LifeWay Christian Resources has decided not to proceed with a breach of contract lawsuit against the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) entity’s former president Thom Rainer, but will instead seek to resolve the dispute without litigation.
Trustee chairman Todd Fannin announced the decision in an email to the board. An emergency meeting of the full board had been scheduled for Sept. 30 to discuss the lawsuit but was canceled by the executive committee.
“In lieu of moving forward with litigation, both parties are currently exploring the possibility of an agreed upon resolution of the differences,” Fannin wrote. “Our continued prayer is that this will be resolved quickly and amicably.”
Fannin, an Oklahoma businessman, asked “all Southern Baptists to join us in a season of prayer” and said trustees will receive additional information within a week. He expressed concern over “numerous public misstatements and inaccuracies surrounding this matter.”
LifeWay filed a lawsuit Sept. 28 in Williamson County (Tenn.) chancery court, alleging Rainer had violated his transition agreement with LifeWay by publishing with a competitor. The agreement between Rainer and LifeWay upon his 2019 retirement precluded him from having any business association with LifeWay competitors until Oct. 31, 2021. The agreement specifically listed Tyndale House Publishers as a LifeWay competitor. In August 2020, Tyndale announced a multi book publishing partnership with Rainer, which also includes video curriculum.
In a statement Tuesday, Rainer said he had received “a written and amicable release from publishing” with LifeWay, he had discussed the matter with LifeWay’s attorney and he “assumed all was well” until receiving notice of the lawsuit.
Under his transition agreement, Rainer, 65, was to remain a paid LifeWay employee through Oct. 31 as chief advisory officer. The end of his employment would then be followed by a 12-month noncompete agreement.
However, Rainer told Baptist Press (BP) that Ben Mandrell, LifeWay’s current president, asked him to either stop receiving payments from LifeWay or return them to the SBC entity. He said he has been returning the payments since late spring.
The lawsuit apparently raised concern among some trustees. Multiple trustees told BP they did not learn of the lawsuit until the day after it was filed, and former board chair Jimmy Scroggins wrote an email to Fannin and his fellow board members Tuesday asking that the lawsuit be withdrawn “until other options can be more fully explored or until the full board has an opportunity” to “discuss appropriate next steps for LifeWay’s relationship with Thom [Rainer].”
The full text of Fannin’s email to the board today is copied below.
Sept. 30 email from LifeWay Trustee Chairman Todd Fannin:
“The trustee executive committee met today to discuss the most recent developments with Dr. Rainer.
“While there have been numerous public misstatements and inaccuracies surrounding this matter, we have been and continue to be hopeful that we may resolve this issue with Dr. Rainer regarding his agreement with LifeWay and his partnership with a competitor. In lieu of moving forward with litigation, both parties are currently exploring the possibility of an agreed upon resolution of the differences. Our continued prayer is that this will be resolved quickly and amicably.
“In order to give appropriate time for continued discussions with Dr. Rainer to take place, the executive committee passed a resolution postponing this afternoon’s trustee meeting. The executive committee is asking trustees and all Southern Baptists to join us in a season of prayer. This period will also allow us to provide full and accurate information to each board member.
“Again, there will be no board meeting today, and you can expect additional information this week. If you have any questions, please feel free to reach out to me or one of the other board officers.
Chairman of the Board
LifeWay Christian Resources”
(EDITOR’S NOTE – David Roach is a writer in Nashville.)