The Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board has censured a trustee for writing about trustee business in a Web log that board leaders said reflected poorly on fellow board members and violated a policy requiring trustees to speak only in “positive and supportive” terms about actions of the board.
A motion passed in executive session suspends Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson for four meetings for “intentional and unapologetic violations” of trustee standards. The suspension means Burleson will not be allowed to participate in any meetings of the board or reimbursed for travel to any trustee meeting or business.
Trustee leaders will consider lifting the suspension if Burleson apologizes and agrees to refrain from blogging about IMB and SBC issues on his blog, titled “Grace and Truth to You.”
Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., said in a statement he would apologize for “unintentional offenses” against fellow trustees, but not for “principled dissent” about actions or policies of the board.
“My Baptist principles will not allow me to condone the actions of any Southern Baptist agency that systematically and repeatedly attempts to stifle passionate, principled dissent among brothers,” Burleson said.
IMB trustees passed a motion requesting Burleson’s removal from the board in January 2006 for blogging about his disagreement with new IMB policies on baptism and private prayer language in December 2005.
The board reversed that vote in March 2006, but adopted new guidelines requiring trustees to speak only in “positive and supportive terms” as they interpret and report on actions by the full board, regardless of whether or not they personally agree with those actions.
The dispute spawned a network of Baptist bloggers opposed to tightening doctrinal parameters and political machinations that was widely credited with helping to elect a denominational outsider, South Carolina pastor Frank Page, as SBC president in 2006.
This year the blog network claimed victory when the SBC adopted a motion declaring the 2000 Baptist Faith & Message “sufficient in its current form to guide trustees in their establishment of policies and practices of entities of the convention.” Bloggers called it a repudiation of narrower policies, like those approved by the IMB in 2005 requiring baptism in a church that meets certain standards and banning missionaries who use a “private prayer language” in their devotional practices.
The censure motion finds Burleson guilty of “making public private communications with fellow trustees,” “speaking in a way that reflected poorly on fellow trustees” and “publicly criticizing board approved actions instead of speaking in positive and supportive terms as he interpreted and reported on actions of the Board of Trustees, regardless of whether he personally supported those actions.”
Burleson said he tries to deal with issues and not personalities in his blog, and that he posts communications because he believes Southern Baptists have a right to know about IMB business.
Burleson, a past president of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, said he intends to “faithfully fulfill” his four-year appointment as an IMB trustee and that he and his wife will “gladly” pay their own way to attend IMB trustee meetings and “are thrilled that the money saved can be used to support the IMB’s overseas mission work.”
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.