LEON & KATHY JOHNSON'S RESPONSE TO THEIR LETTER OF TERMINATION
April 21, 2003
Dr. Jerry Rankin
International Mission Board, SBC
P.O. Box 6767
Richmond, Virginia 232230
After a week of reading press releases, we finally received an e-mail copy of your letter of termination on Good Friday, 18 April 2003. Should not we have received this letter before the press?
In your letter you state that this action ending our service with the IMB is due to our "unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support" us. This is an untruth. At no time have we expressed through word or action any unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists. T o the contrary I have sought to demonstrate that we are, have been and will continue to be accountable. In my final response to your "request" that we sign the BF&M 2000 I asked the following question: "Is such an act necessary?" I answered with the following statement:
That statement is not a refusal to be accountable but a clear statement of accountability. In fact, in your original request you noted that the board of trustees felt that "these policies and actions provided adequate accountability to the SBC and expressed confidence and trust in our missionaries."
In my phone conversation with Avery Willis I asked him to consider my statement above as fulfilling the function of an affirmation of accountability without the necessity of signing a creedal document against my conscience. I sent him a copy of that document to be certain he and you had read it. I have received no response from either you or Avery Willis. I am aware of no action by the trustees nor the SBC requiring us to sign this document. Are you acting in accountability to the trustees of the IMB and the churches of the SBC by imposing upon us a requirement that they have not mandated?
In your letter of dismissal you also claim that I "continue to advocate positions contrary to what Southern Baptists believe." This is also untrue. I challenge you to produce one piece of evidence to substantiate this statement. Avery Willis in his phone call affirmed that neither I nor Kathy have been accused of saying or doing anything contrary to the positions that Southern Baptists hold. In my deliberations regarding signing the BF&M 2000 I have only considered its use and function as a creed. I have at no time commented positively or negatively about its content. In our ministry Kathy and I have at no time "continue[d] to advocate positions contrary to what Southern Baptists believe." Have you made this accusation out of ignorance or malice?
Dr. Rankin, you ask that we resign rather than "undermine the integrity and credibility of the IMB." Your disregard of the truth in making false accusations and insinuations in public without giving the accused recourse to defense does more to undermine the integrity and credibility of the IMB than Kathy's and my refusal to violate our consciences by signing a document. We clearly perceive this document to be functioning in purpose and usage as a creed even if not in name. Your willingness to state that veteran missionaries would not be required to sign the BF&M 2000 and then attempting to coerce us to sign under threat of termination undermines the integrity and credibility of you personally as well as the IMB.
I have already given you an extensive explanation of the reasons I understand your usage of the BF&M 2000 to be creedal and why I cannot sign a creed. I will not repeat them here. You have refused to consider my reasons in the past and I have no reason to believe that you would be open to a perspective differing from yours now.
This whole issue has been shrouded in distortions, misrepresentations and prevarications on your part. You began this crisis by asking us to sign the BF&M 2000 saying, "Signing this affirmation protects you from charges of heresy behind your back while you are overseas and cannot defend yourself." Yet when challenged to identify any person making such charges, any person being charged or any heresy being suggested, you suddenly changed the rationale from protection against heresy charges to a demonstration of accountability to the IMB and SBC.
You have insisted that this signing is not a new requirement but a request. Permit me to quote Webster's Dictionary so that we can have a common understanding of the word "request." Webster says:
A person retains the right to deny or refuse to grant a request. You are terminating our service with the IMB for denying your "request." We have been deprived of the right to deny your "request." Therefore, it is not a request. By definition it IS a requirement.
You have been asked if this is a new requirement.
In addition to denying (inaccurately) that it is a requirement, you begin to practice obfuscation by stating that missionaries have always been accountable to work within the parameters of Baptist faith and practice. However, that is not the issue. The issue is whether veteran missionaries have ever been required to sign such a document. At any time in history have serving veteran missionaries on the field been required (or "requested") to sign the BF&M? When the 1925 version was adopted were the serving missionaries required to sign it? When the 1963 version was adopted were the serving missionaried required to sign it? If you answer "NO," as you must, then this IS A NEW REQUIREMENT.
I could continue to enumerate instances where you have resorted to distortions and misrepresentations in order to justify your demand, as well as illustrate your refusal to respond to substantive questions and suggestions from missionaries and members of Southern Baptist Churches who disagree with you. I see no useful purpose in doing that.
Since Kathy and I have done nothing to necessitate our resignation, we decline to resign. If you wish to ask the trustees to terminate us without cause, you can do so freely. Current IMB policy allows for any missionary to be terminated or any emeritus missionary to be stripped of his emeritus status at any time without you giving any reason. However, in doing so you and the trustees must accept responsibility before God for your actions.
I pray that God will grant you the liberty in Christ which produces the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22-23) rather than continue the labour which produces the works of the flesh (Gal. 5:19-21).
Seu servo no Cristo,
Leon R. johnson
Kathryn N. Johnson
LETTER OF TERMINATION
Dr. and Mrs. Leon Johnson
Dear Leon and Kathy:
More than a year ago I requested that you, along with all of our missionary personnel,
review the current Baptist Faith and Message and affirm that you would work in accord with this confession of faith and not contrary to it. It is altogether appropriate that Southern Baptists be assured that the missionaries they send and support have personal convictions consistent with our current confession of faith, and this is not unlike the commitment you were asked to make when you were appointed. Understanding that some would disagree with various changes in the BF&M, we have even allowed such differences of interpretation, based on scripture, as long as the missionaries promise to conduct their work in harmony with the confession of faith adopted by the SBC. Therefore it is inaccurate for this to be perceived as a creed being imposed on individuals.
Continuing to support missionary personnel whose personal beliefs are not consistent with those held by Southern Baptists or those unwilling to affirm that they will work in
accountability with these doctrinal positions would erode the credibility and support of the International Mission Board. IMB leadership and our board of trustees must be responsible to our denomination, and it would be untenable to allow support for more than 5,000 of your colleagues to be undercut by lack of cooperation with this request on the part of some.
In the months since the request was made, your regional leadership and IMB administrators have discussed it with you in order for you to understand the nature and rationale for the request. It has been gratifying that more than 6,000 new and current missionaries have affirmed the current Baptist Faith and Message, and though some have completed their term, most continue to fulfill their assignments throughout the world at a time of remarkable evangelistic harvest and unprecedented opportunities. Although it has been disappointing, I respect the decision of the few who have chosen to resign their service with the International Mission Board because they can no longer express doctrinal accountability to the convention in line with the Baptist Faith and Message.
I am grateful for your 22 years of service in Africa and regret that you cannot comply
with my request and continue to advocate positions contrary to what Southern Baptists believe. It would be appropriate for you to consider resigning rather than maintaining a position that would undermine the integrity and credibility of the IMB. However, if you do not choose to do so by May 5, 2003, I will be recommending that the board take action to terminate your service in their May meeting. Whether as a result of this action or your resignation, you would be expected to leave the field by July 1 should you choose to return to the U.S. and will be granted a two-month terminal leave with full pay and support through August 31, 2003. The board will cover the cost of your travel and shipment of freight according to policy provisions. Should you choose to remain on the field unrelated to the IMB, end of service will be effective June 30 with no subsequent provision for travel or freight.
Leon and Kathy, I do hope you will realize that these consequences have nothing to do
with your calling and the effectiveness of your ministry, but are due to your unwillingness to be accountable to Southern Baptists who send and support you. I will be praying for you as you seek God's leadership and anticipate a transition to future areas of ministry.
Cc: Gordon Fort
D. Ray Davis
P.S. Leon and Kathy, the regional office notified me that you would probably not receive
the letter I sent in a reasonable timeframe and suggested I send this by e-mail. They also explained the complications with the above date, the graduation of your son and all that would be entailed in packing and leaving the field. Therefore, I am authorizing them to work with you on an acceptable field departure date. You would still receive two full months of terminal leave from the date of departure.
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