (and IMB trustee leadership) needs to step forward immediately and present Burleson with his written un-truths! Perhaps Burleson will then repent and Schaefer will have gained a brother. If Mr. Schaefer cannot present such writings “mixed with truth and heresay [sic]” he owes Burleson and readers of the Christian Index an apology.

I would like to know whether the trustees had specific charges at their January business meeting when they voted on the recall motion. They should answer this question immediately and let Southern Baptists know whether Wade Burleson’s assertion that he was not presented with specific offenses is true or contested.

If no such list of specific offenses existed (verbal or written) and trustees later compile a written list they should 1) apologize to Wade Burleson for not handling his discipline in a Biblical matter; 2) confront Wade Burleson with the newly compiled list to allow him to address and/or repent of the listed offenses and 3) trustees should always note the date the charges were compiled along with the notation “(# of days) after trustees voted to recall Burleson” or some similar notation.

"He seems to be comfortable with the idea of making public what is said at trustee meetings, but I think there is basically a great spirit at the IMB and I can’t think of a trustee who is not supportive of President Jerry Rankin.”

I’ve already said that’s the heart of the issue. Should any trustee be “comfortable” with sharing trustee matters with the public? I am glad Wade Burleson is comfortable with making things public and I am very sad that Mr. Schaefer (and other trustees) appears to resent me and other Southern Baptist knowing about IMB policy changes approved by the trustees. Burleson has shown trustworthiness and discretion in not posting about “Executive Session” business.

Schaefer is, to some degree, making things public. He is speaking to Georgia Baptists through the Christian Index. Is it ok to do that since this Burleson controversy is already public? Is using traditional journalism (state Baptist newspapers) to be accepted and using modern journalism (blogging) to be forbidden? I’m confused. Will Mr. Schaefer now be recalled for violating the moratorium of silence?

The issue of Jerry Rankin is related somewhat, though it can be a distraction from the issues at hand. But the trustees do have an opportunity to put this matter to rest. They should adopt a resolution of support that strongly praises Rankin’s leadership. It should be phrased in such a way that Rankin critics could not in good conscience support. Then IMB trustees should publicize the vote and Southern Baptists will know whether there is an anti-Rankin faction on the IMB or whether Mr. Schaefer exaggerates the support of Jerry Rankin.

The trustee response of silence is not appropriate. There is a public controversy at hand, and as servants of our denomination, they owe Southern Baptists some answers. If IMB trustee leadership intends to give Southern Baptists their perspective of this situation ten minutes before messengers in Greensboro are to decide the guilt or innocence of Wade Burleson, they need to say it. But a situation of this magnitude is deserving of much prayer and deliberation by Southern Baptists who will be deciding upon the future direction of the International Mission Board. IMB trustee silence prevents us from praying informatively and is a barrier to a God-honoring resolution to this matter.

No comments: