Controversy over the election of three elders reached a boiling point during a contentious business meeting July 18 at McLean Bible Church (MBC), where former International Mission Board (IMB) President David Platt is pastor.
At issue are claims that McLean is drifting theologically under Platt’s leadership and becoming a church too focused on critical race theory and social justice. Platt and others deny the claims, saying critics are attempting a hostile takeover of the church.
The lawsuit was filed by a group of six individuals on July 15 at the Fairfax Circuit Court, naming MBC elders Larry Cooper, Wayne Fujito and Patrick Lee alongside Platt and McLean Bible Church, Inc. as defendants.
The plaintiffs state that McLean leaders have ignored the church’s constitution.
“The heart of the complaint really comes down to truth, transparency, and a free, open, and uncoerced process,” said their attorney, Rick Boyer.
The lawsuit focuses on a pair of business meetings held by MBC in the last month.
The first meeting, on June 30, included a vote for the installation of three new elders. For the first time in McLean’s history, the vote failed to get the required three-quarters majority stipulated in the church constitution, Religion News Service (RNS) reported.
At the July 18 meeting, members on the church’s inactive list were given provisional ballots, RNS reported. The plaintiffs claim the election violated the church’s constitution by requiring members to show identification and to include their name on their ballot. At that vote, the three new elders garnered 80% approval from active members. Despite repeated attempts, Baptist Press was unable to reach any representatives of McLean Bible Church for comment.
In a statement, elders said no further comments were available. “We praise God for our church family’s affirmation of new elders, and we would deeply appreciate your prayers for all of McLean Bible Church as we move forward in our mission,” they said.
Platt addressed the results of the June 30 vote prior to his sermon on July 4. Before the vote the previous Wednesday, he told the crowd no one had expressed any biblical concern about the three candidates.
However, he pointed out, “a small group of people inside and outside this church coordinated a divisive effort to use disinformation in order to persuade others to vote these men down as part of a broader effort to take control of this church.”
The leaders of the group, he continued, had someone access church members’ private contact information without permission to build its narrative and sway the vote.
McLean’s Tyson campus, located in Vienna, Va., was the only one of MBC’s five locations that didn’t have a near-unanimous vote in favor of the elder candidates, he noted.
The “coordinated effort” was meant to deceive MBC members into believing “lies” not only about the candidates but the church itself, Platt said. Those lies were told in the church’s lobby as people entered to vote that night and even during the worship time preceding the vote. One lie, he said, was that the church was going to sell the building at the Tyson location if the elders were elected. Others were told that building was to be sold to Muslims for a mosque to be built there and the money passed on to the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC).
“You might think there is no way people would believe that. I wish I was making this up, but we have emails where this is being passed around to members in the most inflammatory way possible,” he said. Platt added that many members told him later that they regretted their “no” vote and wished they could have it back.
McLean Bible Church is considered a partnering church by the SBC, and like all Southern Baptist churches, remains independent and autonomous in its functionality and governance. The church posted information in a FAQ section of its website that clarifies its relationship with the SBC, which has been an additional point of contention and confusion inside the church. McLean contributes financially to Southern Baptist entities but does not consider itself part of the denomination in accordance with its bylaws.
Platt joined the IMB as president on Aug. 27, 2014, after having led The Church at Brook Hills in Birmingham, Ala., to grow to 4,500 members. Shortly after arriving in Richmond, Platt set in motion an organizational “reset” to address budget issues. By the end of February 2016, more than 1,100 missionaries and stateside staff accepted a combination of voluntary retirement and resignation options.
A year later, Platt – who by that point had been a Bible teacher at McLean for several months – asked IMB trustees to begin the search for his successor. His resignation went into effect at the Sept. 27, 2016, trustee meeting, where Clyde Meador was named interim president.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Scott Barkley is national correspondent for Baptist Press.)