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State Baptist Leaders Challenge NAMB’s Legal Tactics as Undermining Baptist Autonomy

by | Sep 15, 2023 | News, Politics, Religion | 0 comments

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A coalition of regional Baptist Executive Directors across several states has sent a strongly-worded petition to the Executive Committee of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). The letter raises serious concerns about the North American Mission Board (NAMB) and its handling of a lawsuit involving Will McRaney, the former Executive Director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

In 2016, in a charge against the NAMB, Will McRaney accused the organization of orchestrating his firing from his position as the executive missional strategist for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. McRaney claimed that his termination was a direct result of Kevin Ezell, the president of NAMB, threatening to withdraw NAMB’s support for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware if he remained in his role.

McRaney had initially been unable to discuss the circumstances surrounding his departure due to a severance agreement he had signed. He later revealed that NAMB had offered to take complete control of church planting in Maryland and Delaware, a proposal that was declined over concerns of losing autonomy. McRaney also alleged that he had been accused by Ezell of violating cooperative agreements, although he insists that the claims were unfounded. After his departure, NAMB restored financial support to the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, even at a higher level than before.

The latest legal proceedings focused on challenging NAMB’s status as a “supporting organization” for the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware. This term, central to the Separation Agreement that was a part of McRaney’s termination, is being contested by McRaney. He argues that NAMB is not a “supporting organization” as defined by Maryland law or the Internal Revenue Code, therefore it shouldn’t be entitled to use the Separation Agreement in its defenses.

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The NAMB, under the leadership of Kevin Ezell, is accused of misrepresenting Baptist governance in court documents, actions that not only contradict the long-standing tradition of Baptist autonomy but also threaten to disrupt the foundational structure of Baptist churches, associations, and conventions. The issue traces back to a legal defense filed by NAMB, which claimed it had the “right to interfere” in McRaney’s employment, even though NAMB is not his direct employer. This led to an outcry from Baptist leaders who insisted that each Baptist entity operates autonomously, without interference from overarching bodies.

Additionally, NAMB and the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) filed a false amicus brief, claiming the SBC is an “umbrella Southern Baptist governing body.” This depiction of the SBC as a hierarchical organization is not only false but perilous, and was a blatant attempt to mislead the courts and weaken the distinct, autonomous nature of each Baptist entity.

While NAMB won its recent case in the U.S. District Court Northern District of Mississippi, the concerns raised are far from settled. McRaney is set to appeal, and the petitioners have requested that the SBC Executive Committee file an amicus brief to set the record straight about Baptist autonomy.

This case is raising eyebrows, as NAMB’s legal actions are a betrayal of the deeply-held convictions that have long guided the Southern Baptist community. With autonomy at the core of Baptist polity, these maneuvers by NAMB are more than just legal strategies—they are an existential threat to the very essence of Baptist cooperation and governance.

You can read and sign the petition at this link.

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