LifeWay severance deal could merit criminal investigation, SBC Executive Committee told.
Is the Southern Baptist Convention facing serious problems with trustees and officers receiving prohibited benefits from the SBC entities they supervise?
It is possible and some of the issues could merit criminal investigation, according to a new shock claim from Will McRaney, the former Executive Director of the Maryland-Delaware Baptist Convention. McRaney alleges that Southern Baptist Convention President J.D. Greear and trustees including LifeWay Trustee Jimmy Scroggins, and NAMB Trustee Officers Danny deArmas (Chairman), Eric Thomas (1st Vice Chair) and Willy Rice (2nd Vice Chair) received benefits while supervising SBC entities in violation of the explicit prohibition in the SBC Constitution Article 5 and Bylaws Article 15 (F).
The allegations include one trustee having at least three books published while sitting on the trustee board of LifeWay, the SBC’s publishing arm. This same trustee later was the sole trustee to approve the $1 million sweetheart severance package for the failed former LifeWay CEO Thom Rainer. The complaints against the NAMB trustees involve grants of church plant monies in partnership to sitting trustees, speaking engagements and book giveaways involving the current SBC President.
A detailed set of allegations and questions about other potential violations were sent to the SBC Executive Committee along with an outline of how the alleged self-dealing with trustees conflicts with SBC Bylaws.
According to McRaney, SBC Bylaw Article 15(F) forbids this type of conduct. The Bylaw states, “No person and no person’s spouse shall be eligible to serve on the board of any one of the above entities (1) from which the person receives, directly or indirectly, any form of payment or financial benefit except for reimbursements for reasonable and authorized expenses incurred in the performance of the duties of a trustee, or, (2) which provides funds for which he/she has a duty of administration. When such conditions become applicable, that person or that person’s spouse shall be considered as having resigned and such vacancy shall be filled in accordance with established Convention procedure.”
In a letter to the SBC Executive Committee, Dr. Will McRaney argued the Executive Committee must act to fill vacancies created.
“Several seated current Trustees are in violation of the above Constitution Article and Bylaws,” McRaney said. “Therefore, you must see them replaced in keeping with SBC governing procedures. This includes JD Greear being replaced as SBC President since he has a dual role as a Trustee of all the SBC boards/entities.”
McRaney went on to argue the language of Bylaw 15 (F) is clear.
“That is PAST tense and takes no action to remove,” McRaney said. “Your job is to see they are replaced, ie – call 1st VP SBC President and inform him that he is NOW the SBC President & likewise for 2nd VP. Then call Greear, Scroggins and the 3 NAMB Trustee officers to inquire and then inform they are no longer Trustees. Your duty and assignments are clear according to SBC governing documents and are not up for debate or vote or delay.”
In the letter, McRaney details more of the SBC governance issues. He also outlines allegations and questions that require answers regarding the SBC trustees. Below are McRaney’s allegations and questions about possible violations that the SBC must investigate: http://willmcraney.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/12/SBC-Trustees-Violate-Requirements-SBC-EC-Must-Replace.pdf
Jimmy Scroggins – LifeWay
- Scroggins had books published by LifeWay in at least 2016 (ISBN – 1462747841), 2020 (ISBN – 1535998822 & ISBN 1535998830), 2021 (ISBN – 1087713447). We do not yet know the terms of the contracts, but one can assume there was compensation to Scroggins by LifeWay (Rainer), which is a direct benefit as well as publicity which is an indirect benefit.
- Combining the facts of his sole authorization of payment to Thom Rainer and the SBC Constitution & Bylaws, Scroggins was actually not a legitimate Trustee of LifeWay when he made the gift of $1 million to Rainer. Rainer knew or is responsible to know that Scroggins was not a LifeWay Trustee because of 15(F) when he took the payment. This fact and his position could bring a criminal investigation. The Constitution appears to be seeking to prevent exactly what happened, but likely never imagined it would involve such large money nor that other (legitimate) Trustees would not be involved in the decision making.
- NAMB Trustee Officers – the three officers claimed in writing that their churches were benefiting from NAMB in undescribed ways. The ways could include money for plants connected to those churches (re: published letter by the 3 officers) and/or money for speaking engagements or representing NAMB or some other contract.
- Danny deArmas Chairman – NAMB – possible money for FBC Orlando plant/planter Ben Mandrell and Storyline Fellowship in Arvada, CO (personal knowledge) and any other benefits by deArmas or FBC Orlando by NAMB/Ezell. If benefits received, that would be a violation of 15(F).
- Eric Thomas First Vice Chairman – NAMB – FBC Norfolk is involved in church plants and partnerships (website). Did any of these church plants or FBC Norfolk receiving any money from NAMB? If so, that would be a violation of 15(F). We want Trustees involved in planting, but the govern documents prohibit their receiving benefits directly or indirectly. (If NAMB/Ezell were partnering through State Conventions as they have historically, this would not have occurred.
- Willy Rice Second Vice Chairman – NAMB
- Speaking engagements for NAMB training events which is an indirect benefit and possible payment for those events which would be a direct benefit (published info)
- Calvary Baptist in Clearwater has been engaged with church plants such as plant in partnership in Denver. If SBC/NAMB money was given to the plant, another church plant or Calvary, that would be a violation of 15(F).
- Calvary is NAMB Residency Program – (website) – if there is money going to Calvary for the program or people, that is a violation of 15(F)
- JD Greear – SBC President
- Book giveaways by NAMB of Greear’s book.
- NAMB owned houses under Summit/Greear control supposedly for planters. Regardless of whether the house is occupied by planters or Summit staff, this is a benefit for ministry that falls under Greear’s administration.
- Possible payment to Greear directly or indirectly by NAMB/Ezell for “Who’s Your One?” which is being used by and promoted by NAMB.
- Possible speaking fees to Greear paid by NAMB, like Ezell paid David Platt and now has with others.
- Possible payment or gifts by NAMB for work done for NAMB as an Ambassador or representative for NAMB Send Network and/or Send Relief by Greear and/or his staff.
- NAMB website lists Summit Church as a NAMB Residency Program for planters. (website) Is there any NAMB money going to that Residency Program or those involved?
- Vertical Church Planting Network with James MacDonald, Ed Stetzer and JD Greear. After MacDonald public troubles, now the network is called Summit Collaborative. Is NAMB money going to the Summit Collaborative or planters from that Network? ?? Summit Network https://summitcollaborative.org/meet/ – 5 planters listed
- Major Cities – 4
- College Towns for Planting – 4
If McRaney is right, this would have profound implications for SBC governance. If the allegations are true: Why are trustees publishing books and receiving church planting funds from the entities they supervise? It raises the specter of a conflict of interest. Are the trustees looking out for you or Kevin Ezell—the guy providing the money? Are trustees looking out for the Southern Baptist Convention or themselves? As McRaney said, when NAMB partnered with state conventions, this alleviated much of the concern about benefits. Now, these allegations, require the SBC act and do so to remove all doubt.