Baptist historian Dr. Barry Hankins details how NAMB claims would transform SBC into Presbyterian system. NAMB risks the liberty of every single Southern Baptist pastor and congregation, according to explosive new legal filing.
Also, legal filing details how ERLC and its President Russell Moore knew ERLC lied in amicus brief.
A stunning new legal filing by an acclaimed Baptist historian accuses the ERLC of knowing its statements to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals were false when it submitted an amicus brief in a case involving former ERLC head Russell Moore’s good friend Kevin Ezell. And the legal filing does not stop there. The religious liberty of every single Southern Baptist is at risk because of the actions taken by the North American Mission Board (NAMB), according to the same Baptist history expert. Dr. Barry Hankins, a Professor of History at Baylor University and author of books on the history of Baptists, warned that NAMB’s theory of Baptist polity is a direct threat to religious liberty.
According to Dr. Hankins legal filing, “If NAMB’s interpretation of the First Amendment prevailed (an interpretation that matches the erroneous and rescinded view of the ERLC in its amicus brief), every Baptist entity that cooperates in any way with the SBC would be put at risk- congregations, associations, and state conventions.”
Hankins explains why every pastor, every church, every local association, and every convention is at risk because of NAMB’s claims made in attempt to avoid accountability for the actions of its President Kevin Ezell.
Dr. Hankins said, “The view that the SBC can claim itself as a ‘hierarchy’ or ‘umbrella organization’ over other Baptist entities essentially transforms the SBC, making it akin to hierarchical or presbyterian denominations from which Baptists have always distinguished themselves. It is not going too far to say that one of the principal reasons Baptists came into existence was because of the theological belief that religious authority resides only in local congregations, not in a hierarchy of bishops or in a presbyterian body claiming to represent those congregations. Should the courts accept NAMB’s interpretation, we would have a most curious situation, to put it mildly, where Baptists say they are one thing, but the courts treat them as something else. In short, the U.S. court system will have transformed and redefined Baptists into something they have always insisted they are not. That would be an affront to religious liberty.”
Expert claims NAMB is distorting First Amendment
According to Dr. Hankins, “NAMB’s distortion of the First Amendment threatens religious freedom. In addition to lacking a factual basis, and being inconsistent with the SBC’s historical positions, it is my opinion as a scholar of Church-State relations in the United States that NAMB’s First Amendment defense in this case, if accepted by courts, would actually undermine religious liberty rather than safeguard it.”
NAMB claims that the courts should have no jurisdiction in this matter because NAMB enjoys First Amendment privileges that exempt it on the grounds of “ecclesiastical abstention,” “church autonomy,” and/or “ministerial exception.” Dr. Hankins dismisses all of those claims because McRaney never worked for NAMB. And this leads us to a very important point made by Dr. Hankins regarding the nature of Baptist polity.
Dr. Barry Hankins explains the absurdity of NAMB’s defense
Hankins said in the legal filing, “Dr. McRaney’s claims against NAMB are, from a First Amendment standpoint, no different than if he worked for a secular organization separate from NAMB. He claims that an organization he did not work for (NAMB) improperly interfered in his relationship with his employer (BCMD), and then after he was terminated (due to that interference), NAMB continued to interfere with his ability to make a living as a preacher or religious executive.”
Then Hankins hits a key point—that to accept NAMB’s claims in the case would deprive a Christian of any ability to hold someone accountable for damages if the organization is religious in nature.
Hankins said, “NAMB wants to deprive Dr. McRaney of his right to pursue relief in the courts of this country, on the ground that Dr. McRaney makes his living working with religious people and groups. Thus, under NAMB’s view of the world, a citizen working with religious people and groups loses the right to challenge the conduct of a separate religious organization for which the citizen was never an employee or a member, simply because the citizen makes his living working with religious people and separate religious groups. That is an upside-down understanding, where NAMB claims First Amendment protection to interfere in Dr. McRaney’s free exercise of religion. Again, this would make some sense if Dr. McRaney worked for NAMB, but he never did.”
This is very similar to how we explained the issue. As we wrote in March of 2021, “Do simple laws on slander and for that matter common decency become impotent if someone dresses up their lies, slander and bad actions in the guise of religion?”
Then, we put forth an example of how courts do have a role in mediating disputes between churches. “Two churches in a small town are neighbors. They share a property line. They cooperate during an Annual Picnic. However, later they get into a dispute regarding the property line. Church A decides to build a new facility that sits on what Church B considers to be its side of the property line. Can courts settle this dispute? Or, must we abandon the field because these are religious entities—and there is very little more sacred to a church than the right to build its own facility.”
Of course, the court has a role.
And so, the court has a role in the McRaney case against NAMB.
But back to Hankins and this important legal filing.
The false ERLC legal filing approved by Russell Moore and its role in this case
ERLC Brief was false and ERLC had to know it was false when it filed it; however, the ERLC and not even NAMB, who also had to know it was a lie, did not correct the lie, according to Dr. Hankins.
According to Dr. Hankins, “As NAMB asked the Appeals Court for en banc review in 2020, the ERLC coauthored and filed a brief with the religious liberty lobby known as the Thomas More Society. Evangelicals of the type represented by the Thomas More Society often do not fully understand the nature of Baptist polity. The ERLC does, but aligned itself with NAMB. In its amicus brief, the ERLC claimed that the SBC was an ‘umbrella Southern Baptist governing body over all of the various groups of churches.’ This would include state conventions and local associations. The ERLC amicus brief even claimed the SBC was a ‘hierarchy’ that included ‘McRaney’s previous employer,’ the BCMD. These statements are erroneous as a matter of history and false as to the Baptist Faith and Message and the SBC Constitution. The ERLC must have known the statements to be false at the time it made the representations to the Fifth Circuit. NAMB also must have known the ERLC’s representations were false at the time the brief was filed. NAMB never corrected or repudiated ERLC’s misrepresentations to the Court.”
And not to put too fine a point on it, but: “The ERLC statement was a direct contradiction of the Baptist Faith and Message and the SBC Constitution. It was also completely at odds with Baptist history.”
That is the value you are getting from your SBC entities. Your Cooperative Program offerings are being used to deceive federal courts. And the guy who approved the legal filing has left the ERLC and is now Editor of Christianity Today. So, no consequences for the false legal filing that helped his buddy, Kevin Ezell.
Hankins made sure to note the oddity of the ERLC choosing to file this brief.
According to the filing, “The only surprising thing about the ERLC’s admission of error as to the nature of Baptist polity in their brief is that they issued an amicus at all in this case. Doing so was analogous to Chevrolet issuing a brief on behalf of Buick, both companies being constituents of General Motors—i.e. part of the same corporation, like NAMB and the ERLC. It was only one step removed from an entity issuing an amicus on behalf of itself.”
Conclusion: Will the NAMB trustees now do their job?
We just witnessed trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (SWBTS) do their job and force out an evil, vindictive man who was treating employees like garbage and ruining the financial condition of the seminary. When SWBTS trustees forced Adam Greenway to resign, it was a great day for Southern Baptists.
NAMB’s reckless actions in this lawsuit with Will McRaney make Adam Greenway look positively insignificant by comparison. Greenway fired or forced out about 45 faculty and tormented others who did not know if they’d retain their jobs all while hiring friends and offering some six-figure salaries as incentive to come to SWBTS. Yet, that is small. Kevin Ezell is risking the religious liberty of every single Southern Baptist—not to mention the legal liability (more on that in another post) that if NAMB loses this case might be seven or eight figures.
NAMB trustees meet soon. Will NAMB trustees do their job and finally hold Kevin Ezell accountable?
You can read the entire legal filing by Dr. Hankins here: