Next Steps in Lawsuit Filed by Dr. Will McRaney against the North American Mission Board
Dr. Will McRaney resigned as executive director of the Baptist Convention of Maryland-Delaware (BCMD) in June 2015 and signed a severance agreement related to that resignation. Nearly two years later, Dr. McRaney filed a lawsuit against NAMB in April 2017, after demanding that NAMB pay him more than $7.7 million.
His lawsuit alleges that NAMB intentionally caused BCMD to terminate his employment. The BCMD, however, stated clearly and directly in a March 2016 public statement, “any suggestion that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) or any of its officers influenced the separation of Dr. McRaney’s employment from the Network is false.”
The merits of the case have never been heard by a judge or jury. Instead, the case has, so far, been about whether the courts can and should exercise power over churches and other religious ministries—as Dr. McRaney’s lawsuit claims—or whether that government power is limited under the First Amendment of the United States Constitution so that local church autonomy is protected—as NAMB has consistently asserted.
NAMB is seeking to protect the local church and religious liberty.
The back and forth in the courts, up to this point, has only involved NAMB seeking to protect the autonomy of religious organizations and the local church from government interference. Dr. McRaney invites the courts to step in and scrutinize local church and religious ministry decision-making. NAMB does not.
Put simply, if a court can control who NAMB cooperates with in carrying out its religious mission, it can also tell the local church who it must hire to preach its beliefs, teach its faith, and carry out its mission.
NAMB has always believed that disputes involving ministry strategy—whether between churches or any other religious ministries—should not be determined by the power of any government. We are willing to do everything possible—including a request to the U.S. Supreme Court—to defend that religious liberty for every local church and for every pastor.
On June 28, 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear this case.
As a result, the case will now proceed back to the original trial court, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Mississippi (the District Court). NAMB has consistently denied Dr. McRaney’s unfounded allegations, and we will continue to vigorously defend against them now that he has once again pushed this into secular court.
The District Court will likely schedule a conference in the coming weeks to set a timeline for the case. Both parties will engage in a lengthy process known as “discovery,” in which they exchange relevant documents and information, request information from certain non-parties, and ask questions of witnesses in depositions.
During and after the discovery process, the parties may also file various motions. Those motions may be related to discovery or court procedure or may request that the Court dismiss all or some of Dr. McRaney’s claims. Once all discovery and motions are completed, the District Court will schedule a trial to determine any claims and issues that may remain at that time.
NAMB would prefer biblical reconciliation but will respond to the lawsuit.
In March 2015, while Dr. McRaney was still with the BCMD, NAMB president Kevin Ezell and other NAMB leaders met with Dr. McRaney and other BCMD leaders at the BCMD’s offices in Maryland. The parties left the meeting with mutually agreeable plans to improve ministry cooperation.
After Dr. McRaney’s resignation, he sent NAMB a letter regarding his prior employment with BCMD. As a result, NAMB offered to meet with him in February 2016, “in keeping with NAMB’s desire to obey and follow the scriptures.” Dr. McRaney responded in March 2016 that “it would not be productive for us to meet to discuss factual matters,” but agreed to meet only to discuss the details of a public, written confession and apology from NAMB’s president and the amount of compensation he would be paid as “restitution.”
Dr. McRaney then engaged in a lengthy social media campaign aimed at NAMB and its executive leadership.
NAMB again requested to meet with Dr. McRaney during a telephone call with his legal counsel on March 3, 2017 and by correspondence dated March 7, 2017.
In his only response to those requests, Dr. McRaney sent a letter to NAMB on March 8, 2017, in which he demanded payment from NAMB of more than $7.7 million.
Even after such a demand, NAMB once again offered to meet with Dr. McRaney on March 27, 2017.
Dr. McRaney’s response to NAMB’s March 27, 2017 offer was to file his lawsuit on April 7, 2017.
During the lawsuit, NAMB representatives have met with Dr. McRaney on more than one occasion to seek resolution of his claims in a Christ-honoring and reasonable manner. It is unfortunate that these efforts have been unsuccessful.
Published June 30, 2021