Friday, February 2, 2007

The IMB Report

To tell you the truth, I know very little about the inner workings of the IMB. For the duration of my blogging, I have said precious little about IMB policies. I have opined at length about theological issues raised by the IMB. I have responded in detail to events that had anything to do with ecclesiology, SWBTS, or Texas, as these are matters of particular interest to me. But I've said very little about IMB policies.

Bro. Marty Duren was first, I believe, to post the text of a draft IMB report on the Burleson motion (see here). I quote the text from his site, so if there are errors in the text, Marty, I'm blaming them on you <grin>. Some of the responses are written in internal IMB-ese, and I will have little to say about them. Others deal more with the structure of the SBC, and I'm full of opinion about that.

In general, I think it is a good report, as far as I can tell.

In response to the motion that “the Executive Committee appoint an ad hoc committee to determine sources of the controversies in the International Mission Board, and make findings and recommendations regarding these controversies, so that trustees of the IMB might effect recomciliation and effectively discharge their responsibilities to God and fellow Southern Baptists by cooperating together to accomplish evangelism and missions to the Glory of God,” the International Mission Board meeting in session on January 30, 2007, respectfully submits the following response:

The Board of Trustees of the IMB, which consists of 89 trustees elected by the Southern Baptist Convention, is convinced that it has, and will continue, to discharge its responsibilities and fiduciary accountability to the SBC in cooperation to accomplish the board’s ministry assignments of evangelism and missions. The diversity of personalities, backgrounds and churches represented invariably is reflected in different opinions in giving oversight to the work of the IMB. This diversity is necessary in arriving at consensus and determining the leadership of God in making decisions within the board’s assigned responsibilities. We contend that any controversies have been dealt with according to appropriate Biblical guidelines and in line with democratic processes and approved board polity.
This section articulates their judgment call on whether the board as a whole has dealt with controversy appropriately and whether controversy is hindering the accomplishment of their mission. Their answer is yes, they have dealt with controversy properly, and no, the controversy has not hindered their work.

I'm not sure that the controversy has been dealt with perfectly. First an overture toward having Burleson removed from the board, then a reversal. Their manner of dealing with the controversy has not been consistent; therefore, it cannot logically have been correct. But, I'm guessing that, when you show up as an IMB trustee, they haven't been giving you a manual for how to deal with situations like the past year!

So, I'm saying that they haven't dealt with the matter perfectly. But they aren't saying that the controversy has been dealt with perfectly—only that it has been dealt with biblically and democratically. I don't know enough details to adjudge the first criterion. As to the second one, they are 100% correct. Neither am I privy to any information that would make me a good analyst regarding the impact of the controversy upon board effectiveness, so I'll take their word for it.

Now, on to the specifics:
With the counsel and concurrence of the International Mission Board executive staff, the board of trustees responds to the five concerns expressed in the motion as follows:

(1) The manipulation of the nominating process of the Southern Baptist Convention during the appointment of trustees for the IMB.

The International Mission Board has no authority to speak to the work of the nominating committee elected by the Southern Baptist Convention or to investigate the process by which it does its work.
This is a perfectly accurate answer. These trustees are the nominees, not the nominators. The messengers to the convention vote on the nominations. Who are the trustees of the IMB to question the slates of nominees approved by the messengers? Any response by them to this question would be entirely inappropriate.
(2) Attempts to influence and/or coerce the IMB trustees, staff, and administration to take a particular course of action by one or more Southern Baptist agency heads other than the president of the IMB.

It is assumed that any and all heads of SBC entities are concerned about the effectiveness of all entities in order for the SBC to fulfill its kingdom task in the world. While the IMB may exercise authority over its own president and elected staff, we are not in a position to question or investigate the actions and motives of heads of other entities.
Again, this is a basic truth of our polity. The trustees of the IMB have no authority to investigate the actions of people outside the IMB. The IMB apparently has no interest in muzzling Dr. Iorg. :-)

All kidding aside, might I add that one of the great benefits of the convention method over the society method, IMHO, is the opportunity for the entities to communicate and coordinate with one another. Institutionally, none of the other agency heads have any authority over any other agency. That does not mean that they are constitutionally required not to have an opinion. I can't imagine that Marty, or any of us bloggers, would stand for anyone telling us to keep our opinions to ourselves.
(3) The appropriate and/or inappropriate use of forums and executive sessions of the IMB as compared to conducting business in full view of the Southern Baptist Convention and the corresponding propriety and/or impropriety of the chairman of the IMB excluding any individual trustee, without Southern Baptist Convention approval, from participating in meetings where the full IMB is convened.

The IMB does not allow formal business to be transacted in its closed Trustee Forums, but uses this time for prayer, personal testimonies and preliminary questions and discussions regarding issues of mutual concern between senior staff and trustees. Official executive sessions are limited to matters dealing with sensitive personnel actions related to staff, missionaries and/or trustees or those in which public exposure would result in detrimental consequences for personnel serving in sensitive and restricted locations around the world.

Any actions that may be taken to exclude any trustee from participating in closed board sessions by the chairman will have been made with support of the board as a last resort and in order to avoid disruption and distractions to the board fulfilling its assigned tasks with unity and appropriate decorum.
How much trouble has Wade Burleson made for the Board of Trustees? I don't know the answer to that question (I mean, apart from the public aspects that are apparent to everyone). I do agree that the trustees have the right obligation to keep one person from grinding the work of the board to a halt. With this response they are clearly claiming that Burleson's actions have posed an obstacle to the ongoing work of the board, in their opinion.

Burleson is appealing to the Southern Baptist people, as is his right. Until the situation is resolved, the trustees ought to proceed according to the will of the preponderant majority of trustees. If they have the procedural right to exclude Burleson from some sessions, if doing so does not preclude him from exercising his vote as a trustee on "formal business", and if such an action is necessary for the board to move forward, then I guess it might be the best thing to do.

Personally, I would keep him in the loop and continue to vote him down, assuming that he is in as drastic a minority as it appears. But such a course of action would presume that every scintilla of every meeting is not going to show up on the Internet that evening.

Knowing whether these actions were appropriate and necessary would require contextual knowledge of what all has transpired recently. I do not have such knowledge (other than one-sided accounts); therefore, I offer no firm opinion of this response.

I and several other readers of this report were apparently confused. Burleson has not been excluded from the forums. So, it appears that the report is simply reserving the right for the board to exclude a hypothetical someone in the hypothetical event that it found such action necessary.
(4) The legislation of new doctrinal requisites for eligibility to serve as employees or missionaries of the IMB beyond the 2000 Baptist Faith and Message.

While the Baptist Faith and Message represents a general confession of Southern Baptist beliefs related to Biblical teachings on primary doctrinal and social issues, the IMB retains the prerogative and responsibility of further defining the parameters of doctrinal beliefs and practices of its missionaries who serve Southern Baptists with accountability to this board.
Precisely correct.

In fact, after the SBC adopted the BF&M, each institution had to adopt it separately. Why? Precisely because each board of trustees explicitly and exclusively has the authority to set the doctrinal parameters for that entity.
(5) The suppression of dissent by trustees in the minority through various means by those in the majority, and the propriety of any agency forbidding a trustee, by policy, from publicly criticizing a board approved action.

All board approved actions result from a process of committee, and sometimes multiple committees, consideration before they are brought to a plenary session for adoption. All trustees have opportunity in the committee process and plenary session to express and advocate minority opinions. As in any democratic body, once the majority has determined the action to be taken, the board feels that the action should receive the unified public support of all trustees for the sake of effectively moving forward to fulfill our mission task.
I do not entirely agree. I believe that individual trustees ought to be able publicly to express their opinions about board actions, so long as their statements have to do with general policy and do not compromise the security of board employees. Nevertheless, I do not believe that trustees ought to be able to express publicly the opinions, statements, votes, or blow-by-blow details of other people's service in connection with board activity.

I'm a free-expression kind of guy, and I want to see good reason before anyone is silenced. Providing a setting in which all trustees can express their opinions confidently without fear of public chastisement is a good reason, I think.

Final Note

I find very interesting the "concurrence of the. . . executive staff" line in the introduction to the specifics. Apparently staff and trustees are in agreement on this report.