by David Roach
ONTARIO, Calif. (BP) — International Mission Board President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief the IMB joined last May in support of a New Jersey’s Islamic society’s right to build a mosque.
“I apologize to Southern Baptists for how distracting and divisive this has been,” Platt said Feb. 15 during a meeting with Baptist state paper editors in Ontario, Calif.
“I can say with full confidence,” he said, “that in the days ahead, IMB will have a process in place to keep us focused on our primary mission: partnering with churches to empower limitless missionary teams for evangelizing, discipling, planting and multiplying healthy churches, and training leaders among unreached peoples and places for the glory of God.”
Platt offered a similar apology to executive directors of Baptist state conventions, who met in the same location.
The apologies occurred amid ongoing discussion of an amicus curiae — Latin for “friend of the court” — brief joined by the IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, N.J., (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.
In December, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, N.J., violated federal law when it required the ISBR to include more than twice as much parking in its site plan for a proposed mosque as it required for local Christian and Jewish houses of worship.
In his ruling, Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” the ISBR’s arguments that unlawful religious discrimination occurred.
Going forward, Platt said, missions is “what I long for the conversation about the IMB to be focused on, for the sake of those who have never heard.”
Platt added, “I am grieved how the amicus brief in the recent mosque case has been so divisive and distracting. And my purpose in bringing it up here is not to debate religious liberty, but to simply say that I really do want IMB to be focused on [its] mission statement.”
In the future, a new process for filing amicus briefs is needed, Platt said, “that will involve my office and our trustees.” He pledged to discuss such a policy during a Feb. 28-March 1 IMB trustee meeting.
Platt also told editors, “Going back to at least 2010, so far before I stepped into this role, our … legal department has filed various similar briefs related to religious liberty. And since 2010, all of those matters have been handled by our legal department.”
Paul Chitwood, executive director of the Kentucky Baptist Convention and a former IMB trustee chairman, told Baptist Press Platt’s “remarks to state executive directors were very well received.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis told Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector newsjournal, “I greatly appreciate the directness and humility that the leader of our flagship missions organization demonstrated in meeting with Baptist state convention executive directors. I saw the same spirit in one-on-one conversations with Dr. Platt.”
Davis added, “I am very comfortable from having spent some time with Dr. Platt that this will not be an issue moving forward and that it certainly will be with some level of involvement by IMB trustees.”
Tennessee pastor Dean Haun resigned as an IMB trustee in November because he said joining the brief did not comport with IMB’s mission and could be viewed as an improper alliance with followers of a religion that denies the Gospel.
Haun’s resignation was reported in several Baptist state papers last month.
Platt told BP in a statement last month, “As a result of discussions among IMB trustees and staff over recent months, we have revised our processes for our legal department filing any future amicus briefs.”
With reporting by Baptist Press editor Shawn Hendricks and Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector. David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.
By Julie McGowan
RICHMOND, Va.—The International Mission Board expects to operate a balanced budget for 2017 due to its 2015-16 organizational reset processes and the generosity of Southern Baptists who have given sacrificially, IMB President David Platt told the organization’s board of trustees during its February 22-24 meeting in Richmond, Virginia.
“IMB is now in a much healthier financial position,” Platt said. “Due to increased giving from Southern Baptist churches, Cooperative Program and Lottie Moon Christmas Offering giving are trending upward.”
Over recent years, IMB has consistently spent more money than it has received — a combined $210 million more since 2010. Though IMB has covered the shortfalls through reserves and global property sales, in August 2015 Platt announced a critical need to balance the organization’s budget. Because 80 percent of IMB’s budget is devoted to personnel salary, benefits and support expenses, leaders determined a need to reduce the total number of personnel by approximately 600-800 people to get to a healthy financial place in the present for sustained growth and engagement in the future.
At that time, Platt outlined a two-phase process for reducing the number of IMB personnel. Phase One involved a Voluntary Retirement Incentive (VRI) available to eligible retirement-age personnel, and Phase Two included a Hand Raising Opportunity (HRO) available to everyone in the IMB.
Platt reported that the VRI and HRO have resulted in 983 missionaries and 149 stateside staff transitioning outside the IMB over the past six months. He reported 702 missionaries and 109 stateside staff took the voluntary retirement incentive, and 281 missionaries and 40 stateside staff took the hand raising opportunity. He noted it is possible the number of missionaries who have taken the HRO may decrease, since missionaries can rescind their decisions through April.
“Even though a more involuntary process would yield more precise and predictable results, IMB chose a voluntary process that would leave as much decision-making as possible in the hands of IMB personnel,” Platt said. “Knowing that such a voluntary process would yield more imprecise and unpredictable results, we believed that we should trust God with this process and every individual within the IMB.”
“This process remained entirely voluntary for all IMB missionaries,” he said. “No IMB missionary has been required to leave the field during this time. IMB missionaries have been encouraged to make a transition off of the field only if they sense the Lord leading them to do so.”
The same voluntary nature of this process has applied to stateside staff with the exception of 30 personnel in IMB’s Richmond communications office, whose positions were eliminated in IMB’s new mobilization structure.
In addition to reducing the total number of personnel over the last six months, IMB has made significant changes to its infrastructures and systems in order to work with greater excellence, effectiveness and efficiency, Platt reported, all with prayerful dependency upon the Holy Spirit.
The future IMB strategy revolves around:
Enabling limitless men and women to participate in global mission through a multiplicity of pathways and opportunities. This involves continuing to support full-time, fully supported personnel as the essential, critical core of our missionary around the world and surrounding these personnel with students, professionals and retirees who are leveraging their studies, vocations and relocations for the spread of the gospel.
Serving and mobilizing local churches as the primary agent God has promised to bless for the spread of the gospel in the world.
Training and equipping Christians and church leaders, pastors and missionaries to make disciples and multiply churches across cultures.
Engaging and reaching unreached peoples and places through missionary teams who are maximizing opportunities for evangelism, discipleship, church formation, and leadership training from the most populated cities to the most extreme places in the world.
Supporting and strengthening an ever-multiplying mission force through practical services that include everything from logistical help to health care to tax assistance.
“The stage is now set financially, organizationally and spiritually for IMB to work with Southern Baptist churches to create exponentially more opportunities for disciple making and church planting among unreached peoples around the world,” Platt said. “IMB is committed to a future marked by faithful stewardship, operational excellence, wise evaluation, ongoing innovation and joyful devotion to making disciples and multiplying churches among the unreached.”
On Thursday, March 3, at 11 a.m. EST, IMB will host a livestream focused on “The Future of the IMB.” Platt will cast vision for the days to come and respond to questions or comments that people can submit live via Twitter. For more information, go to IMB.org/live.
For the first time ever, IMB simulcast the service celebrating the appointment of 26 new missionaries who will serve around the world during a live stream event Tuesday, Feb. 23, with an estimated viewership of a few thousand people. During the service, the new missionaries shared brief testimonies about their desire to follow God’s call to a life on mission.
“Many of these are going to the most difficult places in the world,” said John Edie, IMB’s trustee chairman, who is from Springfield, Missouri. Edie noted the personnel would be shown in silhouette during the service for their security and the security of the people with whom they work. Many of the new missionaries’ names cannot be shared publicly.
“These missionaries beckon every single follower of Christ to surrender our lives and say to Him, ‘I will do whatever you want me to do and go wherever you want me to go for the spread of your gospel and your glory among the nations,” Platt said. “This is not extraordinary Christianity only for select missionaries, but ordinary Christianity for every one of us.”
Trustees also expressed appreciation for the life and work of Raymond E. Hodgins, missionary to the Deaf Affinity from 2001-16, who died January 18, 2016, while in service. “The International Mission Board, Southern Baptist Convention, herein expresses deep appreciation for faithful service to God through this board and pledges special prayer support for the family during the days ahead,” the motion read.
The next IMB board of trustees meeting will be May 9-11 in Richmond, and the next missionary appointment service will be livestreamed May 10.
Julie McGowan is public relations leader for IMB.