Paige Patterson doesn’t like “suicide bloggers,” according to an article he wrote for Southwestern’s weekly student paper a while back. Russell Moore, the Bill O’Reilly of SBC politics, has offered more than a few public comments about what he perceives to be the destructive power of blogging. Bobby Welch apparently had internet access on his tour bus, from which vehicular vantage point he determined that bloggers were the primary cause of declining baptisms in the SBC. Paul Negrut of Romania thinks that bloggers have replaced General Nicolai Ceauşescu as the primary perpretators of violence, terror, aggression, and torture in Eastern Europe. Blogs, according to not a few Southern Baptist luminaries, are a scourge upon the convention, a serious plague of blight upon the fields decreasingly white unto harvest.
This morning I walked the Weimeraner I’m about to adopt from rescue down to Starbucks, where I picked up a tall drip and a copy of the New York Times. On the cover of the Times, the headline reads, “Panel Urges Basic Shift in U.S. Policy in Iraq.” The bipartisan commission invested with the responsibility to assess the situation in Iraq has determined that “the situation is grave and deteriorating.” The panel has rebuked President Bush for his strategy and outlined a plan for a fullscale pullback within the next fifteen months. In addition to scaling down our military presence, the commission recommends a new “diplomatic offensive” with Syria and Iran.
Trustee leadership at the International Mission Board has allowed the situation to deteriorate. No person, individually, is to blame, but a number of factors have nurtured this crisis. There are, no doubt, angry people with inflamed rhetoric on both sides of this divide, and I recognize the degree to which I have been one of them. There are the prideful protectionists who circle wagons and defend defeated causes without the wisdom to reverse course. There are peace-makers who will do anything to get along, and there are war-mongers who will do anything to start a fight. There are belligerants and provocateurs, troglodytes and troublemakers. All of these have brought our International Mission Board to a crisis that threatens to distract Southern Baptists from the priority of intercession for and contribution to our cooperative efforts in missionary enterprise.
I got to thinking this morning. If I was on a panel charged with the responsibility to assess the current policies at the IMB and map a plan for the future, what would I recommend to trustee chairman John Floyd? It would probably look something like James Baker’s advice to the president.
First, Chairman Floyd should realize he has a year and a half left in office. Fortunately, and in contrast to the dilemma in which President Bush finds himself, he can dismiss any charges that he created this mess and allow his predecessor take the fall for a failed policy. If he moves slowly and carefully, John Floyd can move his board with him. He will be able to bring a majority of the board to a place where they are willing to reverse course for “the greater good of the convention and the greater priority of reaching unreached peoples.” If he does this, the Floyd years on the trustee board will be hailed as courageous and visionary, and the Chairman will have the commendation of most Southern Baptists — even those who agree with the principle of the policies — for his willingness to admit it was too much change, too fast. Rather than facing the prospect of angered messengers at microphones in San Antonio, he will face the applause of the body for leading the IMB with a steady hand.
This is much like the situation pastors face when trying to transition a church. If a new pastor at a church was uncomfortable with private prayer languages, and yet the chairman of his deacons and a long-tenured predecessor in the pulpit both claimed to have experienced such, that new pastor would be well-advised to hold off on a policy against the ordination of men who prayed in tongues. Recognizing that a potential split in the church was imminent, the pastor could hold off until the current chairman of deacons was gone and the former pastor had been off the scene long enough. If he insisted on his conviction that “private prayer languages” were unbiblical, he might get the church to vote with him, but at what cost? John Floyd is a seasoned and mature enough Christian gentleman to realize the prudence of patience in these kinds of scenarios; and even if the IMB wants desperately to restrict missionary service in this way, John Floyd has the ability to convince them that now is not the time to advance such an agenda. Wait until the Rankin years are a distant memory in the minds of Southern Baptists. Wait until Wade Burleson is off the scene. By then, if the convention has expressed a desire to limit missionary service in such a way, pass the policies.
Second, John Floyd needs to foster a new “diplomatic offensive” with key groups in the Southern Baptist Convention. He must do everything to repair relationships with Jerry Rankin, and recognize the hand of providence in his reassignment and early retirement from the board. He must become the greatest ally of the president, and his closest adviser. Likewise, Jerry Rankin needs to get out in front of this debacle again, and express his confidence in John Floyd’s leadership. He must publicly and sincerely affirm his respect for and submission to the governing authority of the board. When Southern Baptists see these two men consistently working together for the greater good of missions and church-planting, much of the stress will subside.
Third, Floyd must also restore Wade Burleson to full trustee service on committees, and Burleson must again demonstrate his willingness to work on John Floyd’s timetables, not on his own.
Fourth, John Floyd also needs to talk to the missionaries, the vast majority of whom are opposed to the new policies. He has to give the field personnel a genuine sense that their input is wanted and helpful. He should draft a letter to all IMB personnel this Christmas, reaffirming their work and assuring them that the board is giving full reconsideration to these policies. He should challenge them to let the board finish its study, and to keep pressing on with their God-called task to reach the nations.
Fifth, John Floyd and Jerry Rankin should appear side-by-side in a video recorded message to Southern Baptists, posted on the front page of the IMB website, issuing a challenge for sacrificial giving to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering, for the unity of all Southern Baptists in the global mission task, and for patience with the board as it seeks to follow through on the convention’s requests from Greensboro. Together, these two men should be seen side-by-side at every possible venue. Their signatures should grace letters together. Their images forever burned into the minds of Southern Baptists before we get to San Antonio. Any suspicion of an adversarial relationship between the trustees and the president of the IMB can be overcome if they walk together. Indeed, it would be good and pleasant.
Sixth, and finally, something needs to be done about the sense that Paige Patterson has been opposed to the presidency of Jerry Rankin. Patterson, if he has written any letter to Rankin in the past year asking for his resignation, must write another letter rescinding that request and asking forgiveness. Patterson needs to come clean with Southern Baptists, much like he has done over the seminary’s recent fundraising fiasco, about whether or not he has expressed an opinion about the viability of Rankin’s continued leadership to IMB trustees. He either needs to release copies of his correspondence with Wade Burleson and Jerry Rankin from last November/December, or he needs to stop dodging the questions and tell Southern Baptists plainly and clearly, “I was wrong,” if indeed he has written letters requesting Rankin’s resignation or encouraging his retirement.
Seventh, bloggers, including myself, need to start finding things to praise about the IMB board of trustees. Truly, those things that are praiseworthy should be the staple for our blogging meditations.
It is unlikely that the situation in the SBC is going to get better until these things happen. As Lee Hamilton told the nation at yesterday’s news conference, “Our ship has hit rough waters. It must now chart a new way forward.”