Two recent Baptist state newspaper editorials say Southern Baptist leaders aren’t being forthcoming enough about changes affecting the International Mission Board.
Two Baptist state newspaper editors criticized the Southern Baptist Convention International Mission Board for lack of transparency after they didn’t get answers they were hoping for in a recent conference call about why the agency is shutting down its communications office.
Several Baptist journalists voiced surprise in a Jan. 20 conference call when mid-level IMB staff were unprepared to answer questions about a Jan. 14 announcement of plans to close the Richmond, Va., Communications Center effective April 29 and lay off 30 stateside staff.
Apologizing for the misunderstanding, newly named public relations leader Julie McGowan said the call was not intended to be a press conference but rather an opportunity to field questions to help IMB President David Platt prep for a meeting with the Association of State Baptist Papers Feb. 16 in Puerto Rico.
Two state paper editors took issue in editorials with the IMB’s handling of the news.
“Unexplainably, IMB planned no announcement about eliminating its entire communications department,” Alabama Baptist Editor Bob Terry editorialized Jan. 28. “Nothing was to be said about jettisoning about 10 percent of its staff or about how IMB would tell its missions stories going forward.”
“Only after the news leaked on social media and several state paper editors asked about the development did IMB release any information at all,” Terry continued. “Even then the news was buried in the ninth paragraph of a 15-paragraph release.”
Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector in Tennessee, wrote Jan. 28 that he is “troubled by the lack of communication coming from the IMB.”
Wilkey criticized Platt for not making himself available to answer questions immediately after the cutbacks were announced. “He is the face of the IMB,” Wilkey said. “Since the announcement was made he has not been available to Baptist state paper editors.”
Wilkey took little comfort in being assured that more information will be forthcoming in February.
“It’s about six weeks after a major event took place,” Wilkey said. “Southern Baptists who are sacrificially giving deserve better than that from the head of the SBC entity that receives the most missions dollars from our churches.”
Terry said Platt has every right to make hard and necessary decisions about the future of a mission board that has been underfunded for several years.
“At the same time he has the responsibility to operate transparently and not secretively before Southern Baptists,” Terry said. “IMB may be a corporation but it is not like a private business. At its core Southern Baptists are a volunteer body which demands transparency and open communication in order to function effectively.”
Terry reported a rumor that Platt intends to outsource statewide communications to a public relations firm that has worked with his personal ministry in the past.
Wilkey commented about the same rumor: “That won’t be cheap and the quality won’t be the same, because regardless of how professional those employees might be, they won’t have the heart for ministry that the former communications staff had/have.”
Wondering if the outsourcing rumor is true, Wilkey mused: “I don’t know, because no one will answer.”
“There are too many questions and not enough answers,” he wrote. “Pray that will change.”
Invited to respond to a media report characterizing concerns about “lack of transparency.” McGowan, one of 10 members of the former communications staff transferred to another job, said Feb. 2 that transitions are often difficult, and IMB’s “organizational reset” is no exception.
“We deeply respect the privacy of personnel involved, and we are committed to guard their privacy carefully as decisions are made corporately and personally,” McGowan said in a prepared statement. “We ask for Southern Baptists’ continued prayers for IMB, especially for those undergoing transition.”
McGowan said IMB leaders “continue to seek God’s guidance” as each decision is made.
“We are pursuing a number of improved ways of partnering with churches as we work together to fulfill the Great Commission, and we look forward to sharing those plans as they take shape,” McGowan said.