International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt has apologized to Southern Baptists for the divisive nature of an amicus brief IMB joined in May 2016 in support of a New Jersey 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 state Baptist paper editors in Ontario, California.
“I can say with full confidence,” Platt 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 IMB supporting the Islamic Society of Basking Ridge, New Jersey, (ISBR) in its religious discrimination lawsuit against a local planning board. The Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission also joined the brief.
In December 2016, U.S. district Judge Michael Shipp ruled the Planning Board of Bernards Township, New Jersey, violated federal law when it required 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.
Focus on missions
In his ruling Shipp acknowledged the amicus brief, stating it “supports” 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, said Platt’s “remarks [to state executive directors] were very well received.”
Tennessee Baptist Convention Executive Director Randy Davis said, “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 2016 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.
Platt said in a statement in January, “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.” (BP)