Will McRaney Versus the SBC’s NAMB: Keep an Eye on This Lawsuit

Hubble Views a Star-Studded Cosmic Cloud, NGC 6530. Nasa/Hubble

“In a room where
people unanimously maintain
a conspiracy of silence,
one word of truth
sounds like a pistol shot.”
― Czesław Miłosz

My son just proposed to his girlfriend. It appears they are looking for a fall wedding in the mountains. My entire family loves her. She is now included in our wild and crazy family text group! Strangely, I still think of him as my “little buddy.”

Since I’ve been a bit distracted, I am going in a different direction with the NAMB today. I also have two well-documented cases of sex abuse to present in the next week. Sadly, the SBC is involved.


I have been reading about SBC’s NAMB, and I am stunned. It appears that some of the SBC entities are not under the direct jurisdiction of the SBC. Some say that the SBC only exists for a few days during the annual convention. So, it seems that SBC entities, like seminaries such as SBTS (Al Mohler’s baby), are not directly accountable to the SBC. Instead, each of the entities has a Board of Trustees. Therefore, SBTS is answerable to its Trustees. Theoretically, the Trustees are accountable to the SBC. Still, the more I read, the more I doubt that the process works for the benefit of Grannie Midge, who gives to help “all those nice missionaries,” especially in the NAMB.

When Sovereign Grace Ministries was in the throes of a lawsuit, I remember thinking that I couldn’t wait until they were able to depose CJ Mahaney and friends. Depositions are essential because lying in a deposition leads to all sorts of trouble. It is the same as lying under oath in court.

Quick diversion for those who follow the SGM saga: Guess who is publishing a book?

Back to the subject at hand. Mark Wingfled, in August 2022, wrote Seven years later, Will McRaney might get his day in court against NAMB — maybe.

McRaney alleges that NAMB leadership, and in particular President Kevin Ezell, conspired with leaders of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware to fire him as executive director of that two-state convention when he refused to go along with NAMB’s demands about how church planting was to be conducted in his region.

McRaney alleges that NAMB threatened to withhold $1 million in annual funding if McRaney were not fired by the regional convention’s board, even though that convention is fully independent of NAMB and the SBC.

Further, according to court documents: McRaney alleges that “NAMB leadership continued to interfere with business and contractual relationships that McRaney had with third parties.” That included McRaney being disinvited to speak at events sponsored by two other state Baptist conventions, one in Florida and one in Mississippi.

In sum, he said in the recent interview, he went four years without work,

In 2010, the NAMB was tasked with spending more money on church planting. From my understanding, this is where the conflict began between the local SBC entities like the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network and what is the behemoth known as the NAMB.

Wingfield wrote another post when it appeared that McRaney might go to trial: McRaney trial finally gets a date, and NAMB is compelled to expand the scope of its documentation.

The root of the conflict is NAMB’s effort to change the way state and regional Baptist conventions relate to the national mission board, ending a long history of cooperative relationships in favor of a national and direct-service strategy from NAMB. McRaney resisted that change in the Maryland-Delaware convention.

The court denied McRaney’s request that text messages from and to NAMB officials concerning him be brought into evidence. But most every other form of communication — not just from NAMB staff but also from NAMB trustees — now must be produced.

The SBC and the ERLC attempted to get McRaney’s case thrown out of court, claiming an ecclesiastical abstention. Back to the first article by Wingfield’ above.

The case has drawn national attention because a legal debate about “ecclesiastical abstention,” a doctrine that keeps most secular courts from interfering in the ecclesial work of churches. At first, the U.S. District Court in the Northern District of Mississippi dismissed McRaney’s lawsuit on those grounds. McRaney argued on appeal that the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine did not apply. That led a three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in July 2019 to reverse the earlier dismissal, saying this case appeared to be about more than “purely ecclesiastical questions.”

McRaney gets his trial, McRaney vs. North American Mission Board, on June 5, 2023, and the judge allows him to get more information.

OK folks, think depositions! What might he discover that the NAMB doesn’t want people to know?

Judge David A. Sanders wrote: “NAMB is now required to respond to the plaintiff’s request for production of documents #3 seeking all documents mentioning and referring to the plaintiff, including NAMB’s communications with others about the plaintiff, from January 1, 2017, through the present date.”

…NAMB now will be required to produce letters, emails and other communications related to McRaney in the period after his termination. Although he was fired in June 2015, he did not file his suit against NAMB until 2017, after he says it became apparent NAMB officials had sought to prevent him from getting work with churches and Baptist groups.

…The court denied McRaney’s request that text messages from and to NAMB officials concerning him be brought into evidence. But most every other form of communication — not just from NAMB staff but also from NAMB trustees — now must be produced.

What did the NAMB do that caused trouble for McRaney? Think $$$$$ and secrecy.

Always, always consider the financial motive.

The root of the conflict is NAMB’s effort to change the way state and regional Baptist conventions relate to the national mission board, ending a long history of cooperative relationships in favor of a national and direct-service strategy from NAMB. McRaney resisted that change in the Maryland-Delaware convention.

If this is true, what are we left with? The NAMB will not talk to those inquiring about salaries and gifts. When I write next, I will raise questions about the hiring process. It appears that the NAMB is a holding station for those who enjoy the benefits of working for an SBC entity that doesn’t have to tell anyone what the salaries, benefits, and gifts are for those who are just a bit too tired to stay in ministry. Apparently, the job is easy, not stressful, and the benefits are great. One also gets to move up from Holiday Inn to the Ritz.

Keep an eye on this lawsuit. If successful, it may chip away at the SBC contention that everything is autonomous. Many people, myself included, believe that the SBC functions more as a cohesive denomination that controls these supposedly autonomous seminaries and mission boards.


Comments

Will McRaney Versus the SBC’s NAMB: Keep an Eye on This Lawsuit — 42 Comments

  1. “The root of the conflict is NAMB’s effort to change the way state and regional Baptist conventions relate to the national mission board, ending a long history of cooperative relationships in favor of a national and direct-service strategy from NAMB. McRaney resisted that change in the Maryland-Delaware convention”

    Can you tell the story of the last several years of them without getting into everything that went on with the IMB, including any shifts in priorities and direction of $$$$$$?

    Also, how might the role of seminarians being encourage to “plant” churches right after they graduate or while they are still studying fit in? How about the issue of installing them in positions of authority (sic) and essentially giving them a job through that — while at the same time drawing down long-serving and embedded and IMB missionaries? Wouldn’t that carry the potential to create ready-made supporters from amongst newly installed “church leaders“?

    How about what went on in other local and regional parachurch networks, e.g. the Greater (name your) City Baptist Church Network / Association? Might that be a place for hirelings etc. to potentially play kingmaker and direct handpicked people funded with church planting monies? How much overlap is found in the average such network, and how might that have been exploited by hirelings etc. the NAMB, other local associations, and so forth?

    And who is sufficiently vetting a single one of them on a consistent basis?

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  2. Ava Aaronson:
    Could it be possible that “autonomous” is actually camou for a BFF good ole boys’ network, functioning kinda like Lord of the Flies, where the bully wins,

    Individual SBC churches are, for the most part, autonomous.
    The entities, however may very well be a good ole boys network. I believe they are.
    4 of the 6 seminaries, the NAMB, and the IMB are headed by Al Mohler associates/former students at SBTS.
    Prior to Ezell being appointed president of the NAMB, there was his predecessor:
    > Hammond – resigned unexpectedly after only 2 years. Nobody’s talking!
    >Reccord – reportedly pressured to resign …. don’t know why.
    >Lewis (Home Mission Board) – did not purge staff after conservative takeover…..was intentionally squeezed out by merging two entities to form the NAMB

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  3. JDV: “The root of the conflict is NAMB’s effort to change the way state and regional Baptist conventions relate to the national mission board, ending a long history of cooperative relationships in favor of a national and direct-service strategy from NAMB. McRaney resisted that change in the Maryland-Delaware convention”

    This is the sort of activity that could leave the North American Mission Board open as the deep pockets for a lawsuit, as NAMB is apparently acting like a denomination. To give an example–if a pastor sent to plant by NAMB turns out to be a child molester, and the family wants to sue, if I were their attorney, I’d surely be looking into the law to see if I could join NAMB as the deep pockets since they’re busy monkeying around with state-level Baptist organizations. Not saying this would be *successful*, but the warning is this: You do this, you’re leaving your org opened to being deep pockets in a lawsuit. Just a thought.

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  4. Muslin, fka Dee Holmes: This is the sort of activity that could leave the North American Mission Board open as the deep pockets for a lawsuit, as NAMB is apparently acting like a denomination.

    Thinking again about “a national and direct-service strategy from NAMB”, they might have to explain various things that could create that perception, like this from 2017:

    https://www.namb.net/news/refugees-find-a-safe-place-to-learn-at-jacksonvilles-ilc

    “Multiplication through NAMB

    “When NAMB leaders discovered Carr and the ILC, they realized that the 32 Send North America cities need the Jacksonville model. So NAMB’s Send Relief focus has developed an ILC initiative and made Carr the national director and mobilizer. Now, she’s working to establish new ILCs across the United States and Canada. … She continues to work out of Jacksonville but travels frequently to other cities to implement the ILC template with its proven teaching curriculum.

    “Carr is a member of Mandarin Baptist Church and receives Annie Armstrong Easter Offering (AAEO) funds from NAMB for her work. Likewise, AAEO contributions are funding the template replication. A key component will be a partnership with local indigenous planters who start house groups in each Send City.

    “”At ILC 25-50 may make a profession,” Carr said. “However, the UUPG planters are reaching an additional 200 per year.””

    “Kim and Ron Carr are AAEO MSCs for NAMB. Half of the funding NAMB receives to support, train and resource North American workers comes through the Annie Armstrong Easter Offering.”

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  5. Interestingly enough, this or much of what’s below was posted as a comment previously concerning the potential mindset and approach of NAMB and “church planting“. The first linked article actually seems to have been posted on the website of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware in 2016

    Bringing up the NA Mission Board raises the question in like manner what actually constitutes “missions“. How many times has the term been used to co-opted for priorities that serve the purposes of securing steady revenue and employment over other considerations, especially for those who have been trained in the proper perspective (sic) and thus can also be maneuvered by powers that be for future use in forming voting blocks, “coalitions“, and so forth?

    Here’s an article discussing one of their church plants made possible by donations today Annie Armstrong offering that goes to the North American Mission Board:

    https://bcmd.org/2016/02/annie-armstrong-2016-waterfront-church-aims-to-be-a-fort-in-the-nations-capital/

    https://www.christianexaminer.com/news/inside-washingtons-beltway-a-church-planter-builds-a-fort-between-the-potomac-and-anacostia-rivers.html

    “Planting a church in Washington hasn’t been cheap. Waterfront’s five-year budget is $1.3 million. An acre of land sells for $10 million. Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Cooperative Program funds helped Waterfront launch.”

    I heard about the existence of this church in an interesting way. Reportedly, the husband from a younger couple who had been very vocal about an established SBC church going ahead with a building project after it emerged it was millions over budget reportedly left the church after the overage was approved, leaving to go to this “church plant”. This of course brings to mind the issue of not only the poaching of existing congregants rather than organic growth but of who is actually being left in charge of the congregations who have been gifted all of this “church planting“ funds on the basis of “missions“.

    From a ‘church planting podcast’ transcript:

    https://www.churchplantingpodcast.org/new-city-network/zack-randles-hustle-in-church-planting-part-1

    Clint Clifton (NAMB church planter) on Randles: “He’s refused to leave that community neighborhood and he’s dug his heels in there and the church launched a couple of years ago and then grew pretty quickly and they’ve been really… in our network, they’ve been the fastest growing church in DC, I think. He was just texting with me the other day and he had 700 or so in his worship services last week and 2 weekends ago; so, just proud of the guy.”

    (Refused to leave arguably one of the most increasingly yuppified areas of the country? Might that be akin to saying “Randy refused to leave Georgetown, he dug in his heels there…”?)

    Zack Randles: “Part of what helped us with that is the clientele, like you talked about here at the church. Our target zone is right in between some of the wealthiest people in the entire world, if you go half a mile up the road at Capitol Hill, and then we are also positioned right on the other side, about a half mile on the other side of some of the most impoverished people in all of North America in Anacostia. And so, we came into it in the beginning and said, “What is the bridge between politics and poverty? It’s the message of Jesus Christ.” And so, we’ve really gotten to watch that, part of what we did in the beginning is we pulled up the census.gov stats and we drew up specifically economically, racially, and age-wise, who made up our community. And I’ll never forget one of our first core team meetings, I drew that sense of information on a white board and said, “This is what I want our church plant to look like. This is our community and this is who we want to reach.”

    Clint Clifton: “And when you surveyed the scene in just brass tax (sp) like what the Lord has done, you guys have 4 services, you’re in a building that you full control over that’s blocks from that stadium and some of the most expensive real estate in the country.”

    (If full control is neat, isn’t full control of really expensive real estate neater? How many times can this be matched up with a pattern of “planting“ in similar cases? Couldn’t that also goes for matching up church planting funding and SBC cooperative fund donations that make it possible?)

    Doing the zip code thing is evidently a practice of some church planter groups, as reportedly, it often appears to be a race to be the first in the gentrified area or an exurb getting new money. Zack says the following on the church site:

    https://www.waterfrontchurchdc.com/our-story

    “In 2006, I was a 24-year-old student minister planning my first mission trip. … That trip was my first time visiting Washington, and over the next several years we ended up coming for three more mission trips and at least six vacations. It became abundantly clear to me the Lord had big things in store for the DC area south of the interstate between the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.”

    What may have become clear to them — and potentially to his father who “was a pastor and an evangelist who served the Baptist General Convention of Texas” (per the first article) — might have been what seemed to become clear to some locals like myself. Amidst all of the prep work discussed, they might’ve ascertained that due to post-September 11th military base realignments and consolidations, the Navy Yard was filling up with personnel, the Department of Transportation was relocating there, and – – oh yeah – – a new major league ballpark was being built right there.

    And because there was not much of anything directly south of M St. on the South Capitol Street side but a rock quarry, warehouses and clubs set to be demolished, there were not a lot of competing churches right there (especially for the demographics that would be moving in en masse evidently for the first time since the postwar era). Also, most of the impoverished were on the other side of the river and some distance from the ongoing gentrification, which the census.gov map might have indicated. Thus, goals of appearing socially and ideologically relevant while keeping revenue streams maximized might have seemed to have made this an ideal spot for a “target zone”. Oh, and of course, for “missions“.

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  6. “McRaney alleges that NAMB threatened to withhold $1 million in annual funding if McRaney were not fired by the regional convention’s board, even though that convention is fully independent of NAMB and the SBC.” That is called “the power of the purse strings.” Not sure how something can be “fully independent” when providing funds. Maybe I misunderstood.

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  7. Ava Aaronson:
    Could it be possible that “autonomous” is actually camou for a BFF good ole boys’ network, functioning kinda like Lord of the Flies, where the bully wins, the bully rules? Or, as NYU’s Dr. Ruth Ben-Ghiat would say – the Strongman presides.

    Autonomous(TM) in the sense of Calvary Chapel:
    Totally Autonomous and Independent local churches when that is to their Advantage,
    One Monolith marching and chanting in lockstep when that is to their Advantage.
    Disperse for Defense, Concentrate for Attack.

    Welcome to the Kingdom of God<TM).

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  8. I think it extremely interesting that the head of NAMB, Kevin Ezell was the Senior Pastor at a little Southern Baptist church called Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Actually Highview would be more considered a Mega-Church. Dr. Albert Mohler President of the SBTS was a member at Highview for years while Kevin Ezell was pastor. As I have been following this law suit and the reports of actions by Kevin Ezell it strikes me that Kevin Ezell seems fearless that anything will happen to him. It seems he is confident he can do whatever he pleases or even say whatever he pleases with no fear. I wonder why that is? Unless something changed over the last 20 years, Kevin Ezell is no Calvinist. Which is somewhat strange with the leadership of the SBC now a day.

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  9. * “Planting a church in Washington hasn’t been cheap. Waterfront’s five-year budget is $1.3 million. An acre of land sells for $10 million. Annie Armstrong Easter Offering and Cooperative Program funds helped Waterfront launch.”*

    * “Part of what helped us with that is the clientele……”*

    JDV,

    “clientele”……. isn’t that just another word for “customers”, as in a place of business for profit?

    And the money….. that church was planted 8 years ago. How much money are they raking in in tithes and offerings, now???? What percentage of that (if any) is this church contributing to the Cooperative Program??

    I pulled up the church website…….. no mention of anything SBC. The BF&M 2000 is not mentioned in the statement of beliefs ………. looks to me like another clandestine SBC church, where the sheep don’t really know what they are being fed.

    Oh, and after all of the monetary investment from the SBC pew peons via the NAMB, the church does not own the property where is is located. The church just has a long-term lease on the property. So, what happens when the lease expires?

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  10. Old Timer: Follow the money, folks, and grab some popcorn. It looks like this lawsuit will blow the workings of NAMB wide open, independent of the DOJ investigation of the SBC. Is this God’s way of cleaning house?

    To date, millions of mainline Southern Baptists (primarily non-Calvinist in belief and practice) have been in the dark on the exact nature of NAMB’s church planting program. Under Ezell’s leadership, NAMB has been aggressively planting reformed theology (under the guise of planting churches) by tapping fresh graduates out of SBC’s NeoCal seminaries to lead 1000+ new “church” plants per year. I suppose this dastardly plan was hatched in a dark, smoke-filled room several years ago as the New Calvinists formed a strategy to takeover the largest non-Calvinist Protestant denomination in America. It was brilliant, but wrong.

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  11. Ken A: I think it extremely interesting that the head of NAMB, Kevin Ezell was the Senior Pastor at a little Southern Baptist church called Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, KY. Actually Highview would be more considered a Mega-Church. Dr. Albert Mohler President of the SBTS was a member at Highview for years while Kevin Ezell was pastor.

    Yeah … Mohler’s pastor was tapped to lead NAMB! Out of 15 million Southern Baptists, there weren’t more qualified candidates for the job?! Whatever Pope Mohler wants, Pope Mohler gets.

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  12. This needs to come to light.

    And planting a church anywhere is cheap. All it takes is people who find work and live in an area. These believers begin living out and sharing the faith. Over time as they lead people to faith in Christ, they start a Bible study. If it grows large enough the PEOPLE start a church.

    No cost.

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  13. Anthony:
    NAMB offered millions of dollars of Send Relief money to “help” with the horrible sexual abuse
    fiasco at the EC.The reasoning seemed to be that no AAEO or CP funds would be involved.Where
    did the money come from and why can NAMB treat it differently?

    Sadly, the SBC will never share this important information.

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  14. Old Timer: how my church started decades ago. It was a Bible study that met in a home, then they eventually started a small church. No publicity, just preaching the Word of God and people reading the Bible

    As church should be. Lots of traditional (non-Calvinist) SBC churches started this way … no elite hierarchy running the show, no theo-politics, no Louisville influence. Just a small band of believers who loved the Lord and sought Him for direction … authentic church.

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  15. Max: Perhaps a closet New Calvinist? A lot has been said about the stealth and deception employed by the New Calvinists who took over SBC. A non-Calvinist would not be on Mohler’s team.

    Not even sure it matters. The trustees are said to make the decisions, but I think there’s a higher group than that. I mean, look at the small group of the EC hiding all that stuff.

    But I know more than a few people who care a lot more about their big-name job than whatever theology they profess, if they believe anything at all besides the almighty dollar in their own pockets.

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  16. JDV: “It became abundantly clear to me the Lord had big things in store for the DC area south of the interstate between the Anacostia and Potomac rivers.”

    That is a mighty weird way to describe God’s plans. The only interstate north of DC is the Capital Beltway. The area between those rivers is DC, plus a bit of Maryland.

    The whole region is absolutely stuffed to the gills with churches. A lot of them are long established and already serving their neighborhoods. Does this guy not think that the churches already in Anacostia know more about Anacostia? What magical cure does he possess?

    I noticed this on the website: “Our Sunday services will temporarily be held at Miracle Theater, 535 8th St SE.” What’s up with that?

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  17. Friend: The only interstate north of DC is the Capital Beltway.

    This description is for I-695, which is between the mall and the river. I visited that church a few years ago when I was there to visit a relative. It’s in the area known as the Navy Yard. That used to be a very run down and crime infested area, but it went through a gentrification starting around 20 years ago. It is now a very trendy place to live, with luxury apartments and high-end shopping. Poor people don’t live there. The church itself is very much like any other New-Calvinist church plant. Back when I visited it was mostly younger people, with contemporary music (very loud), but no fog machine. It was listed on the TGC church directory. The church now shows up on the other side of I-695, about a 15 minute walk from 9Marks HQ. I think this is the temporary location while the main site is being renovated. Being a bit closer to 9Marx could leave a mark…

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  18. Ken F (aka Tweed),

    Thank you. That does clarify some things. I’d be astounded to hear any local DC poor person call that tiny line segment of I-695 “the interstate,” as it’s 1) the Southeast Freeway, and 2) exactly two miles long. Still, any arriviste pulpiteers would find “the interstate” deeply meaningful for describing God’s plans.

    I’ll stop now before my smirk turns permanent.

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  19. ishy: the New Calvinists a full-blown cult

    But the network of “relationships” once it becomes visible to your eyes, is as central an “authority” as they need. I’ve seen this several times over, both within other umbrellas / allegedly separate or overlapping groups of umbrellas / and “independent”. Flying under the radar in plain sight. Fancy labels for what fancy labels are for. Salami slicing of mischief making under different auspices. Bad planning of bad plans by bad planners. Logical inconsistency in stated remits.

    Friend: sincerely held eyebrows

    I like that phrase, thank you!

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  20. From the OP:

    My son just proposed to his girlfriend. It appears they are looking for a fall wedding in the mountains. My entire family loves her. She is now included in our wild and crazy family text group! Strangely, I still think of him as my “little buddy.”

    Congratulations, Dee!! 🙂

    Since I’ve been a bit distracted

    Totally understandable…. 🙂

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  21. “ My son just proposed to his girlfriend. It appears they are looking for a fall wedding in the mountains.”

    Dee,
    You know (and we know) you’re going to be even more distracted as the big day gets closer and closer!
    That’s okay….. it’s a such joyous, wonderful distraction.
    Fall is far and away my favorite season. I can’t imagine any backdrop that would be any more beautiful than the mountains in autumn.

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