If the North American Mission Board (NAMB) of the Southern Baptist Convention loses a lawsuit filed against it—the damages could be several million dollars. However, if NAMB wins that lawsuit, its legal arguments could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars by eliminating church autonomy.
According to a study filed with the federal court hearing McRaney v. NAMB, McRaney’s actual losses are $1.4M to $1.8M, if McRaney proves his allegations that NAMB worked to keep McRaney from earning a living. That is only lost wages. Other damages including emotional and the potential for punitive damages could raise the potential NAMB financial exposure many millions more.
And yet, what if NAMB wins? If NAMB wins, then it could very well be a nightmare scenario for Southern Baptists because it would establish a connection between SBC entities and local Baptist organizations (perhaps even including the local churches) that would become vulnerable to a class action lawsuit over sexual abuse claims.
In fact, this is the very specter raised by an expert report filed by Dr. Barry Hankins in this case. Dr. Hankins pointed out that despite filings by NAMB and the ERLC, the SBC is not hierarchical.
As Dr. Hankins said in the filing, “If NAMB’s interpretation of the First Amendment prevailed (an interpretation that matches the erroneous and rescinded view of the ERLC in its amicus brief), every Baptist entity that cooperates in any way with the SBC would be put at risk- congregations, associations, and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.”
So, why would a local congregation or state convention be at risk? Because NAMB’s theory abolishes the autonomy of the local church and local associations.
And though he doesn’t specifically point this out—Dr. Hankins does mention how autonomy played a pivotal role in the SBC’s defense against sex abuse claims.
“Throughout the period studied, 1998 to 2018, there were calls from Baptist activists and advocates, mostly women, for the SBC to do its own investigation into why so little was being done to curb sexual harassment and assault in Southern Baptist churches. Consistently, SBC leaders claimed there was nothing they could do because of the autonomy of the local church. In other words, as this argument goes, even in the face of sexual abuse, the SBC could not discipline local congregations or even take steps to investigate or guard against sexual abuse.”
And again, Hankins said, “What is significant at the theological level, however, is the fact that the doctrine of the autonomy of local congregations would be employed at all. This was because of the doctrine’s historical status within the SBC.”
And the SBC’s lawyers regularly used autonomy to win legal cases when something happened in a local church and lawyers wanted to sue the deeper pockets of the entire SBC.
According to a report we cited in 2021, “Because Southern Baptists are not hierarchical, and the convention does not control churches, Guenther and his firm have never lost an ascending liability suit. He estimates that he has had approximately 50 of those cases over the years.”
The SBC is doing its best to destroy that string of victories. Its actions with the Guidepost report, waiving privilege, and NAMB’s claims would establish connections between the various entities and other autonomous organizations.
In other words, the SBC would become one giant pile of money.
Of course, SBC Elites already act like it is one giant pile of money—where they hand out huge severance packages and give one another jobs. For example, the hilarious example of the incompetent ousted SWBTS President Adam Greenway being given a make-work job at the IMB before IMB trustees forced that to end because Greenway’s time at SWBTS is reportedly the subject of a wide-ranging Department of Justice probe into the SBC.
If God were going to judge the SBC, He would give the SBC leaders like Kevin Ezell, Thom Rainer, Russell Moore, Adam Greenway and scores more just like them.
Latest court filings
The new damage report filed in the McRaney v. NAMB case comes from Dr. D.C. Sharp. Dr. Sharp holds a Ph.D. in Economics, was formerly a professor and is now a Managing Director for Econ One. According to Dr. Sharp, “Econ One is an economic consulting firm with offices in Memphis, TN; Los Angeles, and Sacramento, CA; Denver, CO; Washington, DC; New York, NY; Houston, TX; and Chennai and New Delhi, India.”
This comes with other important new filings including Dr. Hankins’s report. Here are a few important legal filings in the McRaney case. You should read them if you have time. SBC trustees must read them.
What becomes clear in reading these documents is that SBC lacks leaders willing to stand up to defend the SBC’s core principles like autonomy.
McRaney has alone carried the burden of defending the SBC’s traditional polity. None of the entities that should defend the SBC’s Constitution has raised a finger to do so. The Executive Committee is silent. The ERLC actively lied. NAMB continues to lie about the SBC.
Will anyone do what is right?
Time is running out for SBC leaders to go on record opposing the NAMB legal theory.
And what about the ERLC lies to the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals?
McRaney has still not received an apology from Russell Moore. So, to this day Moore remains an unrepentant liar who doesn’t care one bit that he harmed McRaney—the very man who taught him in an evangelism class at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary (NOBTS). Moore is now Editor-in-Chief of Christianity Today.
It is amazing that Moore remains the toast of Evangelical Elites even after disgracing himself like this.