It hasn’t been a good week for Southern Baptist Convention entities defending themselves against lawsuits. Court filings in the two most prominent such cases have accused SBC leadership of intentionally misleading the court and, in one case, committing perjury.
The perjury claim was made against Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where an unnamed woman (Jane Roe in court filings) accuses the seminary and its former president, Paige Patterson, of not responding properly to her report of being stalked, raped and repeatedly abused by a male student who also was a seminary employee with access to her campus living space. Roe also accuses the seminary of intentionally stalling and misleading the court to avoid bringing the case to trial.
Meanwhile, an expert witness for the prosecution in Will McRaney’s case against the SBC North American Mission Board says one of NAMB’s key defenses is not true and not consistent with Baptist ecclesiology.
In both cases, plaintiffs accuse the SBC entities of misrepresenting facts to avoid scrutiny.
Roe v. Southwestern
Roe recently filed a motion for sanctions and summary judgment against Southwestern Seminary.
“SWBTS and its counsel have engaged in a concerted effort to conceal evidence and misrepresent facts to comport with this false narrative.”
“To defend against Jane Roe’s claims, SWBTS advances a carefully crafted narrative: The seminary is depicted as a safe, sheltered learning environment devoid of sexual harassment, sexual assault, stalking or harassment while Roe is portrayed as a greedy, promiscuous liar who made a false report of rape to the seminary and to the police,” she asserts. “Throughout this litigation, SWBTS and its counsel have engaged in a concerted effort to conceal evidence and misrepresent facts to comport with this false narrative.”
She contends the seminary “withheld relevant and discoverable evidence, essentially ignoring requests for production of documents by lodging frivolous objections. When required by the court to respond, SWBTS simply denied documents existed. SWBTS suppressed conflicting evidence and solicited false deposition testimony to establish ‘facts.’”
She also contends the seminary denied the existence of documents that suddenly became available more than two years later.
“On the eve of the parties’ conference to discuss preparation of the joint pre-trial order, SWBTS produced documents it previously denied existed — documents that expose perjury and demand that SWBTS re-write its narrative.”
Roe not only asks the court to rule summarily in her favor but to sanction the seminary for its alleged perjury.
What purportedly has been found is materials that corroborate the declarations of two other women who claim they were sexually assaulted — one “expelled for sexual misconduct after seeking counseling for an abusive relationship while the male student involved was not disciplined.”
Another purportedly includes “a campus police report and 11 video recordings reflecting more than three hours of interviews with another declarant, a former SWBTS student who reported that she had been sexually assaulted by an SWBTS professor.”
“SWBTS and Patterson engaged in a pattern and practice of discounting women who reported sexual harassment or sexual assault, discouraging them from pursuing criminal action, and disciplining them instead for ethics code violations.”
“The eleventh-hour production of these documents and video recordings reveals SWBTS’ bad faith in failing to cooperate with discovery,” Roe states. “The documents and video recordings themselves reveal much more. The documents and video recordings confirm plaintiff’s allegations that SWBTS and Patterson engaged in a pattern and practice of discounting women who reported sexual harassment or sexual assault, discouraging them from pursuing criminal action, and disciplining them instead for ethics code violations.”
Roe also contends that two key witnesses relied upon by the seminary in its defense perjured themselves in previous testimony.
McRaney v. NAMB
The NAMB case involves allegations by Will McRaney, former head of the Baptist State Convention of Maryland and Delaware, who was fired allegedly because NAMB officials exerted a threat of withholding funds from the two-state convention if the board didn’t remove McRaney. He also alleges NAMB and several officials defamed him and caused him to lose income through a smear campaign.
NAMB has claimed this is an employment-related suit involving church governance and therefore falls outside the court’s jurisdiction.
Barry Hankins, professor of history at Baylor University, has filed a deposition with the court as an expert witness.
“Employees of state conventions do not work for NAMB, and therefore do not work for the SBC.”
“NAMB has no authority over state conventions,” he testified. “Rather, NAMB partners with state conventions and associations, often providing funds, in joint efforts of church planting, evangelism and compassion ministries. If a NAMB employee were found to be in theological error, misconduct, or incompetence, NAMB could fire that employee. If, however, NAMB disapproved of the work of a state convention, beyond negotiation, expressions of disapproval, and the like, the only recourse NAMB would have would be to cease cooperation with the state convention. In short, employees of state conventions do not work for NAMB, and therefore do not work for the SBC.”
Also, neither NAMB nor the state convention is rightly considered a “church,” he added.
Then he lays out these statements of fact:
- NAMB was not McRaney’s employer.
- This case is not an employment-related dispute. “Rather it is a dispute between Dr. McRaney, as a former employee of the BCMD, and a separate, independent and autonomous Baptist entity, which Dr. McRaney never worked for.”
- “The notion that this lawsuit is an ‘internal dispute over who should lead a church’ is wrong and based on a fundamental misunderstanding of the relevant parties and organizations.”
- Neither is NAMB a “supporting organization” of the state convention. Hankins said a separation agreement between McRaney and the state convention should give NAMB no cover. “Supporting organization” is a specific legal and IRS term, and NAMB does not meet that definition in relation to the state convention, he asserted.
- There is no structural hierarchy in the SBC, meaning the SBC is not an “umbrella” organization over state and regional conventions.
NAMB contends it is a “supporting organization” of the state convention because it provided financial and non-financial support to the group.
Hankins rebuts: “It is my opinion, as a scholar and observer of Southern Baptist churches and organizations, that NAMB’s purported interpretation of the term ‘supporting organization’ in the separation agreement is wrong.”
Based on financial transactions alone — the state convention sends more money to NAMB than NAMB provides back for services such as church planting — “a more apt description” is that the state convention is instead a “supporting organization” of NAMB.
“There is no valid factual foundation for NAMB’s First Amendment defense in this case.”
Further, the professor states: “There is no valid factual foundation for NAMB’s First Amendment defense in this case.” That’s because unlike other denominational bodies that are connected in governance, all Baptist entities are autonomous.
“The cases cited by NAMB concerning ecclesiastical abstention and ministerial exception in the briefs pertaining to the McRaney case concerned hierarchical or presbyterial denominations. Baptists are different. … The only way Baptists could make such a First Amendment claim would be if the dispute was within an individual congregation, within the SBC, within a state convention, or within a local association. Any dispute between or among any of those entities … would be a dispute between separate and independent entities and not an inner-church dispute.”
Had McRaney sued the state convention for wrongful termination, the ecclesial exemption might apply, Hankins said, because McRaney was an employee of that organization.
“Whatever theological disagreements existed between Dr. McRaney and NAMB are immaterial to the case at hand because those disagreements could not lead to NAMB itself dismissing him as executive director of the BCMD. NAMB has no religious authority over the BCMD.”
And in a sharp rebuke to NAMB’s defense tactic, Hankins said: “NAMB’s position in this case is inconsistent with, and contradicted by, longstanding Southern Baptist polity.” And this: “NAMB’s distortion of the First Amendment threatens religious freedom.”