A lawsuit filed by disgruntled longtime members of the multi-campus McLean Bible Church in Virginia over last year's election of new elders amid allegations of leftward drift and attempts to purge conservatives from the church has been dismissed.
In a statement to The Christian Post, MBC's three lead pastors, David Platt, Mike Kelsey and Wade Burnett, expressed their delight with the court's decision. On Friday, a state court dismissed the lawsuit filed by disgruntled current and former members with prejudice, which means it cannot be refiled.
"By God's grace, our church family has come together in ways far beyond what I could have imagined to resolve conflict as biblically and peacefully as possible," noted Platt. "Amidst a divisive culture around us, members of our church family have clearly stated that they want to move forward together as a thriving, united church bringing hope to the nations, starting here in Washington, DC. I know that many churches across America have faced and are facing similar challenges during these days, and it is vitally important that we move past division and live out John 13:35, demonstrating love for one another and love for a world in need of Jesus."
Last summer, MBC announced that three new elders — Chuck Hollingsworth, Ken Tucker and Jim Burris — had been affirmed by more than 80% of the church family in a congregational vote after a previous election on June 30, 2021, was marred by alleged "irregularities."
In his message to the congregation on July 4, 2021, Platt said a group of activists inside and outside the church coordinated a campaign to vote down the new elders and seize control of the church.
Platt said the campaign mainly targeted the Tysons campus of the multisite megachurch as the other four campuses — Arlington, Loudon, Montgomery County, Maryland, and Prince William — were "almost unanimous in their affirmation" of the three elders.
Platt said the dissidents got unauthorized access to a database of contact information for the members and told them lies ahead of the June 30 vote. Platt said this included a false claim that if members voted for the three elders, the Tysons campus building would be sold to Muslims, and the proceeds would be given to the Southern Baptist Convention.
Five longtime church members — Steve Gaskins, Michael Manfredi, Roland Smith, Deborah Ash and Kevin Elwell — alleged in the dismissed complaint that McLean Bible Church and its board of elders denied members the opportunity to cast a secret ballot in the elder election held July 18, 2021. The lawsuit claims that the 2021 elder election violated the church constitution
The complaint further alleged that Platt and the current elders tried to purge the church of conservatives to win the elder election. The plaintiffs contend that the church board sought to disqualify members from voting, "attempting to purge members by designating them 'inactive' on an arbitrary basis, with no record that the members had missed eight consecutive Sundays, and without investigation into whether the members had 'reasonable excuse,' such as missing services for fear of the coronavirus, or even from the Church's own cancellation of in-person services due to the coronavirus."
The church says it made efforts to resolve the complaint and invited the plaintiffs to pursue "Christian mediation and reconciliation." The church contends the plaintiffs didn't respond to the invite, which prompted MBC to approve a "formal Plan for Lawsuit Resolution."
Approved by a substantial majority of the church, that plan included the resignation and a re-vote for the three elders. On June 5, all six nominees were approved by the church with a 86% vote, according to the statement.
"As a result, the new board is now officially serving and leading alongside Lead Pastor David Platt," the statement shared by MCB reads.
"The final step in the Plan for Lawsuit Resolution involved pursuing the actual dismissal of the lawsuit in light of the church's clear desire to move forward under the leadership of the new board. Because the plaintiffs would not agree to meet or discuss a dismissal, MBC filed a formal motion on June 10 asking the court to dismiss the lawsuit and to recognize the clear desire of the MBC congregation to move forward in unity under the leadership of elders who were nominated and elected by church membership."
The plaintiffs filed a motion opposing the church's request to dismiss the case on June 15.
"[L]ast month, the Board concocted its latest strategy to deny this Court opportunity
to grant effective relief. The Board announced a euphemistically-titled 'Plan for Lawsuit
Resolution.' The Plan proposed to allow a new vote on the Elders – but one that would not only include the hundreds of new members selected by the Board in December, six months after this action sought to preserve the status quo, but would also conveniently elect hundreds of new members selected by the Board in May, just before the sham Elder vote in June," the plaintiff's motion reads.
"Further, any persons who were members in June of 2021 would be required to declare that they were still members in good standing if they wished to vote. Any member who had changed churches due to the tainted election of June/July 2021 would be required either to lie or not be allowed to cast a vote – despite the fact that they would have been entitled to do so at the tainted 2021 election."
Plaintiffs contend that the church obtained a greater than 75% majority for the new proposed slate of elders only "after twice adding hundreds of carefully selected new members."
"In the meantime, Defendants steadfastly resisted Plaintiffs’ discovery requests," the plaintiffs added. "Plaintiffs sought discovery to identify members illegally purged or placed in inactive status. Nothing has been forthcoming up to the date Defendant filed its Motion for Plea in Bar – nearly a full year since this action commenced."
The church's motion to dismiss was granted, and a formal order was issued last Friday.
"This has been a difficult season for our church, as well as for the broader Church here in the U.S. And yet, I'm so thankful for the growing unity and enthusiasm we've been experiencing in the midst of it all," Kelsey, the lead pastor of the Montgomery County campus, said in response to the dismissal.
"I have had the privilege of serving this church family for 15 years and I'm excited to see how God will continue to work in and through us in this next chapter. We are incredibly diverse, with different backgrounds, perspectives, and personal convictions on a variety of issues. But we are unified in our commitment to obeying God's Word, loving our neighbors, and bearing witness to the amazing grace that can only be found in a relationship with Jesus."
The rift at McLean comes amid concerns over Platt's and other pastors' approaches to racial justice issues. The pastor was among many who participated in protests against police brutality following the 2020 death of George Floyd.
Burnett, the lead pastor of the Tysons campus, said that the conflict is "just one more picture of the larger differences we see all over the country."
"Families and friendships and congregations and countless other foundational parts of our lives have been upended and changed in ways that have been both painful and disorienting," Burnett added. "But through it all, God has been both present and faithful, and in His Word we are provided with a clear call to pursue peace so far as it depends on us. I'm incredibly grateful for the courage of our church in staying together and persevering, in pursuing peace in ways that required numerous steps of faith, and for trusting God all the way through to the actual dismissal of the lawsuit."
In what appears to be a response to the lawsuit's dismissal, critics of MCB posted on the "Save McLean Bible Church" Facebook page a post reading: "When men say its over, God takes over and when God takes over the battle is over."
"We believe that although Satan intended to harm and destroy McLean Bible Church, God intended it for good," another Facebook post reads. "Why He allowed it, we don't understand, but we know that God has the final say."