NAMB and ERLC Take Southern Baptists to the Supreme Court
Updated: Apr 1, 2021
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) is not only taking Will McRaney to court, they’re taking Southern Baptists to the U.S. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) by taking a position that threatens the cooperative mission efforts of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). NAMB is asking for legal protection when they defame ministers and interfere with the ministry of any minister ordained by a church that cooperates in mission through the SBC. If NAMB prevails at SCOTUS it will mean that NAMB can interfere with any organization that cooperates with the SBC (Churches, Associations, State Conventions, etc.), including defaming the leaders of organizations that partner with the SBC, and they can do so with legal impunity.
Does the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution allow NAMB to do and say whatever it chooses about any minister simply because they serve a church that cooperates with Southern Baptists? NO. And if SCOTUS rules otherwise, God help the SBC.
How did this happen? NAMB’s first defense to the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, included the claim that NAMB possesses “absolute rights and privileges” to interfere with the work of an autonomous State Convention, including the right to “defame” its leadership if NAMB chooses. They lost that decision twice, despite the support of the ERLC in an amicus brief claiming that Southern Baptists are a “hierarchy” with the SBC serving as the “umbrella” over all churches, associations and conventions. This clear deception of a federal court regarding SBC polity has not deterred NAMB and the ERLC from using Southern Baptist mission dollars in an effort to prevail in SCOTUS.
Instead of allowing the case to return to discovery and trial in the U.S. District Court, NAMB filed a petition with SCOTUS. NAMB is seeking to prevent disclosure of evidence that precedes trial in a U.S. District Court. In other words, NAMB is seeking to prevent witnesses from testifying under oath and seeking to prevent the subpoena of records that can be used in a court trial.
NAMB doesn’t describe it this way, of course. The NAMB President stated to the SBC Executive Committee that they are appealing to SCOTUS in order to protect churches from government interference. But is that really the case? No. They’re asking for protection for themselves when they damage a minister through defamation or tortuous interference, acts which are otherwise illegal. Note: NAMB is seeking immunity from past, present and future actions. This isn’t just about Will McRaney. This could be you.
NAMB argues that McRaney’s lawsuit against NAMB is “a ministerial employment dispute” (a direct quote from NAMB’s SCOTUS filing). This phrase appears throughout the SCOTUS filing. They further argue, “To prevent such constitutionally impermissible intrusion into church affairs by secular courts, this Court should grant review and reverse.” The problem with NAMB’s argument is that McRaney’s lawsuit is not an employment dispute because he was never employed by NAMB. Neither was he an employee of any entity of the SBC. Neither is the 5th Circuit Court ruling in McRaney’s favor an “intrusion into church affairs.” Rather, one autonomous religious organization, NAMB, is alleged to have interfered with another autonomous religious organization, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCMD). Moreover, it is further alleged by McRaney that NAMB continued to interfere in his employment opportunities with other autonomous religious organizations, and personally defamed him, after he was fired by the BCMD.
NAMB’s argument to SCOTUS goes even further. I quote from the SCOTUS filing: “Allowing secular courts to punish religious organizations with damages awards for tortuously interfering with a minister’s church employment infringes on a ‘religious group’s right to shape its own faith and mission through its appointments.’” Understand what this means for you as a pastor, associational leader, etc. This argument is founded upon the idea that if you are a “minister” in a church, association or state convention that cooperates with SBC missions, NAMB leadership can defame you, interfere with your employment, seek to prevent you from employment in a ministry that partners with SBC missions, and you have absolutely no legal recourse to seek damages or hinder such defamation and interference.
This means that whoever has the most money and power with which to buy friends and punish critics will “control” the ministries that fund and/or cooperate with Southern Baptists. I firmly assert to you that this is happening! NAMB is spending millions of dollars every year through grants, gift cards, and employment contracts, to purchase friends and protect NAMB leadership from the biggest collapse in ministry effectiveness in the entire history of the SBC (see https://randyadams.org/2020/10/14/the-crisis-of-decline-in-the-sbc-why/).
The ERLC supports NAMB’s argument in their amicus filing to SCOTUS. I quote: “It makes no difference that NAMB and the State Convention are separate legal entities when both are tasked with serving Southern Baptist churches in the same denomination. The First Amendment bars judicial review of ecclesiastical controversies from the same faith community regardless of how those matters arise and regardless of how the faith community is organized.”
So let’s get this straight. The ERLC claims that ministries that serve churches who cooperate with SBC missions are not separate and autonomous when it comes to legal jeopardy regardless of the SBC bylaws and constitution. ERLC is basically saying we are just like the Methodists. This means that whoever has the money and the power can run roughshod over a church, association or state convention with absolute legal impunity, simply because we serve the same churches. That’s their argument.
NAMB is claiming a right that the SBC Constitution specifically forbids. Not only that, but the SBC is not a denomination. There is no ecclesiastical hierarchy. There is no joint governance in the SBC. There are no SBC churches, for that matter. There are churches that participate in SBC missions. The annual meeting of the SBC is a gathering of messengers, not churches. But what I think, or what you think, doesn’t matter. It doesn’t even matter what the SBC Constitution states. Because of NAMB’s appeal, it’s what SCOTUS decides that will matter.
No current issue facing Southern Baptists is as important, and potentially dangerous, as NAMB’s appeal to SCOTUS. This could change Southern Baptists forever. It is time for Southern Baptist leaders to take a stand on this dangerous SCOTUS appeal. NAMB and ERLC have defrauded federal courts and the SBC with their positions. Many leaders are talking about it behind the scenes. It’s time the talk goes public. It’s time for leaders to take a stand. Where are the voices of the Executive Committee of the SBC? Where are the voices of our entity leaders, SBC officers, pastors, and state executives?
My SBC presidential campaign is focused on restoring trust, but that won’t happen without transparency in the SBC. And trust won’t be rebuilt if there is no accountability for deception and failure. Accountability stops corruption. Failure to hold leaders accountable causes corruption to flourish.
And just so you know how wrong it is for SBC leaders to remain silent in this case, The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, The Jewish Coalition for Religious Liberty, and The Islam and Religious Freedom Action Team of the Religious Freedom Institute are not silent. They have joined the ERLC in their Amicus brief. They are taking a position on SBC governance and the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. I repeat, will SBC leaders defend the SBC Constitution and Bylaws, or will they leave it to other religions to tell SCOTUS how we should govern ourselves?
There is much more that can be said about this. But if you want to read the documents yourself, here they are: https://www.scotusblog.com/case-files/cases/north-american-mission-board-of-the-southern-baptist-convention-inc-v-mcraney/
If you want to contact trustees at NAMB, the ERLC, SBC Executive Committee, or other SBC Trustees, click on these links:
If SBC leaders will not act, perhaps pastors and the laity whose tithes support SBC missions will act. Maybe grassroots Southern Baptists will cry out for transparency and accountability so that we can rebuild trust and restore vibrancy to our cooperative missionary enterprise.