TAMPA, Fla. (ABP) — The often-contentious relationship between Jerry Rankin, president of Southern Baptists' International Mission Board, and his trustees boiled over again during the board's March 20-22 meeting in Tampa.
Trustees clashed with their CEO over accusations of doctrinal deviations among missionaries, Rankin's handling of trustee requests, and how much access trustees should have to internal IMB information.
Trustee relationships — with their president and with each other — dominated the two-day meeting, overshadowing encouraging news about missions giving, disaster-relief ministries and new missionary appointments.
Trustees met behind closed doors for much of their three-day meeting, first in a “trustee forum” about undisclosed topics and later to debate disciplinary action against new trustee Wade Burleson. (see related ABP article)
In the board's first plenary session, Rankin showed trustees a videotape of his chapel address to employees delivered soon after trustees approved new policies in November defining a proper baptism for new missionaries and prohibiting their use of a “private prayer language” (a form of speaking in tongues).
Some IMB trustees have said privately the new policy prohibiting “private prayer language” — which applies only to new missionaries — was an attempt to embarrass Rankin, who has acknowledged using the practice, or force him to resign.
The videotaped message has become a point of controversy between Rankin and some trustees, including one who was denied a copy of it before the board meeting.
On the tape, Rankin said he “did not agree with these policies,” which are “more restrictive.” Nonetheless, he said, he will enforce the policies because God has placed him under the trustees' authority.
“I can't control the actions of our board or the statements that others make,” Rankin said. “There is only one thing I can control and that's my heart. Whatever is happening around us, whatever it is, however harmful or hurtful or painful it might be, or however untrue or slanderous it might be, we don't lash out. We can't attack. We can't defend ourselves. That's the fleshly nature. All we can do is guard our heart.”
Rankin said such differences, which “can disrupt our focus” on spreading the gospel, are evidence of spiritual warfare. “The spiritual nature of our task of reaching a lost world is so critical and important to the heart of God that our enemy is not just going to roll over and relinquish the dominions of darkness and power becoming the kingdoms of our Lord,” he said.
Rankin added, “It's not our trustees [causing the disruption]. These are men and women who love the Lord.”
After the videotape was shown, Rankin said he was “compelled” to add: “We are not aware, on the field, of any doctrinal problems” with missionaries. If there are problems, he said, they are dealt with swiftly through an established process.
“You screened them,” he told trustees. “You examined their denominational loyalty, their faith, their church background and commitment, their affirmation of the 'Baptist Faith and Message.' And our [staff] regional leaders are in touch with them, monitoring them. If there were any problems of doctrinal aberrations, of charismatic influences or practices, or even tolerance, or anyone not [properly] practicing baptism, or contributing in any way to ecumenical-type practices, we would know about it and deal with it.”
“It is disrespectful to missionaries, those giving their lives and sacrifices and taking their families and laying their lives on the line, that anyone, without identifying and verifying facts, would spread rumors and innuendoes about doctrinal issues on the field. I want to make a public comment and stand for our missionaries in defense of their faithfulness.”
Trustee Jerry Corbaley, a director of missions from California, told Rankin his statement there are no doctrinal problems on the field “seems to be in direct conflict with the fact we are dealing with several such instances now.”
Rankin said the two controversial policies were adopted in part because of accusations that the IMB was sending out missionaries who were “not truly Baptists” or who were supporting ecumenism or charismatic practices.
“I've asked for evidence, for verification,” he said. “If that is so, then tell us who and where, and we'll deal with it. But I have yet to have anyone document where there is a problem that we aren't dealing with or haven't dealt with when we became aware of it.”
“That's not true,” trustee chairman Tom Hatley shot back. “We've done that in several instances.”
When those problems have been identified by trustees, Hatley said, the staff has dealt with them appropriately. But to say no doctrinal problems have been identified is an overstatement, the chairman added.
“My point is,” Rankin said, “we do have a process and are dealing with the [problems].”
Hatley, a pastor from Arkansas, said trustees have avoided naming names in their accusations because of the need for confidentiality in trustee proceedings, not a desire “to cover up fact.” “We must speak in generalities,” he said.
Earlier in the meeting, after Rankin showed his videotaped address, trustee David Button of New York complained that his request for a copy of the tape in early February was denied four times by Rankin.
“I never once questioned your motives,” said Button. “As a trustee, I think information that comes out of the board ought to be information we ought to have as trustees. … I believe the request of this tape was a reasonable request.”
“I wasn't making a public statement,” Rankin said. His message to employees was an internal communication “on a very sensitive subject,” he said. “I felt I had the prerogative of how that is to be distributed.”
Rankin said that he was worried excerpts from the message could be taken “out of context” and that it was best to show the full speech to all trustees at the same time.
“Trustees are not to involve themselves in administration,” he reminded the board, adding later, “I do not have accountability to 89 trustees” but to the full board.
Several trustees said Button's request for the tape should have been honored, while others said Rankin handed the situation “prudently.”
Button is one of at least three former IMB employees elected in recent years as trustees of the agency. A former vice president for public relations under Rankin, Button left the IMB in 2000 under strained relations with the administration.
Button, a local radio-TV executive, brought up the videotape request two other times during the trustees' meeting. “I don't believe that a trustee should act unilaterally on any information they receive, but a trustee should receive everything they ask for,” he said.
Near the end of the meeting, Button made a motion that the IMB staff “shall honor all trustee requests for information, subject to the discretion of the chairman.”
“How do we prevent the egregious overuse of privilege like we have seen in the last few months?” he argued. He accused Rankin's administration of “arbitrary and excessive” control “to keep trustees from receiving the information that they request.”
After the board's lawyer warned such a policy might present “a host of issues” and encroach “somewhat on the prerogatives of the president,” chairman Hatley referred the motion to the trustees' administration committee for study.
“We don't want to limit information at all,” Hatley said, but a review of the motion would be “advisable.”
In other actions:
— Trustees approved the selection of 45 new missionaries who were appointed in a ceremony March 22 at Idlewild Baptist Church in Tampa.
— Trustees rescinded a proposal to seek the removal of Oklahoma trustee Wade Burleson for criticizing trustee actions, but they adopted new guidelines to prohibit and punish such criticism in the future.
— Trustees appointed a committee to clarify the new policy on “private prayer language” and guidelines for appropriate baptisms for missionaries. Although some critics of the policies had hoped they would be reversed, Hatley said the purpose of the study is to draft statements of rationale for the policies.
— Trustees affirmed a new missionary-appointment process that now gives all trustees, not just a committee, a role in reviewing candidate information.
— IMB officials predicted record-high donations to the 2005 Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, which concludes in a few weeks.
— Trustees announced a record $8.9 million spent in disaster relief in 2005, most for victims of the South Asia tsunami and Hurricane Katrina.
— The article includes some information from the International Mission Board.