Kevin Ezell, president of the North American Mission Board (NAMB), released a statement May 17 to refute allegations that he misused contractual agreements to exercise undue influence over state convention operations. The blog post did not identify critics or specific allegations, but it came amid calls for NAMB trustees to investigate claims made by former executive director of the Mid-Atlantic Baptist Network (MABN) Will McRaney.
McRaney said in an open letter that Ezell “strong-armed” the MABN (also known as the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware) by abusing the power of a “Strategic Cooperation Agreement,” threatening to cut funds and issuing “gag orders.” He also claimed in an email to Southern Baptist news editors that Ezell used “bullying tactics” against convention leaders to remove him from office in June 2015.
McRaney uploaded a cache of documents to his website in early 2016. The material includes, among other things, event timelines leading up to his departure from MABN and statements about an alleged decline in cooperation between NAMB and state conventions. McRaney also penned multiple open letters to NAMB trustees and other Southern Baptists.
Both NAMB and MABN deny the claim that Ezell forced McRaney out of his position.
“[A]ny suggestion that the North American Mission Board (NAMB) or any of its officers influenced the separation of Dr. McRaney’s employment from the Network is false,” MABN said in a statement March 24. NAMB added the same day, “No one at NAMB forced or orchestrated the events leading up to [McRaney’s] decision to resign.”
In addition, no convention leaders have publicly substantiated McRaney’s accusations against Ezell.
A Southern Baptist blog site, SBC Today, recently announced a petition calling for NAMB trustees to investigate allegations. It contained 59 signatures at press time.
Ezell reassured Southern Baptists in a blog post, “It’s important for me to say that we are striving to ensure that NAMB’s partnerships are positive and working well. We have an enormous and important task, and we face an enemy that doesn’t play fair. It’s a privilege to work with state leaders who are passionate about reaching people for Christ and committed to pushing back lostness in North America. The overwhelming majority of state executives we work with are very competent and strategic leaders.”
The State Convention of Baptists in Indiana (SCBI) allowed Ezell to provide their agreement as an example. It includes clauses related to missionary employment and termination, employee conduct, cooperative budgets, entity relations and other operating procedures.
The documents establish terms of joint ministry and guidelines for managing financial resources, said Ezell. NAMB’s annual operating budget is approximately $120 million.
A number of state conventions requested that NAMB include confidentiality clauses in the contracts, said Ezell. For example, Indiana’s Strategic Cooperation Agreement stipulates that each party keep the terms of the contract private, unless both parties consent. Each party must also agree not to publicly criticize the other, resolving differences in private.
“The documents all include a line stating that each party agrees to settle disagreements privately and not speak negatively about each other publicly and so honor our biblical obligation to one another,” Ezell said. “It was never intended to be seen as a ‘gag order,’ but simply a commitment of charity and trust.”
NAMB partners with churches, local associations and state conventions to “reach North America for Christ,” said Ezell.
“The [Strategic Cooperation Agreement] is really just about the nuts and bolts of how we work together and stipulates that both parties will operate in ‘mutual respect’ and in a ‘peer-to-peer’ relationship.”
He concluded, “NAMB will stay focused on the task before us and not back up one inch on seeking excellence and accountability every step of the way when it comes to the stewardship of resources that God and Southern Baptists entrust to us.”
In a post on SCBI’s Facebook page, the state convention’s executive director, Cecil Seagle, said “My journey with NAMB president Kevin Ezell and [vice president] Steve Davis has proven them to be men of their word, utterly reliable, fully engaged at my request in every effort to reach the 6.5 million lost people in Indiana with the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Milton Hollifield Jr., executive director-treasurer of the Baptist State Convention of North Carolina (BSC), said, “I have worked extensively with Kevin Ezell since he became president of NAMB. As executive director-treasurer of the [BSC], I have negotiated covenant agreements and developed numerous annual partnership budgets with Ezell and Davis, in relation to NAMB’s financial contribution for some of our work in North Carolina. These men have always exhibited integrity and fairness in our working relationship and they have always fulfilled their commitments in their partnership agreements with BSC.
“I believe that Ezell is passionate about reaching North America with the gospel and I believe he recognizes the necessity of working with state partners to achieve this. Ezell has never attempted to intrude in the business of our state convention or exert unwelcomed influence about any decision this state convention has made. I value the opportunity to work in partnership with him and NAMB, and I appreciate their desire to help North Carolina Baptists reach and disciple people that God has brought to live in North America.”