Do NAMB and the ERLC Believe the End Justifies the Means?

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Most of my writing on Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) issues has focused on our diminished effectiveness in advancing the Great Commission and what we must do to become more evangelistically effective. That is what I care about most, reaching every person with the good news of Jesus Christ. Some of you have learned something of my thinking through a series of articles I wrote in February and March about “saving the SBC ship,” and giving the ship back to those who built it.

My essential contention is that the SBC took the wrong road when it adopted the Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendations in 2010 and the annual reports of the SBC prove it. The last 10 years are the worst decade in the 175-year history of the SBC in terms of decline. The GCR put the SBC on a road in which the national entities gained power and financial resources, and local Associations and State Conventions lost influence and resources. The practical effect was that the SBC became more “top-down” as tens of millions of dollars were shifted to the national SBC from more local cooperative partners. Although I serve the Northwest Baptist Convention (NWBC) of churches, and stewardship of the NWBC is my primary concern, most of our churches are affiliated with the SBC and the road taken by the SBC in 2010 greatly affects our work in the Northwest. My most recent article on this, illustrated with charts, can be read at https://randyadams.org/2020/10/14/the-crisis-of-decline-in-the-sbc-why/.

I have urged that we reject the current “top-down control approach” to missions and return to a New Testament missiology which empowers those closest to the field of ministry (Paul wasn’t managed from Antioch, or Jerusalem). We must restore cooperation between the North American Mission Board (NAMB), State Conventions, Associations and every local church (not just a small fraction of larger churches). NAMB not only resists cooperation, but rejects it because NAMB president Kevin Ezell has repeatedly said that State Conventions “shouldn’t even exist,” as a recent letter by former NAMB regional leader, Frank Shope, makes clear. If you haven’t read Dr. Shope’s letter, here is the link: https://gobnm.com/bcnm_news/a-readers-perspective-on-namb/article_66aae05e-2e80-11eb-aeb7-df3fe641a32b.html

Though I have sought to focus on strategy and performance, the truly outrageous actions of NAMB and the SBC Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC) in recent court filings in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals demands the attention of every SBC church member because it poses great danger to every SBC church, Association, State Convention and national entity. Recently the ERLC was caught claiming that the SBC is a “hierarchy” and “umbrella” organization of all Southern Baptist churches and organizations in an amicus brief filed in support of NAMB ( https://baptistmessage.com/5th-u-s-circuit-court-of-appeals-rules-against-namb/).

After the ERLC was caught in their false claim of an SBC hierarchy, Ronnie Floyd issued a statement in Baptist Press attempting to quell the growing concerns among leaders like Randy Davis, Executive Director of the Tennessee Baptist Mission Board (https://baptistandreflector.org/tbmb-leader-challenges-erlc-over-language-in-amicus-brief/). The ERLC privately told Davis that they were “rushed,” but that does not explain why it sat uncorrected for about three months before the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, and still remains uncorrected. (Shortly before posting this article, the ERLC issued an apology for some of the language in the amicus brief, but they did not address the fact that they deceived the court regarding SBC governance, nor did they say they have filed a correction with the court, nor did they apologize for damaging a brother-in-Christ by deceiving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. They claim that an amicus brief does not establish legal precedent. I’m not an attorney and do not know whether that is true. I do know that their false argument was used against a man in a U.S. court, and it nearly worked, and they have not apologized to him).

It should be noted that NAMB has been making similar claims for years in defense of the lawsuit brought by Will McRaney, without any repudiation or correction by Ronnie Floyd or the SBC Executive Committee. In that lawsuit NAMB claims they have “absolute rights” and “absolute privileges” over State Conventions, and that they are a “supporting organization” of State Conventions, which is the same thing as a hierarchy in the eyes of U.S. law. This means they believe they can interfere in the business of State Conventions, including personnel matters, and they are exempt from legal culpability if they defame State Convention employees (For NAMB’s legal defense and an analysis of their argument see https://baptistmessage.com/concerns-circulate-nambs-lawsuit-response-erodes-historic-sbc-doctrine/).

NAMB’s legal argument, asserting its right to interfere in the work of State Conventions, violates the governing documents of the SBC and directly contradicts Ronnie Floyd’s recent statement regarding the ERLC’s amicus brief:
“The Baptist bodies serving our churches who undertake this great missional vision, such as associations, state conventions and national entities, do so knowing there is no relation of superiority or inferiority among our Baptist general bodies. There is no ‘hierarchy’ in any form or fashion in Southern Baptist polity.”
https://www.baptistpress.com/resource-library/news/namb-en-banc-request-denied-by-5th-circuit-confusion-regarding-amicus-brief-addressed/

NAMB and the ERLC deceived the U.S. courts, and put in legal jeopardy 47,000 churches, 1,100 Associations, and 42 State Conventions because each one would lose its autonomy, at least so far as the U.S. Federal Courts are concerned. If the SBC Executive Committee, NAMB and the ERLC do not correct the false statements and claims that have been made to the courts, they prove the corruption alleged by McRaney.

To intentionally deceive the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in an effort to win a lawsuit is the height of corruption and an ungodly, end-justifies-the-means strategy. Think about it. NAMB has not only used the resources of the SBC in order to deceive a Federal Court, resources given by church members to advance the Great Commission, they also deceived a Federal Court into using its power to crush the man who alleges NAMB’s wrongdoing. It is especially frightening when you realize the deception almost worked. NAMB came within one vote of prevailing in the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals (they lost on a 9-8 vote). It brings to mind the image of the lone man in Tiananmen Square who defied the Chinese Communist government when he stood alone in the path of a massive tank over 30 years ago. That image may seem extreme, but it was actually one of my first thoughts. NAMB enlisted three state attorney generals, the ERLC, and First Liberty, among others, in a failed effort to deceive the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. In so doing, they demonstrated a willingness to jeopardize the entirety of the SBC to protect one SBC leader and entity. It’s a classic example of an “end-justifies-the-means” ethic.

This cannot be forgotten and swept aside. There must be accountability for these leaders. A slap on the hand would be inappropriate and disrespectful to McRaney and all Southern Baptists. A slap on the hand would confirm what many suspect, that the Trustees of SBC entities, and the Executive Committee of the SBC, are incapable of holding leaders accountable for even massive failures. You couldn’t get away with practicing such deception in traffic court, let alone trying to deceive the second highest court in the United States, which is what NAMB and the ERLC have done.

So, what must be done? First, the leaders and agencies that were involved in this deception must set the record straight with all courts to whom they lied, including the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of the Appeals, in order to mitigate the immense damage that will be suffered by SBC churches and other SBC organizations. Through their deception, these two SBC entities and leaders have put the entire SBC in danger because future litigants can appeal to their erroneous arguments and make the claim that the SBC has a hierarchy, and therefore the whole denomination can be held liable for the misdeeds perpetrated by one church or one church member. This possibility is already being publically discussed.

Second, SBC leaders must be held accountable for deceiving the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals. Such deception is ungodly and has done great harm to Dr. McRaney. NAMB and ERLC leaders not only owe him an apology, they must make every effort to repair the great damage they have inflicted upon him and his family. It’s become more and more clear that what McRaney has been saying is true. Maybe that’s why NAMB and the ERLC believed their best chance of “winning” was to delay and deceive. NAMB leaders are doing all they can to keep from testifying under oath. In 2017, when I was the President of the State Executive Directors Fellowship, I personally met with two NAMB Trustee officers and Dr. McRaney to try and bring resolution to the situation. Dr. Ezell was not present in the meeting, nor was he present in court required mediation in 2018, and the Trustee Officers said they were not empowered to resolve the situation. It’s clear to me that biblical restitution must be made to Dr. McRaney.

Third, we must reform the SBC. We must drastically improve financial transparency, establish and enforce policies against conflicts of interest, and create accountability for leaders and their performance. Moreover, we must reform the trustee system so that trustees understand they represent the churches, and protect the churches when necessary, not protect failing systems or leaders. Trustees must hold leaders accountable and require transparency from the entity. The trustees of NAMB and the ERLC must hold their leaders accountable for perpetrating this egregious deception. The SBC Executive Committee must exercise its responsibility to enforce the governing documents of the SBC, and to mandate financial transparency through requiring independent forensic financial audits of entities. If you want an independent forensic financial audit of NAMB, you can join me and hundreds of others who have already signed this petition:

https://www.gopetition.com/petitions/namb-forensic-audit-sbc-transparency-of-mission-gifts.html

The next President of the SBC should make reform his priority and platform. SBC entities must submit to measures that will produce transparency in finances and performance metrics. And speaking of transparency, the records of the GCR Task Force must be “unlocked.” The GCR started us down the road of top-down missions controlled by the national entities, and they have sealed the minutes of their meetings so that Southern Baptists are kept in the dark. The GCR has been a colossal failure and Southern Baptists have a right to read the minutes of the meetings held over 10 years ago.

We must implement a new trustee-training system. Trustees must govern in the interests of the churches, not of the SBC entity, as a first priority.

Involvement in the Annual Meeting should be expanded beyond promotion and marketing. Small churches, distant from SBC meeting locations, should be included in SBC decision-making. Participation should not be limited to those with financial means. The best way of achieving this is through remote, or virtual, participation.

The most precious commodities of the SBC mission’s system are trust and goodwill. These have been eroded significantly, but through transparency and accountable leadership they can be rebuilt. Indeed, they must be rebuilt if we are to preserve and grow the miraculous missionary system we have inherited from our forefathers.

Randy Adams
Executive Director/Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention (Washington, Oregon, North Idaho)

26 thoughts on “Do NAMB and the ERLC Believe the End Justifies the Means?

  1. William C Moffitt

    Randy—Thank you for shedding light on what’s going on. Something needs to change to right the ship of the SBC before it sinks. In our early years of marriage we were involved in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and left it when it sank into oblivion. We can’t let that happen here.—Bill ________________________________

  2. Grant Hignight

    Dr. Adams,

    Thank you for your obedience to the LORD in writing this. I am a lifelong Southern Baptist. The realities you have cited break my heart. I will continue praying for God’s mercy upon us, for repentance in response to the conviction of the Holy Spirit, and for genuine, visible godliness and faithfulness among the thousands of local SBC churches. Thankfully, God continues working, even amidst and through Southern Baptists.

  3. Randy – as always a powerful reply to absolute chaos. I read the ‘apology’ today and like you, wondered why in the world it took SO LONG? As my career winds down I am encouraged by your call for small churches to find a place at the SBC table. I have long advocated for a place, but due to financial constraints could never quite figure out how to get to the table!
    Keep up the GREAT work!
    Steve

  4. Thank you, Randy! May we humbly continue to resist these mindsets and practices that have typified the SBC and OUR agencies far too long. It is not just members of local congregations that need to head the cry to confess and repent.
    Love you, my dear brother!
    Jim Gantenbein

  5. Thank you, Randy! May we humbly continue to resist these mindsets and practices that have typified the SBC and OUR agencies far too long. It is not just members of local congregations that need to head the cry to confess and repent.
    Love you, my dear brother!
    Jim Gantenbein

  6. James Brunk

    Dear Brother Randy,
    Spot on… Thank you for sharing – it is so sad – breaks my heart how evangelism/missions is not the priority and the deception is just not right.

  7. Bill Wagner

    When I started Parkland House I was encouraged to take NAMB assistance and jump through the hoops of planting a church under their strict, managed guidelines. Our fellowship elected to remain close to the NWBC, but we rejected allowing a hierarchy to manage our direction. 10 years later, we are still strong and we are still reaching young people for Jesus Christ, but I wonder what percentage of other “plants” have survived under the hierarchical oriented direction and leadership of NAMB?

    Vote Randy for president.

    • Thank you Bill for what you are doing to serve Jesus and make disciples. One of the things you have done, that is key to survival, is stay at the church. You’ve done much more than that, but many of the churches that don’t survive close their doors when the founding pastor leaves. That transition from founding pastor to second pastor is critical. God bless you and thanks again.

  8. Ron

    The more I think about this the madder I get, I will be looking into the places I donate to and see if they give money to these immoral people and if they do I will stop giving there and redirect my tithe to better places that I can trust the leadership. This kind of thing has to stop immediately and those responsible removed from any position of leadership……

  9. Darryl K Harden Sr

    Thank you for sharing this important information, SBC has moved in a direction this is missing there effectiveness of a genuine relationship with the local church and it’s membership.

  10. fshope1

    I did not mention all that I could have in my letter referenced in this article. After ten years I continue to suffer from emotional and physical pain brought on by Ezell and NAMB trustees.

    As Ezell began to destroy the Cooperative Agreements with the State Conventions he also set out to destroy lives

    In several meetings Ezell defamed missionaries, Convention Staff and NAMB staff. He was especially cruel to women and minorities. Often, referring to them with unacceptable titles and bigoted statements. Additionally, he found ways to fire or defund individuals of color.

    Ezell refused to meet with State Convention Executive Leaders. Ezell refused to consider the implications of his statements and actions that destroyed the youth and children’s mission materials and program’s.

    The Executive Board of NAMB was squarely behind Ezell and his ungodly treatment of people. The powerful trustee and board members would meet the night before a meeting leaving out those who they saw as unsophisticated (mostly the members from the West or small Conventions)

    The powerful, elite pastors on the Board communicated that if Ezell did not change NAMB culture they would stop funding the SBC and do missions on their own.

    The president elected from the SBC annual convention wanted his church to be responsible for all mentoring and church planting assessments. He stated that NAMB’s mentoring program and church planting assessments were inadequate. NAMB now funds his church and the pastor’s program’s.

    The Board further communicated that NAMB should direct the mission activities within North America and that neither state staff, local missionaries, or the average SBC church knew anything about reaching the lost.

    Current NAMB leadership, including Ezell believs that the majority of all SBC churches are dead and should send their resources to NAMB. Including the sale of their property and give the funds to NAMB.

    This author suggest that NAMB and SBC leadership has no place for the small church. Current leadership would rather destroy the SBC than cooperate as Southern Baptist. Ezell and his cronies believe that only their hubris and arrgonance will save Southern Baptist.

    Just before Ezell came to NAMB I heard one member of the GCR say that only they and people like Ezell were able to “save Southern Baptist”. Those same indivudles dare lead their churches to give a shamful two percent to the Cooperative Program.
    While I know of SBC churches running less than a one-hundred and fifty, giving thirteen and fourteen percent to CP.

    I do not expect change without an audit by SBC churches.

    Southern Baptist cannot survive another ten years with Ezell at the helm!!!!

    Dr. Frank Shope

    • Dr. Shope, thank you for providing this additional information. The GCR, and Ezell’s leadership at NAMB, are the greatest tragedies I have witnessed in nearly 40 years of ministry. I know that for you it has been a source of great pain. I know some of your story through our late friend, Bill Crews. God bless you brother. Let’s talk some time.

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