Enid pastor Wade Burleson has released a book detailing his three-year conflict with the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Burleson, who pastors Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, made national news in January 2006 when he challenged an IMB decision that disqualified Baptist missionary candidates who spoke in tongues.
Burleson's challenge, and his blogs about it, led to a recommendation from the executive committee of the IMB that he be removed. That recommendation was rescinded in March 2006. Burleson continued to work on the IMB and also continued to blog openly about IMB and Southern Baptist issues. He resigned from the IMB in January 2008.
In June 2006, many Southern Baptists credited Burleson and other "cooperating conservatives" with helping Frank Page win election as the new president of the Southern Baptist Convention. Page's victory was seen as a minor defeat for a contingent of SBC leadership Burleson called "crusading conservatives."
Burleson said his new book details his journey over the past three years, including details he could not divulge as long as he was a member of the IMB. "As long as I was on the board, I abided by board policies, including confidentiality related to executive sessions," he said.
The closed-door meetings of the executive board are what prompted Burleson to write his new book, "Hardball Religion: Feeling the Fury of Fundamentalism."
"No SBC agency should ever conduct business behind closed doors, except in rare cases where the lives of missionaries might be at risk," Burleson said. "What should a Baptist keep confidential? We don't keep the Gospel quiet. We don't keep finances quiet. Baptists should be an open book."
Ben Cole, a writer and contract public policy lobbyist in Washington, D.C., has worked with Burleson in the past and took part in some of the events detailed in Burleson's book. He has also worked as a consultant for Emmanuel Baptist, and he describes himself as a friend of Burleson. Cole reviewed Burleson's book for Associated Baptist Press before its April release. He disagrees with some of Burleson's conclusions, as well as some of the details in the book.
"There have always been issues that are handled behind closed doors," Cole said. "Search committees always do confidential searches. When Wade was interviewing with two other churches last year, he kept that information confidential, as did the search committee. Most personnel decisions are made in closed-door meetings, especially the instances where someone must be terminated."
Burleson is afraid that the closed-door meetings are abused at times, even as he acknowledges that they have sometimes been necessary. In February 2006, the executive committee of the IMB attempted to determine Burleson's fate as a trustee on that committee in a closed-door session. A flurry of news stories and heavy traffic on Baptist blogs drew attention to the issue. Then executive committee chairman Tom Hatley announced, four days after his announcement that Burleson's fate would be settled behind closed doors, that the recommendation would be rescinded.
Hatley and several other prominent Baptists are named in Burleson's book, while two Oklahoma pastors are singled out as Burleson's allies: Rick Thompson of Council Road Baptist in Bethany and Clif Cummings of First Baptist Church in Duncan. He said he named names because he was under no obligation to keep quiet once he resigned.
Burleson said he doesn't expect the book to cause trouble in the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma.
"The BGCO is a good convention," he said. "Winston Curtis is the only Oklahoma pastor I really talk about."
Curtis is the pastor of a small church in Duncan, and Cole said he is portrayed in the book as a dupe of SBC leadership.
"Winston is not a dupe," he said. "He is outspoken in his opinions, and it's not as if he's made a secret of his dislike of Jerry Rankin."
Rankin was the president of the IMB when Burleson served, and moderates and cooperating conservatives believed he was a target of the crusading conservatives.
Anthony Jordan, executive director of the BGCO, said he has not yet read Burleson's book and so declined to comment on anything specific.
Burleson said the goal of his book was not to just name names.
"It's not a sordid thing," he said. "I just wanted to say that the SBC throughout its history has been filled with people who are different, with varying and sundry views, but we have always cooperated for the sake of missions and evangelism. I think the tide is turning in the SBC. People are starting to speak out against the push for uniformity."
Cole admits that the SBC has had its problems, and he also believes the denomination wears a kinder face than it used to.
"I think our outward face is softer, thanks in large part to Frank Page, but at the same time, internally we are more divided and fractious than I've seen in years." "Greg Horton