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)

Giving the SBC Back

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The way to turn the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) and expand its global mission efforts, is to give it back to those who built it. The phrase “take back the ship” has been used by some who have attempted to change the direction of the SBC. For better or worse, some of these efforts succeeded while others failed. However, the best and only long-term solution to unite and “save the ship” of the SBC is to give it back to those who built the ship.

Common convictions, while necessary for unity, are not enough to mobilize a people to advance the Great Commission together. As a pastor, and now leader of a State Convention with hundreds of churches, I have learned that increasing participation builds unity. Pastors work with volunteers, and State Executive Directors do as well. Volunteers can choose to participate, or they can opt out. The choice is often made based on whether they’re included in the process, and whether leaders are transparent and accountable in how they go about the ministry.

Unity and vibrancy in our SBC mission efforts will grow when we give back the SBC ship to those who built it.

“And who built the ship?” you ask.

We need to give the Convention back to the churches, small, medium and large; back to churches rural, town, suburban and city who have faithfully and generously built our Convention through faithful Bible teaching and generous support of missions through the Cooperative Program. We need to give the Convention back to the pew, back to Bob and Betty Baptist, and to Britney, Alex and Briana Baptist, too. We need to give it back to the people who love their neighbor and minister to the sick and send missionaries to the nations because they take seriously the command to obey Jesus’ teaching.

We need to give the Convention back to those whose heroes are missionaries and not Christian celebrities. We need to give the Convention back to widows who tithe from their Social Security because they love Jesus, love their church, love their pastor, and they love their missionaries.

We need to give the Convention back to deacons who pray for their pastor and serve alongside him. We need to give the Convention back to Sunday school teachers and door greeters and the women of the WMU, and all the others who make our Convention of churches work. Let’s give the convention back to the shepherds who love their flock, do the marrying and burying, evangelize the lost, preach the Bible because they believe the Bible, and model a life of joy and gratitude to their community. We need to give the Convention back to those who weep over sin, including their own, and who welcome the repentant sinner.

How do we give the Convention back?

We do it by valuing every church and every person in every church. Respecters of persons cannot lead the SBC to honor God and rebuild a witness to our nation. How do we give the Convention back? We do it primarily through transparency, accountability and broadened involvement through remote access voting at the annual meeting of the SBC.

Transparency is vital if we are to give the Convention back to those who built and continue to sustain it. Entities must open their financial records and provide detailed financial reports, not summaries which fail to disclose crucial information. When tens of millions of dollars are spent to purchase property, provide grants to certain churches, pay monthly stipends to certain pastors, and the details of these expenditures are known to only to a few, it creates the conditions for dividing not unifying. Many financial details are not disclosed to the Trustees charged with oversight. They should be disclosed to every Cooperative Program supporting Southern Baptist pastor and church.

Transparency means that habitual use of non-disclosure agreements (NDAs) should be discontinued. NDAs are used to suppress speech and information that might be critical, or revealing, of the practices of an institution or entity. NDAs are often used to keep information from being revealed that might embarrass someone or something. Although we don’t use them in the Northwest Baptist Convention, in SBC life they are used by churches, conventions, seminaries and SBC Entities. While NDAs have limited application in Baptist life, they are too often used as part of standard-operating-procedure and this should be stopped.

Regarding transparency, the SBC made an expansive strategic change in the 2010 Great Commission Resurgence (GCR) recommendation, yet the minutes of the committee meetings, which would reveal important details and discussions, have been sealed for all of these years and won’t be unsealed for many years to come. Why should this important information be kept from Southern Baptists? Shouldn’t we operate in the light? Is there some information that should only be accessible to a select few of Baptists, but not provided to the everyday pastor or layperson? According to the numbers, the GCR has actually been a Great Commission Regression, and I think it would be helpful for Southern Baptists to know the details of the internal debate. What concerns did the committee have? Where did the ideas originate and who argued for them and against them? The GCR served to weaken State Conventions and Associations (outside the South) and strengthen the national SBC. How was this debated? It’s been ten years and we still don’t know. It’s time to open the records. And it’s time to evaluate the GCR and re-calibrate (more about that in a future article).

Accountability. We give the Convention back to the pew, back to those who sustain Southern Baptist mission efforts, by enforcing accountability. Leaders must be held accountable for how we steward the ministry of the SBC and affiliated Conventions. Trustees should be trained by someone other than the entities they are selected to hold accountable. Accountability should include the performance of the Entity or Convention, stewardship of resources, Christian character, and, of course, faithfulness to our Lord and His Word. Holding leaders accountable is the chief responsibility of Trustee Boards, but building trust, and debunking conspiracy theories and rumors, is greatly aided when leaders hold themselves accountable to those who built and sustain the Convention.

Remote Access Voting. We give the Convention back by increasing involvement in the SBC through remote access voting. The last time remote voting was investigated by the SBC Executive Committee we were using dial-up. Ninety-two percent of our churches do not participate in the SBC Annual Meeting each year. The time has come to extend involvement to messengers from tens of thousands of churches, small and large. Involvement in making Convention decisions should not be restricted to those with the money to travel across the country to the Annual Meeting. Increasing involvement will build trust and support for Cooperative Program missions.

The SBC becomes stronger when we increase inclusion and empower each autonomous group, not when we centralize power and control. Today’s technology makes this completely doable.

I am allowing my name to be submitted to serve as President of the SBC because I believe we can unite the convention and save the ship. However, we need to do more than philosophize about the problems we face as a convention. We must discuss and find practical solutions to our problems. Offering practical solutions is what I am attempting to do.

I would urge the various groups concerned about the SBC to host meetings in which conversation can occur. I am always glad to discuss the issues we face and the proposed solutions, especially with those who may disagree with me. Let’s discuss in venues open to our people, whether it is a video conference, livestream, or open forum. We can post them so that every concerned Southern Baptist can have access to the discussion.

Unity and vibrancy in accomplishing the mission will grow as we give the ship back to those who built it. My great hope and dream is that this Convention, which has been built and sustained for 175 years, can be given back to the Baptist faithful. The SBC ship was built to carry the good news of Jesus Christ to every person in every place. I believe that’s why God has blessed the SBC, and faithfulness to that great mission will bring continued blessing in the years to come.

Randy Adams
Executive Director-Treasurer
Northwest Baptist Convention