Iâ€™ve been silent concerning the recent controversy about the International Mission Board (IMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention. Iâ€™ve stayed out of the mix primarily because I wanted to wait it out and see how it played out. Itâ€™s not over yet, but hereâ€™s my take so far. Let me begin with a brief description of the controversy. (Many SBC bloggers have spoken out about this issue. See Marty Duren’s blog and the Missional Baptist blog.)
On Nov. 15th, 2005 the IMB trustees adopted two new policies that would exclude persons from serving as missionaries. Anyone who engages in a â€œprivate prayer languageâ€ would be excluded from service. Additionally, if missionaries have been baptized by immersion in another denomination or non-denominational church, â€œit must be viewed as symbolic rather than sacramental or regenerative. Also, the church or denomination in which the baptism took place must adhere to the doctrine of the “security of the believer,” or the belief that one cannot lose one’s salvation.â€
Many Baptists have viewed the first policy to be a direct attack on Jerry Rankin, the IMBâ€™s president, because he has openly admitted to the practice of having a â€œprivate prayer language.â€ Several of the SBC leaders I have spoken with see this not as a doctrinal issue, but a political jab at Rankin. Three of the leaders I have discussed this issue with have claimed that the IMB trustees from Texas, under the direction of Paige Patterson, have led the charge because Patterson does not approve of Rankin being the IMB president. (For Patterson’s role in SBC life read this.)
Baptists also disagree with the second policy because it is â€œunbiblicalâ€ and seems to be too closely aligned with â€œLandmarkism,â€ a belief that â€œa “Baptist succession” may be traced from John the Baptist to modern Baptist churches in which believer’s baptism and Landmark principles have prevailed.â€
Most recently, the IMB trustees have called for the removal of Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee from Oklahoma. His blog outlines his experience as an IMB trustee. Burleson seems to be a very humble, honest, and loving person. Unfortunately, his open opposition to these two policies have landed him in a â€œheap of trouble.â€ Southern Baptist bloggers have come to his defense and are organizing to oppose his ousting from the board. Their support is admirable and I hope they are successful.
But, a moderate Baptist leader recently asked a pointed question regarding this matter. Dr. Bruce Prescott, Executive Director of Mainstream Oklahoma Baptists, and President of the Oklahoma Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State pointed out that the Baptists who are displaying their commitment to the SBC and the IMB missionaries were noticeably silent during an IMB â€œcontroversyâ€ several years ago. In 2000, Southern Baptist missionaries were forced to sign the newly revamped Baptist Faith & Message (BF & M) or resign as missionaries. The BF & M has served as a guide for Southern Baptist agencies for years, but additions to the 2000 version excluded many (including me) Baptists from serving in SB agencies because of its narrowing scope. Many of us were devastated by the fact that our friends who had served faithfully for years were removed from their places of service and lost their â€œjobs.â€
So, even though the attempts to thwart the IMB trustees from removing Burleson are admirable and warranted, this recent activity is not really a sign of hope for me and others who have been labeled and hurt by Southern Baptists.
Matthew 5:43-48″You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous. If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that? Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.
Burleson has argued that the current problems within the SBC are due to persons arguing over interpretation of scripture rather than arguing over the nature of scripture. OH REALLY?! DUH! Itâ€™s always been about that! Now, many of my Baptists brothers and sisters are experiencing what I and many others have been experiencing for years. It sucks doesnâ€™t it? I wish you had been there for us. Wouldn’t that have been the Christian thing to do? Believe me, Iâ€™m not gloating. Welcome to my world! Iâ€™ll gladly welcome you and tell you that itâ€™s a bit lonely here, but weâ€™ll be OK. Trust me. I love you and so does God. The really frustrating part is that God loves them too. The best part, you can be yourself in front of me and Iâ€™ll still love you. You donâ€™t need to be afraid any more.