Wednesday, March 08, 2006

IMB Trustees’ PR Campaign Long Overdue

Southern Baptist International Mission Board (IMB) Chairman Tom Hatley has posted some materials on the IMB website.

These materials are long overdue. I applaud Chairman Hatley’s decision. It shows some degree of deference to the larger Southern Baptist constituency. I still hope for a little humble pie on his part. To my knowledge, neither he nor any trustee who voted to remove Wade Burleson has apologized and this remains disconcerting and a continued cloud of suspicion over this entire affair.

The open letters to pastors and church leaders as well as the position papers are the result of Wade Burleson’s openness and frankness with Southern Baptists. Burleson has tenaciously blogged on this subject and has a post on this very issue.

Chairman Hatley begins his open letter to SBC pastors with:

“You are due a report from me concerning recent actions by your International Mission Board trustees concerning the qualifications for new missionaries.”

I don’t imagine I would ever read those words were it not for Oklahoma trustee Burleson and the tidal wave of support he has received from throughout our convention. Chairman Hatley felt no need to inform us of the direction IMB trustees were going and in the early days of the controversy, he gave every indication that no information would be coming. I think today’s posting on the IMB webpage is a fulfillment of an old adage by President Reagan: “Politicians see the light when they feel the heat.” Regardless of how we got to this point, I believe we are moving in the right direction. Forthcoming and honest information is essential from the IMB trustee leadership.

Still, a several things are concerning, one of which has occupied my thoughts today.

In the webpage disclaimer before the content of both position papers (baptism and private prayer language) we read:

This paper has not been adopted by the board of trustees and is primarily the work of several experienced trustees with the final edit being made by the chairman of the board. It contains many of the points considered by many trustees as they worked through this issue over the last several years.

I’m not sure if it’s my fascination with parliamentary procedure, my theological views as a conservative, my preaching preference as an expositor, my love as an amateur historian and constitutional scholar, or my background with drafting denominational resolutions, but those words became very enlightening to me. I know not everyone is always deliberate in their writing (I get pretty sloppy about it myself most of the time) but I have to believe that a preamble or disclaimer had several people sign off on it.

The word that caught my eye most in the entire document is the word found in the disclaimer… “PRIMARILY”

That word leaves room for others who aren’t trustees to contribute to the rationale of these policy changes. That word leaves the door open for a previous charge that other denominational persons are influencing IMB trustee decisions. That word strikes at the heart of this controversy. If these papers and letters are about damage control, and the timing suggests that could be a real possibility, then we aren’t much past where we started a couple of months ago. If in fact, non-IMB trustees contributed to the position papers, we aren’t dealing with documents that explain certain trustee’s rationale for making the policy changes and that should be stated.

I have emailed Chairman Hatley asking for clarification regarding this matter and have asked him to consider posting the names of all those who contributed to the document. I was sorry to add to my brother’s load, but I do desire clarification and look forward to his response.

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