Wednesday, January 18, 2006

I decided to write a letter to the editor of our state paper, The Christian Index, in hopes of bringing the IMB situation to light. Below is a copy for any who desire to read it:

January 18, 2006

Dear Editor –

During recent meetings of the trustees of the International Mission Board, a vote was taken –and passed - to change policies regarding the qualification for missionary placement. This decision narrows the parameters for missionary eligibility by forbidding service opportunities to any who admit to the use of a “private prayer language” and requiring those not previously baptized in “a church that embraces the doctrine of the security of the believer” to be rebaptized, regardless of the church in which they currently belong. These conditions would effectively disqualify even the president of the IMB, Dr. Jerry Rankin, from missionary duty since he has openly confessed to the use of a private prayer language, and would further prove to strip away local church autonomy, a tenant that lies at the very heart of Southern Baptist life.

While many within the convention view these policies as unnecessary, extra-biblical, incongruent with the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and a dangerous step for our future, it seems that one man is being asked to pay the price for this dissension. During the January 9-11 IMB Trustee meetings, Trustee Chairman Thomas Hatley of Arkansas read into official record a statement which accused Wade Burleson, current IMB trustee and pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church of Enid, OK, of both “gossip” and “slander” as a result of a weblog (blog) that he started as a platform from which to share his concerns related to these new policies. While the official statement released to the press and reported by the Baptist Press and the Associated Baptist Press, softened the charges to “broken trust” and “resistance to accountability” (charges which are weak at best and unfounded at worst), the desired outcome remains the same: the removal of Mr. Burleson from the IMB’s board of trustees - a decision that will ultimately be decided by the messengers of the 2006 Southern Baptist Convention.

As a young, conservative SBC minister interested in the future of our great Convention, I am both alarmed and disturbed by these actions and fear the new policies are far too restrictive in terms of Baptist doctrine and Scripture interpretation. My interest in this story and the effects these policies would have on our missionaries, local churches and Convention, led me to closely follow the unfolding events leading up to the actions of the most recent trustee meeting. I had hoped for a possible reversal of the policy changes, but instead was stunned to learn of the treatment Mr. Burleson received by fellow trustees. According to Mr. Burleson’s testimony, “there was no attempt at any private mediation prior to the actions at the board meeting to recommend me for removal from the IMB.” There was no effort at cooperating and no attempt at seeking a compromise, only a hasty calling for dismissal – based on very loose allegations – which were changed before the official press release.

While all of these things have distressed me, I realize there is something much larger at stake- larger than IMB policy, larger than Wade Burleson, and larger than my opinion and position. At stake remains the Word of God and my greatest concern is that we will once again replace the Word of God with the opinion of man – a battle our convention has already won. On one side remain those who refuse to recognize the authority of Scripture or to live within the confines of the prescribed boundaries. Yet on the other side, and equally as dangerous, are those who insist on tightening the boundaries, narrowing the parameters, and limiting believers until no room remains in which to live agreeably.

In closing, I would like to issue a few challenges. First, I would like to challenge Wade Burleson with the words of the Apostle Paul: “Be on your guard, stand firm in the faith, be a man of courage, be strong.” To Chairman Hatley and other IMB Trustees, if you are going to persist with this unprecedented attempt at removing a fellow trustee, I would challenge you to bring evidence and proof of this man’s guilt. Don’t simply level loose, unfounded allegations and expect the convention to join you in removing Wade – live up to the level of accountability in which you claim Wade failed. And finally, to my fellow Southern Baptists, I am not asking you to join my side, defend my position or come to my aid. I would only ask that you educate yourselves on these matters, research the new policy changes and the charges being brought against Wade Burleson and contact YOUR IMB trustees to share your opinions and concerns. Then, if possible, join us June 13-14 in Greensboro where you will have the chance to vote your conscience as Southern Baptists have been doing for generations.

Respectfully,

Rick Garret
Hazlehurst, GA
posted by Rick
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