LifeWay halts lawsuit against former president Thom Rainer, will seek alternative resolution

The corporate headquarters of LifeWay Christian Resources in Nashville, Tennessee. | Courtesy LifeWay

Two days after filing a lawsuit against its former president, Thom Rainer, for allegedly breaching his severance agreement, LifeWay Christian Resources announced Wednesday that it will resolve the dispute in a different manner.

“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,” Todd Fannin, chairman of the organization’s board of trustees wrote in an email to his colleagues who had planned to meet over disagreements concerning the lawsuit Wednesday.

“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,” he noted.

In the email cited by the Baptist Press, Fanning said they arrived at the decision after a meeting of the trustee executive committee. An emergency meeting that was scheduled for the full board was postponed to properly update all trustees on the disagreement.

“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,” Fannin wrote.

LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom S. Rainer introduced to Southern Baptists, a subscription-based, online leadership development platform that will have more than 1,000 videos on various topics, during his report at the Southern Baptist Convention Annual Meeting in Houtson, Texas, June 11, 2013. | (Photo: Courtesy of Baptist Press/Bill Bangham)

LifeWay’s lawsuit against Rainer, which was filed in Williamson County, Tennessee, points to an agreement between Rainer and LifeWay that was reached upon his 2019 retirement that prevented him from doing business with LifeWay's competitors until Oct. 31, 2021. Among competitors listed in the agreement is Tyndale House Publishers, which announced in August that it had reached a “multi-book, multi-year agreement” with Rainer.

A news release said the partnership would produce books that cover topics vital to a church’s life and health within the coming decades. Each core book is expected to have an accompanying video curriculum, participants' guides, and other ancillary books to empower church leaders and inspire church members.

Rainer explained in a statement to BP that in October 2019, he received “a written and amicable release from publishing” with LifeWay Christian Resources and spoke with the organization’s attorney and had “assumed all was well” until he received notice of the lawsuit on Monday.

“Before learning of the lawsuit, I heard from a LifeWay representative about this concern only one time on September 8, 2020,” Rainer said. “LifeWay’s counsel sent me an email asking for an explanation of my relationship with another publisher. I gave a quick and substantive response that same day. Even more, I requested to meet with the board officers in my response. I assumed all was well until the lawsuit was filed yesterday (Monday).”

LifeWay argues in the lawsuit that “termination of the Publishing Agreement did not release” Rainer from the noncompete section of his transition agreement which keeps him as a paid LifeWay employee through Oct. 31, 2020, as chief advisory officer.

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