http://www.abpnews.com/www/775.article IMB trustees tried power of press to silence dissent, Burleson says By Greg Warner Published: January 17, 2006 RICHMOND, Va. (ABP) -- A new staff policy, which gives trustees of the International Mission Board power to censor news stories about their work, reportedly was used Jan. 11 to try to persuade a trustee to resign. That's the picture emerging from the account of Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson, whom trustees are trying to remove from the board. "If I was asked once, I was asked 15 times to resign after the vote for the recommendation to remove me," wrote Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., in his blog Jan. 12. "The carrot that was offered was that there would be no press release that would be damaging to me or the IMB. Some of the appeals were very, very passionate. All of them were phrased in such a way as to save everyone embarrassment." Trustee chairman Thomas Hatley of Rogers, Ark., said the threat of publicity was not part of the trustees' action on Burleson. "The opportunity to resign offered to Brother Wade would have allowed the withdrawal of the motion or have rendered the motion mute," he said in an e-mail to Associated Baptist Press Jan. 17. "There was no discussion or 'deal' relating to publicity about this that came from the floor. What individual trustees might have said to him I cannot fully address." During their Jan. 9-11 meeting, the trustees were told the IMB's communications office would now clear any stories about trustee actions with the board's chair or someone he designates. Previously the IMB staff controlled news releases. The change is in response to a dispute over a vote count at the trustees' November meeting. The IMB staff initially reported the vote as 25-18. Some trustees later challenged that count, claiming a more decisive 50-15 count. The original story was later removed from the IMB's web site. "We were trying to decide how not to get in that situation again," IMB spokesman Van Payne told ABP Jan. 11. "… Showing the chairman stories about board meetings before their release is a staff process worked out in consultation between senior staff and the chairman." However, the IMB did not release a story about the Jan. 9-11 meeting, during which trustees voted to ask the Southern Baptist Convention to remove Burleson from the board. Instead, Hatley issued a four-sentence statement after the meeting. He called the vote for Burleson's ouster "a rare and grievous action but one that was absolutely necessary for the board to move forward in its duties as prescribed by the SBC.” Hatley said Burleson was being removed after "trustees addressed issues involving broken trust and resistance to accountability." If Burleson is removed by SBC messengers in June, it apparently would be the first time in SBC history that a trustee is removed from an institution. Burleson said he has never been told why he is being removed but he assumes it is because he has used his weblog to criticize previous IMB actions -- particularly November decisions to restrict the use of private "prayer languages" by missionaries and the proper setting for a missionary's baptism. "In everything I have spoken truth, never violating any confidentiality policies or guidelines of the IMB, and have always spoken with the desire to make our beloved convention better," he wrote Jan. 10 in his blog at www.wadeburleson.com. Burleson declined to elaborate Jan. 17 on the trustees' use of news releases to keep colleagues in line. "I cannot speak to the motives of the individual or individuals involved," he said in an e-mail to ABP. "All I can do is relate my experiences." Burleson said he was shocked to learn Jan. 11 that he was being removed from the board. "It seemed to me a leap across the Grand Canyon for any trustee to recommend my removal without first trying to arrive at a compromise," he wrote in his blog. "I could not understand the sudden action. Maybe I am missing something. I am sure willing to listen to the explanation from someone in the know, but I am clueless as to why the recommendation to remove." "I said to anyone who would listen in the hallways, parking lot and hotel that I would stop blogging if the trustee board passed a policy that blogging by trustees was detrimental to the IMB," Burleson wrote in his Jan. 14 blog. "I would not stop because people wanted me to stop. I would only stop because policy required me to stop. I still am amazed that the motion was to remove me rather than a recommendation for a policy that all trustees stop blogging." "Most trustees are 50 or older. Some are in their 70s," he added. "I am not sure how many have ever read my blog, but some think a blog is like 'computer pornography' (an actual quote)." Burleson said the underlying issue in his dispute with trustees is the growing division among conservative Southern Baptists over freedom of conscience. "Are we going to continue to narrow the parameters of cooperation in our convention by tightly controlling trustee boards and agencies to the point that that those who disagree on minor doctrinal issues are excluded from service? Are we going to allow principled dissent?"