I filed two stories in the past three weeks about Enid, OK, pastor Wade Burleson. Some of you are familiar with the story. Others aren't. Stay with me either way. The International Mission Board of the SBC passed a motion to have Burleson removed from the IMB. Burleson has been very critical of the IMB's policy changes in November '05 concerning the qualifications of missionary candidates. At the risk of oversimplifying, the changes were that candidates who spoke in tongues in a "private prayer language" were disqualified and that candidates who hadn't been baptized in a particular way by a qualified minister were disqualified. Burleson argued that both these policy changes were unnecessary. In the case of tongues he argued that a policy was already in place that says any SBC minister who speaks in tongues publicly will lose his job. He didn't like the baptism change because it moved the denomination back to the days of Landmark Baptists—those Baptists who sought a purified church and purified clergy by asserting certain litmus tests were a necessity for qualification.
The IMB has asked the SBC to remove Burleson at the annual convention in Greensboro in June. I interviewed Tom Hatley, the chair of the IMB board of trustees, and he said he believed the situation would be remedied before it ever came to a vote at the convention. Burleson has said on his blog that he expects the board of trustees to rescind the motion at one of the two meetings remaining before the annual convention. I'm willing to bet on it. The reasons would take up another whole post, and I may do it later, but tonight I want to address the odd position Burleson is in and why.
In the 1980's and '90's when the fundamentalists were taking over the SBC, men like Paige Patterson, Paul Pressler and Adrian Rodgers were considered heroes of the faith. They were taking the faith back from the evil liberals (neo-orthodox is the word Burleson uses on his blog) and returning the SBC to the conservatives. They didn't call themselves fundamentalists, and even Al Mohler has yet to be honest about their theological position: he recently referred to the SBC as evangelical. Well, Al, if by evangelical you mean fundamentalist, then you're right.
Now that Pressler and Patterson have turned their guns on Jerry Rankin, the president of the IMB, the conservatives are singing a different song. Burleson laments that the conservatives are cannibalizing each other. See, in the '80's and '90's it was necessary for the liberals and moderates to be run out of their jobs, to have their careers destroyed, and to have their fidelity to Christ called into question. Then it was about theology and orthodoxy. Burleson and some of his supporters really believe that. They don't understand that people who are willng to protect "orthodoxy" by destroying other people's careers are not pastors or theologians; they are politicians. Guess what? When you hire hit men to run your business, don't be surprised if the killing doesn't stop exactly when you want it to. It was never about theology for men like Patterson; it was always about power.
Burleson is defending "historic Baptist principles" but no one was defending these historic Baptist principles when Dilday was run out of town or when missionaries were fired or when professors lost tenure. All the conservatives who were on the fence wrung their hands and assumed it was necessary for the cause of Christ. Folks, the cause of Christ does not require pollitics or violence or the destruction of people's lives. I spoke with a staff pastor at an SBC church this week and told him I thought this was the chickens coming home to roost. He insisted that this was different. This was a case of conservatives going after each other. So, it's okay as long as conservatives are going after moderates? The way we do things matters. The spirit in which we do things matters.
The delicious irony here is that Burleson really believes neo-orthodoxy was in its death throes in the '80's when Patterson and Co. put it out of its misery. Wade, have you heard of the emergent church? Have you heard of postmodern theology? Both are based on the neo-orthodox ideas expounded by Barth. They will be here long after fundies like Patterson and his ilk are gone or reduced in power to some sort of mid-21st century Amish-like community. They have resiliency and longevity precisely because they are based on a way—the Way of Christ. That's more than I can say for a denomination that subjugates women, denies missionaries who speak in tongues a job, and fires pastors and professors who belive the Bible is inspired but not inerrant.