A young Texas pastor plans to submit a resolution at this year’s Southern Baptist Convention affirming “principled dissent” in the denomination, signaling opposition to recent efforts to suppress criticism on controversial issues.
Benjamin S. Cole, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church in Arlington, Texas, is part of a self-described “younger leaders” network formed last year. Members of the group have tracked and led criticism of recent policy changes at the SBC International Mission Board that restrict praying in tongues and tighten baptism requirements for new missionaries, while also criticizing trustees who enacted them.
Cole vocally opposed efforts to silence and censure IMB trustee Wade Burleson, a first-year board member from Oklahoma who wrote in a Web log about his own opposition to the policy change and reported caucusing and internal politics among trustees. In January IMB trustees voted to ask SBC messengers to remove Burleson from the board when the convention meets this summer in Greensboro, N.C., accusing him of gossip, slander, failure to be accountable and other charges.
Cole wrote an open letter to IMB trustees saying unless they offered a convincing explanation for why they were seeking Burleson’s removal, he was prepared to bring a motion at the convention asking that the entire trustee board being vacated.
Trustee leaders subsequently backed down, saying they discovered they could handle the matter internally. In March trustees voted unanimously to rescind their earlier motion seeking Burleson’s removal but imposed guidelines requiring trustees to speak only in “positive and supportive terms” when interpreting and reporting on actions by the full board, whether or not they personally agree with those actions.
Burleson pledged to abide by the policy as long as he remains a trustee, but some observers criticized it as an effort to stifle dissent.
On Saturday Burleson posted a resolution on “Baptist dissent,” which he said had been sent to him for review by someone considering submitting it to the 2006 Resolutions Committee.
Cole told EthicsDaily.com on Monday he is the author of the resolution, but it is not yet in its final form.
Cole said the resolution “speaks to the issues that are animating frustration with some of the Southern Baptist Convention leadership.” He described any effort to silence dissent as “a foolish move” that could haunt the convention for years to come.
His proposed resolution points out that “every tributary of Baptist identity”–from Anabaptists and English Separatists in Europe to Baptists in the early American colonies to formation of the Southern Baptist Convention in 1845–“includes at some point an era of dissent.”
Even when the SBC “was unfriendly to those who upheld biblical authority and inerrantists were underrepresented or unrepresented on denominational boards of trustees,” he said, “the majority of Southern Baptists rose up to reassert the basis of cooperation around missions, biblical authority and Christian virtue.”
The proposed resolution asks the convention to recognize the “rich heritage of principled dissent that has given voice to our distinct witness as Baptists.”
“[W]e recognize majorities are not always right, and it is necessary for the voice of dissent–the minority voice–to be welcomed and heard if we are not to become authoritarian in our doctrinal confession or tyrannical in our denominational governance,” it says.
The statement affirms “Christlike, principled” dissent regarding policies of SBC institutions, confessions and governance and views “all attempts by those who call themselves Baptist to silence the principled dissent of fellow Baptists” as “both a compromise of our cherished Baptist witness and a disservice to the Kingdom of God.”
Finally it resolves “that we wish to continue the tradition of welcoming principled dissent, freedom of speech and of the press, as the bedrock basis upon which a diverse people, such as Southern Baptists, can continue to work together for the greater good of evangelism and missions both to every tribe, tongue, people, and nation of the world.”
Part of the IMB controversy involved reporting in Baptist Press of a disputed vote count by an agency writer. Afterward the board chairman began reviewing news stories concerning board actions before their release, raising concerns about censorship and freedom of the denominational press.
Burleson commented that if passed by the Southern Baptist Convention, Cole’s resolution “would send a very strong message about the direction we want to move in the future.”
The first Younger Leaders Summit was held last June in conjunction with the 2005 SBC annual meeting in Nashville, Tenn. It was in response to an appeal a year earlier by then-LifeWay Christian Resources President Jimmy Draper to “pull a chair to the table” for younger leaders in the SBC.
Recently, however, the group is increasingly perceived as a threat to the status quo, opposing attempts to tighten orthodoxy requirements and exposing SBC politics via a network of blogs.
A second Younger Leaders Summit is scheduled June 12, following the SBC Pastors Conference in Greensboro. Featured speakers include Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., and Jerry Rankin, president of the IMB.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.
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