NAMB trustees: Md./Del. investigation 'concluded'

ST. LOUIS (BP) -- A North American Mission Board trustee recommendation and a messenger motion at the Southern Baptist Convention annual meeting were among the actions Southern Baptists took in St. Louis last week related to NAMB's dealings with the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

NAMB trustees adopted a recommendation June 13 stating they have conducted a "thorough examination and review" of the entity's relationship with the BCMD and regard as "concluded" an investigation of complaints the convention, which is also known as the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network, was mistreated.

Still, a messenger's motion the next day at the SBC annual meeting requested an "independent, outside review" of NAMB's dealings with state conventions, including the BCMD. The motion was ruled out of order June 15, with Committee on Order of Business chairman Andrew Hebert stating, "A motion which seeks to have the convention, this annual meeting, exercise the authority of an entity's board, is not in order."

The NAMB trustee action and messenger motion occurred three months after Will McRaney, who resigned as BCMD executive director last June, and others began posting documents online alleging NAMB exerted inappropriate pressure on the BCMD regarding financial matters and McRaney's continued employment.

NAMB trustees

The NAMB trustee motion was approved unanimously and without discussion in the board's plenary session, the Southern Baptist TEXAN newsjournal reported and NAMB confirmed to Baptist Press. A two-hour closed-door session preceded the vote.

A full report on the NAMB trustee meeting is expected to be released later this week to Baptist Press.

Printed background material distributed by NAMB stated, "Representatives of this board have conducted a thorough examination and review of the dealings between NAMB leadership and the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network [MABN] and have fully reported those findings to the full Board of Trustees, who discussed the findings at length and considered them when making this recommendation."

The background material continued, "In addition, the trustees were kept informed about challenges regarding the relationship between NAMB and MABN as the challenges developed, and NAMB's executive leadership sought input from the chairman and other officers of this board regarding such challenges."

The full text of the recommendation stated, "The trustee officers recommend that the Board of Trustees, by adoption of this recommendation, states that they are satisfied that this matter has been reviewed thoroughly and considers this matter concluded."

McRaney tweeted an open letter to NAMB trustees June 13 stating, "What is on trial is the trustworthiness of the NAMB Trustees to do your duty to God and Southern Baptists and to extend justice."

SBC motion

The SBC motion, offered by Steve Wolverton of Baltimore’s Canton Baptist Church, stated, "I move that the SBC Executive Committee and the NAMB board of trustees call for an independent, outside review of alleged strong-arming of state conventions," including alleged "threats signed by [NAMB president] Dr. [Kevin] Ezell in particular regarding the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network and the dismissal of Dr. Will McRaney."

Wolverton's motion echoed concerns expressed in a May 16 petition posted on SBC Today, a blog owned and published by Connect316, a coalition of Southern Baptists who advocate what they call a "traditionalist" understanding of the doctrine of salvation.

Wolverton is among the 86 petition signatories calling for an "independent investigation" of allegations NAMB has "leverage[d]" Cooperative Program funds "to force state conventions into compliance with revised cooperative agreement terms or to influence personnel decisions."

Strategic Cooperation Agreements contain "gag orders," the petition stated, "that prevent our trusted and beloved state convention leaders from openly telling the truth about any and all ... negotiations."

Wolverton's motion made apparent reference to McRaney's Feb. 3 allegation in a letter to NAMB trustees and other SBC leaders that Ezell linked "future SBC resources" for the Maryland/Delaware convention "to my removal" -- a charge NAMB's trustee officers attempted to refute two days later by noting, "Our total investment in Maryland and Delaware rose 26.3 percent in 2012 compared to levels before Kevin [Ezell] became president, and NAMB's total funding has remained at that level or higher since that time."

A Feb. 26 letter to McRaney from NAMB's attorneys stated NAMB did not "cause your departure from your employment with the local convention." Similarly, a March 24 statement from the BCMD categorized as "false" "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."

NAMB's state partnerships

In a blog post last month, Ezell affirmed the integrity and effectiveness of NAMB's Strategic Cooperation Agreements with Baptist state conventions.

Ezell wrote in a May 17 post at NAMB.net, "It's important for me to say that we are striving to ensure that NAMB's partnerships are positive and working well."

He added, "It's a privilege to work with state leaders who are passionate about reaching people for Christ and committed to pushing back lostness in North America. The overwhelming majority of state executives we work with are very competent and strategic leaders. They deserve your full support and engagement at the state level. NAMB will stay focused on the task before us and not back up one inch on seeking excellence and accountability every step of the way when it comes to the stewardship of resources that God and Southern Baptists entrust to us."

Ezell wrote that NAMB is "investing more money" in pioneer-area state conventions than it did six years ago when he became president, "but it is money that reflects our priorities" and includes "accountability." NAMB has said on numerous occasions during Ezell's tenure that its top priority is church planting.

The confidentiality clause in all Strategic Cooperation Agreements appears at the request of some state conventions, Ezell wrote.

"While I would prefer that Southern Baptists, and all the state conventions, know what the funding budgets are for the other states, NAMB has honored the request for confidentiality and will continue to do so," Ezell wrote. "Any state, however, can opt to share its Cooperation Agreement and funding budget publicly by simply notifying NAMB."

Ezell provided a link to NAMB's agreement with the State Convention of Baptists in Indiana (SCBI), indicating the Indiana convention granted permission to do so. The posted agreement does not include any funding amounts or formulas.

SCBI executive director Cecil Seagle stated in a May 18 Facebook post that he has not experienced "intimidation," "strong arming" or "duress related to a perceived 'gag order' imposed by the North American Mission Board."

"I can only speak for SCBI," Seagle wrote, "but I must speak of us -- NAMB is not in control, in fact, has never sought control of SCBI's church planting. SCBI has a plan and is fully in charge with a strategic, engaged, reliable partner -- NAMB. NAMB cannot fire me! SCBI Executive Board can!"

A longstanding discussion

NAMB's agreements with partner conventions have been a topic of discussion among Southern Baptists since at least 2010.

That year SBC's Great Commission Task Force (GCTF) recommended that NAMB phase out over a seven-year period its former model of "Cooperative Agreements" with state conventions and "establish a new pattern of strategic partnership with state conventions that will penetrate lostness and ensure greater responsiveness to the Southern Baptist Convention and greater effectiveness of NAMB in the appointment of missionary personnel and church planters."

The GCTF argued Cooperative Agreements "return[ed] a tremendous percentage of CP monies back to the regions where Southern Baptists are most greatly concentrated and often [left] NAMB with insufficient mobility to appoint personnel directly and ensure missional focus."

Messengers to the 2010 SBC annual meeting in Orlando, Fla., affirmed the GCTF's recommendation -- along with many of its other suggestions for the convention -- by what BP estimated at the time as a 3-to-1 margin.

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. BP reports on missions, ministry and witness advanced through the Cooperative Program and on news related to Southern Baptists' concerns nationally and globally.
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