NAMB wins delay in McRaney case until after SBC Annual Meeting as bombshell new filing details how NAMB went to war against a reporter for exposing problems with NAMB and its President Kevin Ezell. Specifically, the legal document filed under penalty of perjury provides allegations of retaliation and intimidation by NAMB against Joni Hannigan for her reporting on how Kevin Ezell handled a sex abuse case while pastor, and also for Hannigan’s reporting on the Will McRaney case.
Will McRaney and Southern Baptists will have to wait longer for their day in court as NAMB won a delay in the case. The previous day of reckoning for Kevin Ezell was set a week before the Southern Baptist Convention was scheduled to hold its Annual Meeting in New Orleans for 2023. The new date sets the trial for August 7, 2023—a delay of two months. The reason NAMB gave to the court is that it needed the opportunity to depose additional witnesses to prepare its case.
What witnesses? Some of McRaney’s experts like historian Dr. Barry Hankins who blasted NAMB for their blatant lies in court filings. However, the most interesting name is Joni Hannigan. In a supplemental filing, NAMB requested additional time to set a deposition with longtime Southern Baptist journalist Joni Hannigan. Hannigan says she was intimidated by a NAMB employee and close Kevin Ezell friend Mike Ebert. Hannigan has an extensive filing in the case that documents her allegations against Kevin Ezell for not only being a jerk—but using his position in the SBC to destroy her career for doing nothing more than reporting the truth about Kevin Ezell.
Hannigan detailed how NAMB attempted to intimidate her for reporting on the SBC’s response to sex abuse cases—specifically, how the application of clergy-penitent privilege was utilized by then-pastor and now NAMB President Kevin Ezell during a case in Kentucky decades earlier. Also, the filing details how her writing about the Will McRaney case caused SBC leaders including an editor of Baptist Press to tell her she could write for them “if only she would stop writing about McRaney.”
On February 27, 2023, Joni B. Hannigan signed under penalty of perjury a declaration of facts as she knows them. You can read the entire declaration at the bottom of this story and related evidence filed before the US federal court. We can report on this filing because lawyers for NAMB included it in a public filing.
According to Joni Hannigan, again filed under penalty of perjury, “JUNE 2018, THREAT- Senior Editor of Baptist Press (BP) told me in 2018 at the SBC meeting in Dallas, I could be on the coverage team again and would be asked to write stories as a freelancer, only if I ‘would stop writing Will McRaney stories.’ Previously I had served as BP newsroom editor during the SBC meeting until 2010 and been part of the BP news team since 1994. I was told I should write more ‘happy’ stories.”
And this was a continuation in a long line of attempts by SBC Elites to silence coverage of Will McRaney’s claims against Kevin Ezell.
According to Hannigan, “In another attempt to silence me from covering NAMB/Ezell/McRaney issues, although I had written only two related stories, I was hard pressed to find the location of the trustee meeting at the 2018 SBC meeting in Dallas. BP is tasked with and carries a minute-by-minute breakdown of the SBC and related meetings and yet claimed to not know the location of the Dallas meeting. When NAMB’s VP for Communications, Mike Ebert, did answer my query, he questioned my news presence and told me an incorrect location, causing me to be late. Attendance is not limited to credentialed media in any case, the meeting is open to all members of SBC churches.”
According to Hannigan, the threat of retaliation for writing about how Ezell handled a sex abuse case came in 2018 too.
“JUNE 2018, THREAT – At that same 2018 SBC annual meeting in Dallas, I wrote a news analysis, ‘Was SBC #METOO resolution on abuse a band aid for larger issues?’ Within hours of posting the analysis on my own personal web page, I received a clear threat from NAMB when its VP for Communications, Mike Ebert texted me: ‘Joni — I think you have put yourself into a potentially libelous situation. I am asking you and encouraging you in the strongest way possible to remove what you have posted about Kevin. I wish you had called to discuss this with me ahead of time.’
“And then NAMB piled on more pressure. Just as I sought to resurrect my career as a Southern Baptist news writer (having taken time for therapy and restoration following a series of devastating traumas worsened by sexual assault that occurred years before in the military, described in a blog post which I released just prior to the 2018 Dallas meeting) to launch my website — NAMB distributed a paper titled “Background Information from Kevin Ezell” at the annual meeting of state Baptist papers and editors on June 28, 2018. The meeting was attended by dozens of my colleagues and those in a position to influence news and employment of communications and executive personnel in the SBC. I believe my future as a writer, editor, or professor in Southern Baptist life was sealed with those words. My fate and future had been inexorably linked with that of Will McRaney because I dared to publish what few other legitimate Baptist journalists had; and did so without the backing of any resources but my own.
“The damaging document, forwarded to me by a former colleague addresses a ‘news analysis’ posted on a ‘blog’ and mentions two accusers. In the document, Ezell references and maligns Will McRaney and me. McRaney the day before had emailed NAMB trustees a letter that included a reference to Ebert’s text message to me as an example of how far Ezell will go to silence those with whom he disagrees. Ebert went on further to malign me in an email sent to NAMB partners at the same time. What Ebert did not send to me was also telling. He had promised to send me a summary of changes to NAMB’s policy manual which were approved in the 2018 meeting. I had been looking for any mention of handling sexual abuse since by that time the International Mission Board and other entities had made efforts in this area. I never received the policy.”
And the details in the document go even further back. Hannigan details how NAMB and VP Mike Ebert in 2016 allegedly used its influence to suppress reporters who might work with Hannigan and Hannigan’s then employer the Christian Examiner.
“In 2016, I wrote an article outlining claims by SBC leaders of NAMB’s secret agreements and practices. The same day ‘Southern Baptist State Leaders Accuse Mission Organization of Strong Arming,’ was published, NAMB’s vice president for communications, Mike Ebert, sent me a series of provocative emails, first asking if he had missed my call and then accusing me of ‘choosing sides.’ Subsequently, I posted a ‘second day story’ giving air to statements Ezell released online and in email correspondence to various news editors and individual leaders.
“Less than a week later, I received disturbing news from a freelance writer who was going through the process of becoming a full-time employee of the Christian Examiner. He had replaced his byline with ‘staff’ on a story about NAMB potentially merging with the SBC’s International Mission Board. When questioned about this, he said he was working on several other NAMB initiated stories and did not want to lose potential work. He also said he was no longer interested in becoming the full-time managing editor of the Christian Examiner. This was the second person with NAMB connections who had abruptly pulled out of negotiations. I sent an email to NAMB to express my concern.
“After querying part time and freelance workers, I was told NAMB and/or Baptist Press had contacted most of them to express ‘concern’ that they were working with Christian Examiner. Since I had been recruited by the former chief of Baptist Press who went on to be editor of the Louisiana Baptist Message, the state Baptist paper of that convention, I had no concern whatsoever about the nature of the Christian Examiner, but I began to fear NAMB was meddling. When my work at Christian Examiner abruptly ended in December 2016, along with my contract for teaching at California Baptist University, I finally faced the reality that my dreams had come to an end both as a journalist and a professor.
“It finally occurred to me that NAMB was intent on silencing me and further undermining my work in order to cover up its own misdeeds. Up until this point I also had worked together with NAMB on several special projects, to include church planting, disaster relief, and coverage of its 2015 SEND rally in Nashville. What happened in 2017 and 2018 was just further proof that Kevin Ezell must have, as one former colleague described, a target on my back.”
All of this and much, much more including about a total of 90-pages of supporting documents are included in the legal filing below. Enjoy and be sure to share around so that Kevin Ezell’s conduct is made known to a wider audience—after all, he wants to suppress the truth, why not make it harder for him to do it?