A group that has been dogging the Southern Baptist Convention’s North American Mission Board for alleged abuses launched a new “whistleblower” website Feb. 7.
The site includes links to previous articles and new content created by a group called Reform NAMB Now. No leadership of the movement is identified by name, and the key feature of the new site is a call for others to submit whistleblower allegations anonymously.
The anonymous organizers issued a call for greater transparency from NAMB, which is the SBC’s domestic missions agency that today largely focuses on church planting.
A NAMB spokesman told BNG the Alpharetta, Ga.-based agency has no public response to the whistleblower effort.
“SBC leaders underwriting the NAMB Whistleblower reporting site represent past and present Southern Baptist leaders serving local churches, associations and state conventions.”
A news release announcing the new website said: “SBC leaders underwriting the NAMB Whistleblower reporting site represent past and present Southern Baptist leaders serving local churches, associations and state conventions. This group of concerned leaders have witnessed the unacceptable behavior by NAMB representatives and are confident that members of SBC churches want to see the highest standards for conduct and practice from their domestic mission board. NAMB leadership and trustees must be held to the highest standards and practices to operate righteously in the light before God and mission givers.”
NAMB’s church-planting strategies and allocation of funds have been challenged publicly by a large number of state Baptist convention executives and other denominational leaders. That shifting strategy and alleged strong-arm tactics also are at the heart of a current lawsuit brought by Will McRaney, who was fired as leader of the Baptist Convention of Maryland and Delaware in what he believes was retribution for opposing NAMB leadership. McRaney maintains his own website where he publicly discusses his case and his overarching concerns about NAMB and its leadership.
Cleaning up NAMB was a campaign platform of Randy Adams, executive director of the Northwest Baptist Convention, when he ran unsuccessfully for SBC president in June 2021.
Reports frequently circulate among denominational insiders of non-public allegations of a micromanaged and sometimes difficult work environment at NAMB, where some employees have reported they believe their personal social media accounts are being monitored. Previously, NAMB leaders have denied all allegations of wrongdoing, although it is rare for NAMB to offer a public statement on issues.
The agency has assets of $440 million and operates with a $132 million annual budget.
The management of those assets is one of the chief concerns of the Reform NAMB group, which lists “failing strategy,” “misusing funds,” “abusing power” and “violation of bylaws” as four problems.
The Reform NAMB website alleges that NAMB officials have “misused the sacrificial mission dollars of Southern Baptists in favor of enriching themselves, friends or using it to bully those that stand in their way. As a result, we are much less effective in missions than ever before as shown by our baptism and church planting rates. We have called on NAMB and its trustees to answer questions and address issues, but it has been met with silence.”
A central theme is how the agency reportedly has doubled its expenditures on church planting while actually producing fewer church plants.
As with other internal critics of NAMB, a central theme is how the agency reportedly has doubled its expenditures on church planting while actually producing fewer church plants. The group has documented that NAMB has spent tens of millions of dollars purchasing real estate across the country. NAMB leaders have said these are homes used by strategically placed church planting families.
Reform NAMB seeks seven policy changes:
- Remove non-disclosure agreements between state Baptist conventions and NAMB relating to the strategic partnerships.
- Remove non-disparagement clauses from current and past employee contracts.
- “Prohibit the use of private threats, whether financial or legal, against state conventions, journalists, trustees or other SBC members.”
- “Require trustees to investigate both the offended and offending parties when concerns or violations are reported.”
- Provide clear church planting data so that SBC members can review the claims.
- Report which churches are receiving resources, funds or real estate, “to ensure that resources are appropriately being allocated and not favoring NAMB leaders, trustees or mega churches.”
- “Provide clear expense reporting, such as using a Form 990, so that SBC members can verify that their donations are being handled appropriately.” NAMB, like most denominational agencies, is classified by the IRS as a church and therefore does not have to provide the same kinds of public accounting about sources of income and the nature of its compensation and expenses as other charities.
NAMB is governed by a 47-member board of trustees elected by messengers to SBC annual meetings. The current chairman of the trustee board is Eric Thomas, pastor of First Baptist Church of Norfolk, Va.
In a strange twist of historical irony, one of Thomas’ predecessors at the Norfolk church was Bob Reccord, who left that pastorate in 1997 to become president of NAMB, where he served nearly nine years until forced to resign amid allegations of mismanagement. At that time, NAMB employee morale was so low that trustees implemented an internal whistleblower hotline to receive tips, according to a report in the May 11, 2006, edition of the Georgia Christian Index.
Reccord was followed at NAMB by Geoff Hammond, who resigned after clashing with board members amid allegations of cronyism and low staff morale. Hammond served only two years as NAMB president and was followed by the agency’s current leader, Kevin Ezell, who was hired in 2010.
Ezell came to the post from the pastorate of Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, Ky., where one of his most prominent parishioners was Al Mohler, president of Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Other notable SBC figures who are former members of Highview include Russell Moore, former head of the SBC’s Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission; and Danny Akin, current president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Another former member and a former staff member at Highview is Kevin Smith, who became executive director of the Maryland and Delaware Convention after McRaney was fired under pressure from Ezell. Smith was publicly recommended to that position by Moore and Akin. Smith left the executive director position last year to return to a local church pastorate.
SBC observers — and particularly Ezell’s critics — have made much of the fact that at last summer’s SBC annual meeting, NAMB scheduled a church-planter conference in conjunction with the annual meeting and paid for as many as 150 church planters and their spouses to attend. Those NAMB-supported messengers are considered by some to have won Ed Litton the SBC presidency that began as a four-way race with Mohler as one of the candidates.
Note: An earlier version of this article incorrectly stated that Paul Chitwood, current president of the SBC International Mission Board, was a previous member at Highview Baptist Church. A spokesperson for the IMB said he had not been a member there.