I’d Like to Make a Toast…

I’m glad to see the controversy move from speculation to discussion. With the release of the “position papers,” IMB Board of Trustees Chairman Tom Hatley breaks the silence and attempts to explain the reasons behind the Board’s new policies on prayer languages and baptism. Another trustee who voted in favor of the policies, Jerry Corbaley, has really opened up to hearing from M’s and stateside folks alike over at his new blog.

The Trustees are getting hit from three sides: on the one hand, there are the ultra-conservatives who were likely behind the policy change to begin with. They point to house church ecclesiology, the role of women, and the treatment of spiritual gifts as evidence that the IMB is becoming a bastion of liberalism. On the other side are those that oppose the policies. They see signs of Landmarkism, lack of accountability, and power plays and are voicing their concerns through blogs. Finally, there are the (mostly anonymous) M’s on the field. They seem to be most concerned with policies, guidelines, and strategies dictated from Richmond with no regard to cultural context. Oh, and they’re worried they’ll get fired if they complain.

Since I fall into the third category, I’ve got to ask: what about alcohol?

It seems like the part of the discussion many find most troubling (besides how Wade Burleson was treated) is that the policies go beyond scripture, and beyond the BFM 2000 to disqualify many Southern Baptists from missionary service based on a narrow interpretation of baptism and tongues. Everyone is upset about extra-biblical requirements for IMB personnel, but the Board has always required M’s to abstain from drinking. People are refusing to accept “because the majority of Southern Baptists believe this way” in place of scriptural support for the new policies, but alcohol is forbidden for this reason. Never mind what the Bible says, never mind the M’s host culture; drinking is grounds for termination. Abiding by the rule has always been seen by our folks on the field as one of the concessions we have to make in order to receive support. Most of the people I know disagree with this policy.

For the sake of ministry, we have eaten some crazy things. We’ve hung out in smokey bars. We’ve stayed out all night with friends. Though we’ll always be foreigners, we do all that we can to minimize the differences between us and the people to whom we minister. In my own experience, there have been times when that ministry has been hurt and opportunities have been missed because I (by kindly abstaining) made an issue of something that ought to be a non-issue.

Even though caffeine is a drug, we wouldn’t make a new policy that prohibits M’s from drinking tea when they go into a Chinese home. Sexual temptation is a reality, but we don’t have a rule against greeting people of the opposite sex with a kiss, as they do in Spain. But because “most Southern Baptists don’t approve” of alcohol consumption, our M’s are required to abstain.

I’m not trying to rekindle the debate over drinking. For a great perspective on the subject, check out Steve McCoy’s post: “Alcohol, Abstention, and Redemption.” I just thought I’d point out what has been an IMB-imposed obstacle to ministry.

Here’s to good discussion.

About E. Goodman

Ernest Goodman is a missiologist, writer, teacher, and communications strategist.