No “ifs” “ands” or “buts” about it. Off the record, national leaders verbally acknowledge it. The SBC Trustee system is broken. The Trustee men and women who are serving are not broken and are people of goodwill, but the systems and the climates that surround their work is broken.
In the following article, I will lay out the challenges as I see them, recognizing that I have a limited, but highly personal experience that informs matters related to SBC Trustees. I will open with an example from my situation before moving to affirm the people and vital roles of our SBC Trustees. I will then explore some current challenges that have demanded much from our Trustees of three of our SBC entities. I will sprinkle my experience throughout and then conclude with information on the primary question of the article which relates to the Oversight and Accountability workings of the Trustees under the New NAMB.
One SBC Deacons’s Experience…
A lifelong faithful and generous SBC deacon in his 80’s made several calls to NAMB Trustees after the mailing of my “Letter of Concern” to all the Trustees. Prior to making the calls, he contacted me to ask if I minded if he called several Trustees to inquire about my Letter of Concern he had read. He said he was not seeking to argue or debate with Trustees, but to ask one primary question, “Have you read the materials Dr. McRaney sent to you?” Sadly, the typical answer he received was “no” or “I don’t have to answer your question” or “I stand behind Dr. Ezell one-hundred percent.” Oh, and let me share one more, “Dr. Ezell has been keeping us abreast.”
Serious and specific claims were made against Dr. Ezell in his duties as the President of NAMB in the “Letter of Concern.” The above brush-off answers are telling and seem not to reflect even a desire to hear, understand, investigate and respond to an honest question that fall under the duties of NAMB Trustees. This reveals multiple problems in our trustee system or in our training of SBC Trustees as to their roles and how to receive and address concerns of Southern Baptists.
SBC Trustees: Assumptions, Expectations and Preparations…
Southern Baptists assume that the men and women who are selected and volunteer of their time and energies to serve in these roles are people of high character and faithfully involved in SBC churches and causes. It is also assumed that the trustees will serve as ambassadors and at times public relations advocates.
However, Trustees are not employees of the agency nor serve the agency head. They are elected by and represent Southern Baptist members who love their denomination and support it with their prayers and finances. Their roles move much beyond advocacy in crucial and critical times such as: financial prioritization of decreasing or increasing resources, major staff and/or strategic direction changes, character issues of the leadership, or matters of wider SBC partnership and credibility changes that impact the trust and goodwill of SBC members. Trustees represent Southern Baptist members who love their denomination and support it with their prayers and finances.
The ministry environment around each agency is constantly changing so doing business as usual is not a stance any Board and agency/entity can take. SBC entities are served well by Trustees who: bring their ministry experience, inquiring minds, and thinking caps to all matters related to the entity. Trustees serve well by being prepared learners, courageously asking and examining questions, and exercising discernment. They need to be willing to explore ministry and strategic assumptions, to seek truth in addressing concerns and receive challenges concerning an entity’s storyline.
The SBC may have a training plan for Trustees, but if not, the SBC Executive leadership needs a plan to prepare and train all the SBC Trustees to assist them in fulfilling their roles. A well-informed group of Trustees can and should play vital roles in advancing the SBC and in preventing major problems from negatively impacting their agency/entity and the SBC. However, if we want trustees to serve mostly as rubber stamping advocates on matters of high importance, NOTHING needs to change in our system.
Healthy Oversight and Accountability
In the SBC, we want the leaders of our national agencies and entities to aggressively provide leadership, but for that to work, we need adequate and informed oversight. If not, NAMB and other entities risk compromising the mission and making themselves vulnerable. The consequences are large if leaders run afoul in their character, strategically, or in their use of resources or use tactics or attitudes that damage the wider SBC mission. Had NAMB Trustees actually responded appropriately to examine the claims as they became aware of them in my situation in February 2016, the outcome likely would have been determined by Christian brothers and sisters, not a judge and jury.
Trustees play a vital role that demands much. Being a Trustee is a stewardship and trust to be honored. If Trustee boards fail to provide informed and courageous oversight, they have betrayed their trust with Southern Baptists. The Boards should be people individually and collectively of goodwill, but they must also develop accurate perceptions of reality. Our sign should read, “Wanted: Independent Thinkers of Goodwill”
General Concerns regarding SBC Trustee Boards
Agency heads can be revered to the extent that asking questions or expressing a different viewpoint or concerns, gets you sidelined and labeled “not a team player.” Who wants that? Who wants to serve on a Board and be left off or removed from influential positions or committees as has been noted by current Board members when questions are raised? Who wants to be on the outside of the club when things on the inside look so good?
In personal phone calls and in hallways, a few trustees are saying they have been marginalized for asking questions. One Trustee claims he was removed from the executive leadership team for raising questions.
A healthy climate for trustees would include the welcoming, in fact invitation, of probing questions and inquiries on the host of important matters presented to them by agency leaders.
Recent Concerns in Our SBC Entities
In recent months, three SBC Trustee Boards have faced challenges that have placed significant demands on the Trustees. Were the Trustees prepared to handle such demanding challenges? The ERLC Trustees had to address concerns related to the words, attitudes, and views of our ERLC President and how SBC churches and members were processing their concerns. Many believe the concerns were ignored until a mega church decided to escrow in what would amount $1 million in annual CP gifts to evaluate their involvement and address their concerns.
Our IMB President inherited an organization with a financial crisis. While IMB income was stable (not in significant decline), the previous IMB Presidents and Trustee Boards overspent the income of the IMB by $200-$250 million in less than a decade. How did this happen? Where was the oversight and accountability? Did the Board not recognize the emerging crisis before IMB had to sell properties around the world some of which were being used to train locals to impact generations to come? The necessary radical changes involved reducing the mission force by some 600 IMB missionaries in order to balance the budget, yet almost 1,200 missionaries left the field. That force is now down to under 3,600 from close to 5,000. Were the Trustees involved or why were they not involved in how the mission force was reduced? Reports indicate that our most senior and experienced missionaries were encouraged to return to the US. Hard calls, but could it have been avoided with informed oversight and financial accountability?
NAMB Trustees – Asleep at the Wheel?
Under the New NAMB, Dr. Ezell’s character has resulting in the damaging of Christian leaders, eroding trust and goodwill among State and Associational partners, while the SBC is experiencing alarming statistical declines under the current strategies and financial priorities in evangelism and church planting. Questions have arisen and indications are that NAMB Trustees have collectively been “asleep at the wheel.”
These fellow servants of God, several which are my personal friends, did not expect nor were they prepared to deal with a NAMB President who has conducted himself in ways that would demand their confrontational involvement nor could they have expected to see such alarming results from the new strategies and priorities. No Trustee could have expected our NAMB President to have occasion to be untruthful and vindictive, unless they sought insights form others who have experienced it.
I have recently prepared and posted a series of articles that examine the following categories of matters, Is the New NAMB Really Working? And How Would You Know?, a question Dr. Ezell asked and answered with “Yes” before the SBC in St. Louis in June 2016. However, the facts reveal the answer is a resounding “No”.
An examination of the New NAMB reveals troubling times with the current strategies, partnerships, and financial priorities. The facts reveal remarkable downward trends in the number of baptisms , the number of church plants, and baptism ratios. SBC churches are actually accomplishing significantly less the last six years. Partnerships are strained in new places across North America over the tactics used and the failing strategies. NAMB has defunded jointly funded evangelism staff in State Conventions and dismantled the vast majority of the national evangelism team serving Southern Baptists. Are our NAMB Trustees aware of these facts?
Facts Reveal Troubles with New NAMB Strategy, Partnerships and Financial Priorities
Are and will Southern Baptists be stronger and effective in the future in advancing the gospel and evangelizing a nation with the strategies and tactics of Dr. Ezell and the New NAMB? Are Southern Baptists aware of the radical shifts in funding for 2017, where twice as much is being invested into buying homes for planters ($12 million) than in evangelism nationally ($6.3 million)? How do NAMB Trustees and SB members process investing $62 million (see p. 2 in Financial Management) in a project to purchase homes for planters over about six years while slashing the evangelism budget at NAMB and cutting evangelism in State Conventions? How have we increased the church planting budget by 3.5 times and eliminated essential parts of evangelism ONLY to see 444 fewer churches planted each year and see baptisms drop on average over 45,00/year during the last six years? How did NAMB accumulate $285 million unrestricted financial reserves?
Facts Reveal Dr. Ezell’s Character
The evidence is documented, multi-faceted, witness verified, and unimpeachable, even against cross examination. The evidence reveals: Dr. Ezell lied on multiple occasions in writing, pressured and with his signature threatened the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware — its leaders, staff, missionaries, along with church planters and evangelistic ministry efforts. Dr. Ezell made reckless false written accusations against me as their Executive Director (link is to one of several). He made a secret threat to BCMD President Bill Warren to withhold NAMB money as long as I remained Exec Director. (later came into the light to several pastors individually and in groups) Dr. Ezell then rewarded BCMD leaders after my termination with an extra $675,000 one year and an extra $825,000 for the next year. (Follow the Money Trail) (BCMD Board Minutes and Budgets were used to calculate the $675K & $825K) Ezell also received the BCMD’s coveted signatures to accept the NAMB-designed NEW Partnership Agreement giving NAMB complete controls over church planting in MD/DE! This after the BCMD unanimously reject that offer less than six months prior. Where is the accountability?
Trustee Accountability or Legal Justice and Restitution
I sent numerous written concerns to NAMB Trustees, both individually and collectively in 2015 & 2016. At first I received silence and then repeated unexamined denials by the Trustees (only 20 hrs. after receiving my concerns) and denials by attorneys (my response). In the face of the denials, refusal to address the documented concerns, and continued damages to me and my family by Dr. Ezell, I secured an attorney and filed legal complaints of libel and interference against Dr. Ezell and NAMB leadership. My numerous contacts with NAMB Trustees have been documented and they are available for review available for review.
Where were the NAMB Trustees or their Officers in doing the biblical thing: to hear and cross examine those involved? Where are the trustees in providing Biblical restitution to me and the BCMD for Dr. Ezell’s actions? Where is the Biblical accountability for Dr. Ezell?
NAMB Trustees Response and Claim of Investigation
NAMB Trustees failures in their investigation of my claims regarding NAMB’s President actions is a very personal example, but demonstrates the lack of accountability exercised. But, it really is all one needs to know to determine that our current Trustee system has significant deficiencies that are exposing our agencies, entities and SBC to unnecessary legal risk and more importantly risk in the loss of confidence in trust with the loss of the ability to self-correct when problems are discovered. Ignoring, financially draining, and denying the claims of the messenger, actually the victim, is not acceptable.
After the NAMB Trustee’s June 2016 public press statement on completing a “thorough examination and review”, a MD/DE Pastor Steve Wolverton immediately wrote Dr. Ezell and NAMB Trustee Chairman Herring separately. He knew Dr. Ezell was guilty of making false claims against Dr. McRaney and financially threatening the BCMD as long as Dr. McRaney remained the Executive Director, effectively encouraging termination. Wolverton wrote, “I want you to know that Dr. McRaney is telling the truth… Please don’t continue to sweep this under the rug.” Pastor Wolverton wrote that the claim of “thorough examination and review” was a “charade”. He knew NAMB Trustee leaders did not talk with him, but also did not talk with me or others who knew related details and subsequent cover-up by NAMB and by BCMD leadership. An investigation was supposedly completed without talking with the victim/accuser or cross-examining Dr. Ezell’s statements by me or my representatives. Is that oversight and accountability, or a “sweep under the rug” and “hope it does not reappear” approach?
Ezell’s Public and Private Threat
Dr. Ezell made a secret threat to withhold SBC money in the spring of 2015, AFTER on Feb. 6, 2015 I received a unanimous vote affirming my leadership and in support of my leadership in NAMB matters. On June 8, 2015, without cause, I was terminated. Soon after the BCMD received an extra $675,000 and the BCMD was strong-armed into canceling at 2012 Partnership Agreement to give Ezell and NAMB 100% control over church planting and defund jointly funded evangelism staff in a NAMB-created 2014 version of the Partnership Agreement. These facts are verifiable and will stand under cross examination. Where is the accountability? NAMB Trustees said they completed a “thorough examination and review.”
Damages by Ezell Continued
A SBC Executive Committee member revealed in Nov. 2016 that Dr. Ezell or those under his leadership posted an 8×10 picture of me at the Welcome Desk at NAMB headquarters in Alpharetta. When asked by my attorney, “Why?” NAMB attorneys relayed that it was because of security risks. What else really needs to be said! Nothing, but I will say I have yet to be revealed additional evidence of Dr. Ezell’s and NAMB’s involvement in interfering with my work and speaking engagements this fall and similar knowledge about another minister.
The record is clear, I actively pursued approaches to seek repentance and restitution in personal and small group ways first to limit involvement. However, should the court case proceed, other truths and pastors will necessarily be brought into the light. But, the Bible reminds us, “the truth will set us free.”
Alan D. Atchinson of the Capstone Report wrote, Capstone Article
It wasn’t enough to get a man fired; now Dr. Ezell and his bureaucrats want to destroy him too by preventing his participation in ministry events or earning a living. It is despicable. It is a symptom of everything wrong in the Southern Baptist Convention. What enables men like Dr. Russell Moore at the ERLC and Dr. Ezell at NAMB to behave in smug, condescending ways? It is the enabling of a trustee system that doesn’t do its job. Trustees function as a rubberstamp to validate and support the entity chief’s actions. Trustees do not possess the influence, the will or the power to hold entities accountable.
Blind Trust Expressed – Maybe the Problem?
In the joint meeting with NAMB and BCMD leadership on March 11, 2015, a revealing statement and sentiment was made. To the shock of 10 people in the room, NAMB Chairman Herring said in his opening remarks affirming his trust in Dr. Ezell, “if Kevin said the sky was purple, I would believe him.” Let me tell you: the sky is not purple no matter what Dr. Ezell says, unless of course you are wearing NAMB-issued rose-colored glasses.
The facts answered the question: Is the New NAMB Really Working in the areas of Oversight and Accountability? NO!
It is time for a new set of lenses.