A former Baptist state convention leader who claimed last year his firing was orchestrated by the head of a Southern Baptist Convention agency has filed a defamation lawsuit alleging, among other things, his picture was displayed at the welcome desk of the agency’s headquarters in a manner similar to a most-wanted-criminal poster at a post office.
“What do you think of when you think of someone’s picture being posted some place, in a public place?” Will McRaney, former executive director of Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware, asked in an online video.
“What would you think of if your picture was posted at the welcome desk of the North American Mission Board?” he continued. “What would that mean in light of some of the difficulties and challenges that we’ve been experiencing lately, when the president, and/or people associated with him, takes your picture and posts it there?”
McRaney, a former seminary professor, said it happened to him. McRaney led the two-state convention also known as the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network for just under two years before he says NAMB President Kevin Ezell pressured BCM/D leaders to fire him or risk losing $1 million a year in denominational funding.
McRaney displayed a photo reportedly taken by a friend that his wife, Sandy, described as a picture of her husband taped to the wall beneath a window inside the welcome desk at NAMB headquarters in Alpharetta, Ga.
“It sends some very negative signals, as if something is wrong with me, that I’ve done something,” Will McRaney said. “Actually, their attorneys have told us that they do this for security reasons.”
McRaney’s sudden departure from Maryland/Delaware in 2015 was originally reported as a resignation, but he said later he was terminated after resisting strategy changes consistent with recommendations of a Great Commission Task Force approved by the Southern Baptist Convention in 2010 giving the North American Mission Board more direct control of church planting in Baptist state conventions.
Last June NAMB trustees signed off on a report saying that after “a thorough examination and review” of the agency’s interaction with the Mid-Atlantic Network, they were satisfied and considered the matter “concluded.”
McRaney questioned how “complete and thorough” the trustee investigation could have been without “a single conversation with the person bringing the accusations and actually the one who is the victim in these matters,” but said he had laid the matter to rest until he ran into people who told him Ezell tried to get him disinvited from speaking at events that are part of how he earns a living.
The lawsuit filed April 7 in Winston County, Miss., accuses the North American Mission Board of slander, libel, intentional interference with business relationships and intentional infliction of emotional distress.
McRaney, who now lives in Winter Park, Fla., claims last October he was uninvited to speak at a large mission emphasis in Louisville, Miss., “as a direct result of intentional interference” by NAMB employees, robbing him of an opportunity to promote and sell his books on mission strategy.
He says something similar happened in Florida, but he managed to keep that engagement.
McRaney claims the posted photo of him at NAMB headquarters “communicates he was not to be trusted and public enemy #1 of NAMB” and was “purposely designed to damage” his reputation and character.
He seeks unspecified amounts in actual and punitive damages.
NAMB officials denied McRaney’s accusations in comments to Baptist Press.
“No one from NAMB has attempted or will attempt to interfere with Dr. McRaney’s ministry efforts, and we have not asked anyone else to do so,” the SBC news service quoted statements reportedly received on April 12 and April 13.
McRaney said he turned to the courts as a last resort “since everyone else either wants to turn their head or act like it doesn’t exist or actually become an accessory.”
Sandy McRaney said in the video the couple decided to share their story with the public because “this is not something that’s been covered at all in our Baptist Press.”
“You should be able to trust your leaders,” she said. “You should be. That’s why this has been so hard for people to believe.”
She said she is sorry that she and her husband have to be the bearers of bad news.
“I’m sorry that it happened to us,” she said. “It’s been a 22-month nightmare in that regard, but God has been sovereign and he’ll continue to see us through, but it was up to us to do the speaking, and we are not going to be silent when God has told us to reveal the truth.”