Southwestern seeks McKissic's removal; trustee likens attempt to 'lynching'

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    Southwestern seeks McKissic's removal; trustee likens attempt to 'lynching'
    By Greg Warner
    Published: March 5, 2007

    ARLINGTON, Texas (ABP) -- For the second time in as many years, a Southern Baptist institution will try to remove a rookie trustee for alleged misconduct. This time it's Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, which is in a dispute with trustee Dwight McKissic.

    Last year, trustees of the International Mission Board tried to remove Oklahoma pastor Wade Burleson from their ranks but later backed down.

    In both cases, the trustee controversies emerged around the issue of "private prayer languages," a controversial devotional practice related to speaking in tongues. And in both cases, the trustees were accused of breach of confidentiality with fellow board members.

    No trustee has ever been removed from a Southern Baptist board.
    McKissic, pastor of Cornerstone Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, McKissic, said Southwestern's effort to remove him as a trustee "is nothing but a 21st-century lynching of an independent-thinking black man who has demonstrated strong support for the Southern Baptist Convention. Because I will not join the 'good old boys club,' I’m subjected to removal as a trustee."

    McKissic preached a sermon at Southwestern Seminary last August in which he acknowledged he has practiced a private prayer language since his days as a student at Southwestern. He said he disagreed with the IMB's November 2005 decision to amend its list of missionary qualifications to exclude those who use a "prayer language" in private.

    Two months after McKissic's sermon, Southwestern trustees adopted a policy stating the Southern Baptist seminary would not "endorse in any way, advertise or commend the conclusions of the contemporary charismatic movement including 'private prayer language.'" McKissic was the lone trustee to vote against the measure.

    Trustee chairman Van McClain said McKissic inappropriately used confidential material sent to him as a trustee in advance of the board’s meeting last October. McClain also said he is concerned about the way McKissic has expressed his disagreement with board actions and seminary policies, the chairman told the Southern Baptist Texan, newsjournal of the conservative Southern Baptists of Texas Convention.

    McClain said trustee leaders tried to meet privately with McClain to discuss their concerns about his behavior. But McKisic insisted on bringing outside witnesses and tape-recording the meeting, McClain said, adding that would make a private meeting impossible.

    “He has not worked with us in a way that gives many hope that there will be reconciliation and redemption,” McClain told the Texan. “I’ve tried to work privately through correspondence, and he’s made that private correspondence public. He quotes me out of context and does not give the full context of our conversation, so he slants the conversation however he wants to.”

    Trustee leaders will try again to meet with McKissic immediately prior to their April 2 board meeting, said McClain, who already has asked the Arlington pastor to resign. If that meeting is unsuccessful, trustees may ask the Southern Baptist Convention in June to remove him.

    “This is not a question about the issue of private prayer language; he has the right to believe whatever he wants about private prayer language,” McClain told the Texan. “He has the right to influence the convention however he wants about private prayer language. This is about his conduct as a trustee of Southwestern Seminary.”

    In a statement March 5, McKissic denied he has broken any rules of confidentiality. "In the past months, I have asked Brother McClain to provide me with copies of any confidentiality policies governing trustee material," he wrote. "I have not received any copy of such policies, and I have been told by Brother McClain that no confidentiality policies exist.”

    Burleson likewise was accused of a breach of confidentiality for airing information about the IMB trustee information on his blog. Burlseon denies any trustee policies were broken. He since has called for an investigation of the trustees handling of the dispute as well as external influences on the board.
    The IMB controversy arose after trustees voted 25-18 to approve a new hiring guideline to exclude any new missionaries who practice a "prayer language," widely understood as a private version of the charismatic practice of tongues-speaking. The agency already excludes people who speak in tongues in public worship from serving among its 5,000 missionaries.

    Critics said the IMB vote was intended to embarrass agency president Jerry Rankin, who has acknowledged using a prayer language in his private devotions.

    Although IMB trustees cancelled plans to ask the SBC to remove Burleson, they placed strict limitations on his involvement with the board, barring him from executive sessions and committees.

    Despite Southwestern's attempts to remove him, McKissic said he remains committed to the seminary. "Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary is very dear to my heart, and I consider my trusteeship to be a great privilege and responsibility given by Southern Baptists. I am unwavering in my support of the institution, and I am resolved to walk prayerfully and sensitively through these troubling times."

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