NAMB building, Alpharetta
NEW ORLEANS — Citing that a district court’s ruling was “premature,” the lawsuit brought by Will McRaney against the North American Mission Board has received a second wind from the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals.
McRaney alleges that his June 2015 departure from the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network as executive missional strategist was influenced by NAMB leadership. Furthermore, he claims that NAMB personnel slandered him and interfered with his opportunity for speaking engagements after he left that position.
The Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network had previously been known as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, a name to which it has returned.
The lower court cited the ecclesiastical abstention doctrine, also known as the religious autonomy doctrine, in dismissing the case in April of last year. Yesterday, July 16, the Circuit Court pointed out that “[t]he First Amendment does not categorically insulate religious relationships from judicial scrutiny, for to do so would necessarily extend constitutional protection to the secular components of these relationships.”
The appeal hinged on if the claims in McRaney’s lawsuit could be adjudicated while steering clear of religious, or ecclesiastical, areas for NAMB and the state convention. “The relevant question is whether it appears certain that resolution … will require the court to address purely ecclesiastical questions,” said the circuit court’s decision. “At this stage, the answer is no.”
The latest decision means that McRaney’s legal team can call witnesses, including NAMB President Kevin Ezell, to testify under oath.
Facts presented in the July 16 decision include:
- NAMB and BCMD entering into a Strategic Partnership Agreement (SPA) that addressed issues of personnel, cooperation, and funding
- McRaney declining to adopt a new SPA on behalf of the state convention
- NAMB’s notification to the BCMD that it would terminate the SPA in a year
- The ending of McRaney’s employment and his being uninvited to a speak at a mission symposium
- A photo of McRaney being posted at the NAMB building in Alpharetta.
McRaney charged NAMB with making false statements about him to the BCMD, specifically that he had refused to meet with Ezell to discuss a new SPA. Furthermore, the court decision says, McRaney accused NAMB of influencing the decision that led his being uninvited to the symposium and that his picture posted in the building communicated him as being “public enemy #1 of NAMB.”
The Fifth Circuit Court also said that “if further proceedings and factual development reveal that McRaney’s claims cannot be resolved without deciding purely ecclesiastical questions, the court is free to reconsider whether it is appropriate to dismiss some or all of McRaney’s claims.”
“… At this time,” the court concluded, “it is not certain that the resolution … will require the court to interfere with matters of church government, matters of faith, or matters of doctrine.”