http://www.abpnews.com/www/891.article Associated Baptist Press IMB won't remove blogging trustee but prohibits dissent in future actions By Greg Warner Published: March 22, 2006 TAMPA, Fla. (ABP) -- Trustees of the International Mission Board decided not to seek the removal of one of their own for criticizing trustee actions, but they adopted new guidelines to prohibit and punish such criticism in the future. After a closed-door executive session March 22, trustees of the Southern Baptist agency announced they had voted unanimously to rescind their January action against Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson, who published statements on his weblog criticizing two trustee decisions from November. The new guidelines require trustees to "refrain from public criticism" of not only trustee policies -- like the November decisions defining a proper baptism and prohibiting use of a "private prayer language" by missionary candidates -- but all "board-approved actions." Likewise, the new guidelines require trustees "to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms" not only of fellow trustees but -- after an amendment -- of all IMB personnel. Board members who spoke to Associated Baptist Press after the meeting said the guidelines could have prevented the showdown with Burleson and now will give trustees other options besides removal for dealing with conflict among board members. One such alternative apparently already was enacted -- Burleson said on his blog after the vote that he will not be allowed to serve on any trustee committees until the board or its chairman allows it. Burleson, who insists he did not violate any IMB trustee policies and was never confronted with specific charges, told ABP March 22 he is pleased with the guidelines and will abide by them. "I've said all along, the authority over trustees is guidelines," said Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., who did not speak during the open portion of the trustee meeting. "I can assure them there will be no one more faithful to the new guidelines, and to hold other trustees faithful to the guidelines." Trustee Mike Smith, chair of the trustee orientation committee, said the guidelines, drafted jointly with the trustee administration committee, were in the works for two years, before Burleson was elected to the board. "We knew that it would be seen as a Wade Burleson document, but that wasn't our intention," said Smith, a director of missions for the Dogwood Trails Area in East Texas. Several trustees said the guidelines are not retroactive and won't be used against Burleson, who was accused of “broken trust and resistance to accountability” for allegedly disclosing trustee deliberations on his blog. Burleson's removal, if it had been approved by SBC messengers in June, would have been the first time a trustee had been removed from an SBC agency, historians said. Trustee chairman Tom Hatley said the Burleson controversy and the problems it created were "a small price to pay" for the significant improvements that had resulted. Trustees have improved their accountability procedures and discovered the need for "better and faster ways to communicate with Southern Baptists," said Hatley, pastor Immanuel Baptist Church in Rogers, Ark. Hatley said IMB trustees are now more aware of the younger generation of Southern Baptist pastors and leaders who rallied to Burleson's defense. "This high-tech generation is fearless," he said, adding their fearlessness is often taken for insolence. While the vote to rescind may defuse the growing controversy over the trustees' treatment of Burleson, it may also trigger further unrest among SBC conservatives who fear the new guidelines are evidence of a convention-wide effort to silence dissent, even among loyal SBC supporters. In his blog the day before the vote, Burleson wrote: "Frankly, if criticism of boards was not allowed by minority dissenters in the 1970s and 1980s, the conservative resurgence would have never occurred." Marty Duren, a conservative Georgia pastor whose blog, sbcoutpost.com, has followed the IMB controversy and criticized trustees, said he too is doubtful the 27-year "conservative resurgence" could have succeeded if the new IMB policy had been in place in SBC agencies when moderate Baptists were in control. Duren, pastor of New Bethany Baptist Church in Buford, Ga., was among a handful of young pastors who attended the IMB meeting in Tampa. Several said the guidelines signal a narrowing of dissent within the SBC. "It is unconscionable that Baptists would move away from our cherished distinctives" of individual freedom and the right of dissent, said Benjamin Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas. In January, Cole threatened to ask the Southern Baptist Convention to remove all of the IMB trustees, saying their action against Burleson had done "irreparable harm" to Southern Baptists' confidence in them. While rescinding the action against Burleson was a good move, Cole said, the issue that is energizing the opposition to the SBC's conservative leadership "has nothing to do with Wade Burleson" but everything to do with Baptist freedom. The four-page "Trustee Responsibilities" document, approved overwhelmingly with only three votes against, replaces the 47-page 1987 booklet, "Ordered by God," which trustee leaders said most trustees had not read. The new document details rules for trustee attendance, advocacy, responsibilities, accountability and discipline. When discipline of a trustee is necessary, the document says, a number of options are available, including investigation, censure, suspension for a period of time, or removal by the Southern Baptist Convention, which appoints all denominational trustees. The guidelines call on the trustees to employ biblical principles to seek resolution of individual differences that could damage trust. They are prohibited from "participation in any unauthorized caucus … on a recurring basis to advance a specific agenda." And trustees are instructed not to share "non-public information" with anyone other than trustees and senior IMB staffers. "…[T]rustees are to speak in positive and supportive terms as they interpret and report on actions by the board, regardless of whether they personally support the action," the document says. "Trustees are to exemplify what it means to be Christ-like in decorum and sincerely committed to the Southern Baptist cooperative missions tasks," says another section. "In this respect, trustees are to speak the truth in love. Trustees are to refrain from speaking in disparaging terms about IMB personnel and fellow trustees." "Individual IMB trustees must refrain from public criticism of board-approved actions," notes the section on trustee conduct. "Experience has shown that it is not possible to draw fine lines in this area. Freedom of expression must give way to the imperative that the work of the Kingdom not be placed at risk by publicly airing differences within the board." Smith, introducing the document, said, "Certainly in here it's alright to have disagreement. [But] when we leave here we ought to be positive." But other trustees said they were troubled if the policy will prevent them from explaining their disagreement to their constituents. Several trustees offered amendments, which were discussed at length until it was decided to postpone action until the next morning. In the meantime, the two committees who brought the recommendation reworked the document, incorporating several changes requested by trustees. Debate on the revised document resumed the next morning. "I believe my trusteeship is primarily to the Southern Baptist Convention," said Allen McWhite, director of world missions at North Greenville University in Tigerville, S.C. Any trustee should be able to express "honest disagreement" with a board action he or she feels is "not in the best interest of the Southern Baptist constituency," he said. "No trustee should ever be put in the position where he or she could not do that." Under the new policy, the "only alternative" for a trustee in that position is to resign, McWhite said. "When we become trustees, we give up some things," including the freedom to speak against the board, responded Ken Cademartori, pastor of Mason-Dixon Baptist Church in New Freedom, Penn. If a trustee wants to speak publicly against an IMB action, he or she can resign, he said. Other provisions in the guidelines include a requirement that trustees "are to covenant with the Southern Baptist Convention by wholeheartedly affirming the current edition of the Baptist Faith and Message," the SBC's doctrinal statement. That requirement was first adopted by IMB trustees in 2001. The new document adds, however: "Annually new trustees will be given the opportunity to express this covenant by signing a statement affirming the BF&M at orientation." Trustees previously required all missionaries to affirm in writing their agreement with the doctrinal statement. Several trustees said they should not ask the missionaries to do something they had not also done. The new trustee guidelines also note: "Trusteees who are interested in any aspect of the operations of the board or the IMB are encouraged to use all available channels and opportunities for securing all relevant information from within the board and IMB structures." The board debated at length a policy to require IMB staffers to provide trustees with any requested information. But Hatley referred the motion to the administration committee for review. Burleson declined to predict what will happen at the SBC meeting in June. Although he has been invited to participate in various upcoming meetings informing Southern Baptists of the dissatisfaction in the convention, Burleson said he has not decided if he will attend. "I've learned over the last 20 years I don't like politics." Trustee Rick Thompson, pastor of Council Road Baptist Church, who had spoken in favor of Burleson's position, called the decision to rescind "a good move." Asked if the new guidelines would have prevented Burleson's earlier criticisms of the board, Thompson told ABP, "They're very specific, and Wade is a man who abides by policy." California trustee Jerry Corbaley, a member of the administrative committee, likewise said he was pleased with the guidelines, which provide trustees with several ways to deal with "personal conflicts." Corbaley, director of missions for the North Coast Baptist Association, said the guidelines are not retroactive and so would not be applied to Burleson's earlier blogging. But he added, there might be some earlier materials still available on Burleson's blog site that would not comply with the new guidelines. Nonetheless, he said, "let the people of God start fresh."