News Articles

State convention leaders join others in filing amicus brief against NAMB

Adobe Stock Photo. Do not publish.

NEW ORLEANS (BP) — An amicus brief filed in support of Will McRaney in his case against the North American Mission Board contains 62 signatories, including three current state executive directors, a current Executive Committee trustee and former EC president and CEO Morris Chapman.

Randy Adams, state executive for the Northwest Baptist Convention, announced on X Saturday night (Nov. 4) that he was “leading an effort to submit an amicus brief” stating that a District Court’s decision to dismiss McCraney’s case against NAMB would endanger religious liberty.

The brief was filed with the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, where McRaney filed his appeal to the District Court’s decision on Oct. 31.

Signers in support of the amicus brief include Baptist state executives Randy Covington (Alaska) and Steve Ballew (New Mexico). Morris Chapman, former SBC president who served as EC president and CEO from 1992-2010, also signed as did current EC trustee John Batts, pastor of Clear Creek Baptist Church in Silverdale, Wash. Others included pastors and leaders in associations and seminaries as well as former NAMB staff.

The brief charges the District Court’s decision “rests on a profound misunderstanding on Baptist polity: namely, that ‘the Baptist Church’ exists (it does not) and that adjudicating this lawsuit would thus involve deciding an inner-church dispute (it would not).”

McRaney sued NAMB in 2017, stating the entity pressured his former employer, the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, to terminate him and then later slandered McRaney, costing him income from speaking engagements.

The case moved between courts, including the Supreme Court, before its dismissal this summer.

In his August decision, Senior U.S. District Judge Glen H. Davidson said that taking McRaney’s case to trial would violate the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine. In such cases, courts are to refrain from becoming involved in matters related to a church to not violate the First Amendment.

The amicus brief disagrees sharply with that assessment, claiming the court’s decision was reached “from the indisputably flawed premise that NAMB and BCMD are parts of a single religious institution – ‘the Baptist Church’ – and that McRaney was a minister/leader of ‘the church. That is wrong. And it infringes religious liberty.”

A NAMB spokesman referred Baptist Press to the entity’s statement issued last week when McRaney filed his appeal, pointing to two sentences in particular.

“The latest dismissal in no way threatens Southern Baptist polity, voluntary cooperation, or autonomy, each of which NAMB has consistently and correctly reflected in its court filings,” said the statement. “To the contrary, the decision dismissing the plaintiff’s case protects autonomy and religious liberty.”

In an Oct. 24 Facebook video, McRaney said a state convention had joined those supporting the financial costs of his case. Baptist Press reached out to the three state executives who signed on to the amicus brief. Each said their convention had not contributed any such funding.

In a video posted to YouTube, Adams said the purpose of the brief is “to set clean and clear” the terms of Baptist polity when compared to earlier briefs filed on behalf of NAMB by the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. 

In Aug. 2020, the ERLC signed on to a friend-of-the-court amicus brief written by the Thomas More Society in support of NAMB’s request for an en banc hearing.

That brief, it would be discovered later, referred to the SBC as the “umbrella Southern Baptist governing body” and furthermore described the convention of autonomous churches and groups as a “hierarchy.”

The ERLC and the EC addressed the problematic language in Dec. 2020.

Former ERLC vice president for public policy and general counsel Travis Wussow and former EC President and CEO Ronnie Floyd issued statements correcting the error by the brief’s authors.

The ERLC had joined the brief, Wussow explained, “because of the underlying principle that courts have no jurisdiction over churches.

“As Southern Baptists, we believe that every church is fully autonomous, and that means autonomous from any other church, entity, or hierarchy, and also autonomous from the state,” Wussow said.

“The ERLC has defended the underlying legal doctrines in this case for many years, and we will continue to defend them because of their importance to all Southern Baptists.”

A week later, the ERLC issued an apology regarding “problems with language in the brief … that inaccurately describe Baptist polity and church autonomy and that are inconsistent with the positions the ERLC has repeatedly taken.”

Adams’ amicus brief cites the ERLC’s follow-up address to the court filed on Dec. 14, 2020. That statement reasserted Southern Baptist churches as “autonomous, self-determining, and subject only to the Lordship of Christ” while rejecting “the idea of a religious ‘hierarchy’ or ‘umbrella’ superior to the local church, or that any Baptist Convention is in a hierarchy or governing relationship over another Convention.”