Southern Baptist Mission Agency Votes Against 'Private Prayer Language'

A controversial vote within the Southern Baptists’ International Mission Board to eliminate missionaries who speak in tongues may be part of a larger attempt to oust the organization’s president, claimed a report from the Associated Baptist Press.

Trustees to the IMB, the international missions arm of the 16-million-member Southern Baptist Convention, in November voted to establish a new policy banning the appointment of new missionaries who had practiced a “private prayer language.”

This “private prayer language,” otherwise known as glossolalia or speaking in tongues, had been previously practiced by the IMB’s own president Jerry Rankin.

According to a Dec. 9 report by the Associated Baptist Press, the IMB’s recent vote may have been part of a larger attempt to expel Rankin from his position.

The Baptist paper’s report cites opinions from several trustees and conservative Southern Baptist observers who say the vote was a “nefarious” attempt to embarrass Rankin.

Wade Burleson, an IMB trustee from Oklahoma who opposed the new policy, is quoted as saying the tongues-ban places the agency in “the absurd position of having the president of our International Mission Board not qualified to serve as a field missionary. This does not make sense."

Marty Duren, a pastor from Georgia who runs the SBC Outpost blog, went further by saying the vote was directly related to some trustees’ desire to end Rankin’s tenure.

"It seems that this had less to do with missionary guidelines and more to do with insulting Jerry Rankin," Duren wrote in a blog entry posted on Dec. 2. "If you truly believe that this is an unbiblical practice, you should have fired him outright rather than this nefarious, insolent move. It is a shame that a vocal minority of trustees, representing an even smaller section of the country, who have a personal dislike for Dr. Rankin would stoop to such a level of using an obviously confusing charismatic practice to further their disdain for the President of the Board.”

Duren said he had interviewed several trustees who agreed with that assessment. He quoted one. "Trustee Johnny Nantz of Las Vegas was willing to go on record, saying, 'The issue is not doctrinal, the issue is the removal of Jerry Rankin. This is being used to end his tenure,'" Duren wrote in a Dec. 5 post, according to APB.

The SBC already excludes people who speak in tongues publicly from serving as missionaries, but the IMB’s vote would include those who practice glossolalia in private as well.