Trustee: Porn Viewing, Charismatic Prayer Treated Equally in Baptist Missionary Screening

Half of males who apply to serve as a missionary for the Southern Baptist Convention's international mission agency are turned down, according to a Baptist pastor. The primary reason is the use of internet porn.

Wade Burleson, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Enid, Okla., received an e-mail from a pastor who recently attended a regional summit of the International Mission Board. The pastor, who preferred to remain unidentified, drew highlights from the summit, including the current statistic of female missionaries outnumbering male ones two to one, according to Burleson's blogpost on Monday.

The summit drew attention to the pervasive problem of internet porn among men. As much as 50 percent of lay men and clergy said they viewed porn within the past year, as of May 2006, according to the International Bible Society.

While internet porn addiction is a problem that IMB comes across among its applicants, it is not the primary reason men are turned down for a missionary position, said Randy Rains, IMB's associate vice president of the office of Mission Personnel. And the statistic cited by the pastor that half of male applicants are turned down is also inaccurate, he told The Christian Post.

Rains pointed to at least 50 different reasons and "lifestyle issues" – anything from viewing porn and sexual immorality to wellness issues such as depression – that can prevent an applicant from becoming an approved missionary with the IMB. And internet porn is not the most predominant, he noted.

Still, the issue is significant enough to be addressed in one of the application questions.

The pastor in the e-mail reported that the IMB changed its former application question "Have you ever used internet porn?" to "When was the last time you used internet porn?" noting the prevalence of the problem.

Rains corrected the pastor saying the latter is a follow-up question to the initial: "Do you have a history of viewing pornography?" Other follow-up questions probe details such as how extensive and how long they have been struggling with pornography.

"We want to know that they're comfortably away from that struggle in their life," said Rains.

Candidates who show a repentant attitude through a significant time of "abstinence" are still considered to become a missionary.

The same policy applies to the use of private prayer language, according to Burleson.

After the pastor in the e-mail raised the controversial issue of private prayer language and its ban in the IMB, Burleson, also a trustee of the International Mission Board, clarified that viewing pornography and using a private prayer language are treated the same in the screening process for missionaries.

"You may have viewed pornography on the internet in the past, and you may have prayed in a private prayer language in the past, but you must renounce both, in terms of 'conviction' (i.e. 'it is wrong') and in terms of practice (i.e. 'I will not do it again')," stated Burleson in his blog.

"Both pornography and a private prayer language are treated as activities from which a person must repent in order to serve as a Southern Baptist missionary," he said, without commenting on his stance on whether the two activities should be treated the same.

Rains declined to comment on the matter of pornography and private prayer language.

Burleson had faced possible removal from the IMB board last year when he posted criticism on his blog against the board's decision not to appoint missionaries who use a private prayer language. The board sought removal for "broken trust and resistance to accountability." Trustee officers later backed down and instead limited Burleson's involvement with the board.

The International Mission Board adopted a ban on charismatic practices on Nov. 15, 2005. The mission agency bars glossolalia (speaking in tongues) and private prayer language, citing that the majority of Southern Baptist churches do not practice or accept the two practices, respectively.