Thursday, May 25, 2006

More Concerns About the IMB

After this week's IMB trustee meeting in Albuquerque, I am still very concerned about the condition of the IMB and its future direction. While God continues to do remarkable things through the IMB, one has to wonder how long it will take for the problems of the IMB board to have a significant negative impact on our missions work.

One of the reasons I am concerned is the election of John Floyd as the new chairman of the IMB Board of Trustees. I am concerned NOT because of anything regarding his character. From what I have seen, which admittedly isn't much, he is a man of integrity who is committed to missions. He seems to be a person who is willing to hear those who disagree with him. From a character standpoint, it appears that Floyd would make a fine chairman. My concerns with Floyd are two-fold.

First, there is the matter of his previous service with the IMB. Both Marty Duren and Art Rogers have raised the possibility that Floyd may be ineligible to serve as an IMB trustee because he receives a pension based on his previous service with the IMB. It is unclear whether or not the SBC by-law that prohibits anyone from serving as a trustee of an entity who draws a salary from that entity applies to those drawing a pension. In the time that Floyd has served on the board, and according to these reports he has even served on the committee that oversees pensions for IMB personnel, to my knowledge there have never been any allegations of impropriety. I am confident that as trustee chariman Floyd will maintain the same high level of integrity regarding his pension. That being said, I'm a bit uncomfortable with the precedent that this sets. The SBC needs to revisit this issue and make it clear that anyone who receives any sort of financial benefit from an entity is not eligible to serve as a trustee for that entity. (NOTE: Wes Kenney has posted an email from Dr. Floyd stating that his pension is administered by GuideStone and denying that he has ever served on any committee that deals with benefits for retired missionaries.) I am also concerned about the fact that Floyd apparently resigned from his position as a Regional Leader for the IMB because of differences he had with Jerry Rankin about New Directions, and now he chairs the board that Rankin reports to.

Second, Floyd is reported to be a Landmarker. Thus, it was no surprise to hear back in December that he had been one of the guiding forces behind the adoption of the IMB policies regarding tongues/prayer language and baptism. The policy on baptism especially reflects a Landmark influence, with its emphasis on the qualifications of the administering church. I am greatly concerned that Floyd will try to lead the board to establish even narrower doctrinal requirements for missionary candidates or to redefine the IMB's definition of a church so that it is more closely aligned with a Landmarkist definition.

Even if Floyd were not a Landmarker, however, a statement he made to Paul Littleton regarding the new policies would be a cause for great concern (anything in brackets [...] is mine):

I [Paul] told him [Floyd] that surely not everyone (or every Southern Baptist) holds to that view, to which he agreed. I told him that the genius behind cooperation among Baptists is that we can disagree on things such as this particular interpretation and still work together to reach the world for Christ. He said that if someone had a problem with his interpretation that the problem was not with the board, but with that individual. [Emphasis mine.]
This is the kind of attitude that is driving many people, especially younger ones, to consider withdrawing from the SBC. To state that someone who disagrees with a clear statement of Scripture has a problem is one thing, but to say that someone who disagrees with your interpretation of Scripture has a problem is another thing altogether. Such a statement is arrogant and comes dangerously close to reflecting a belief that oneself is infallible. If Floyd refrains from attempting to impose his Landmarkism on the IMB, and if he abandons the idea that anyone who disagrees with his interpretation of Scripture has a problem, then he has the potential to be an excellent chairman.

While I am not thrilled by the election of John Floyd, he does have one thing in his favor: he is not Tom Hatley. Hatley's leadership of the IMB board over the past few months has been woeful and clumsy. He allowed a hastily drafted motion recommending the removal of Wade Burleson from the board to be rushed through; after receiving a torrent of criticism and figuring out that there were less radical ways to punish Wade, the board rescinded the motion. Throughout the Wade Burleson fiasco Hatley kept changing the charges against Wade, and he refused to offer any evidence to support the charges. Hatley also waited four months after the adoption of the new policies on tongues/prayer language and baptism to release anything that might support the policies (now, one would think that some sort of rationale had been drafted for the board to consider before voting on the policies, but apparently this was not the case). Then when he finally released position papers to support the policies, they were based on a weak biblical foundation. Also, his explanation of the role played by Jerry Rankin in the adoption of the policies seems not to have been entirely accurate (read here for a fuller explanation).

While Hatley's leadership over the past few months has been less than stellar, his conduct at the last session of this week's trustee meeting was simply appalling. I won't give all the details here; these events have been well-documented by a participant (also here), an eyewitness (another eyewitness gives a slightly different perspective), and a media transcript. In his report, Hatley continued his pattern of making public accusations against Wade either on the basis of partial evidence or without offering any evidence. Hatley also made his last public accusations without first going to Wade to attempt to privately resolve the matter. When Wade attempted to get Hatley to provide evidence for the last accusation, Hatley had Wade's microphone turned off and moved to the next order of business. Hatley's antics continued after the meeting when, as Wade attempted to speak to him about this matter, he said to Wade, "I will not talk with you." Whatever happened to Matthew 18 and the new trustee policies? If Hatley does not apologize for his behavior, and if the board does not hold him accountable, then that would prove that the revised trustee policies were about silencing dissent rather than fostering unity and harmony.

In addition to these matters, the IMB continues to face other problems: the alleged efforts of some trustees to undermine the leadership of Jerry Rankin, the lack of openness that causes many missionaries to fear retribution if they raise questions or share their views, the possibility that churches will redirect financial support away from the IMB to other organizations that allow their members (who because of the November policies are no longer qualified to serve through the IMB) to serve through them. Until the leadership of the IMB Board of Trustees commits itself to being completely open in its workings, tolerating dissent from trustees and employees, and not imposing doctrinal requirements that are more narrow than the statement adopted by the SBC as a whole, the IMB will never resolve these problems.


Paul Burleson said...

Tim, thank you for your insights. Some will assume a bias on my part when my name is seen [and they may be right though I try to be true to established facts from any source] but my appreciation for you is not limited to this Post. It is because of the clearness of thought and openness of spirit I've seen in every Post of yours I've read.
I only have one major problem with you...your Posts are too few and far between...[in my opinion] ;)

Paul Burleson

Tim Sweatman said...


Thank you for your kind comments. Based on what I have read in your comments, it is obvious that Wade has always had a strong role model of graciousness. I hope to meet a large contingent of the Burleson clan in Greensboro.

I've had a couple of other people get on to me because I don't post very often. Part of the reason is that it takes me so long to write a post. I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive about editing and re-editing what I write. Plus, Marty, Art, and Wade usually cover all the good stuff before I get a chance.

Alan Cross said...


Good analysis of the situation. One question: When do we reach some type of end game on this? In other words, if the policies and Landmark direction is going to stand, when will we know that? Or is this something that the majority of the SBC has to wait out, try and place their own appointments to the trustee board, etc? If that takes years, will younger leaders have the patience? Will we just not engage in missions for the 5-7 years it will take to try and restock the Board of Trustees? Does the BF&M mean anything? I know I don't have that kind of patience with something as urgent as world missions and evangelism. Millions will pass into eternity while we get our act straight. I think that we will know pretty soon which direction this thing is headed overall, don't you?

Tim Sweatman said...


You raise some excellent points. I agree that if this drags out for several years that a large number of YLs will redirect support away from the IMB to other missions avenues. The trustees (and SBC leadership as a whole) seem either not to realize this or not to care.