Growing tensions between disgruntled longtime members of McLean Bible Church in Virginia and the "liberal" direction they allege their Lead Pastor David Platt has been taking the congregation erupted in a lawsuit over a recently held controversial election of new elders some fear could tear the church apart.
McLean Bible Church announced that three new elders, Chuck Hollingsworth, Ken Tucker, and Jim Burris, had finally been affirmed by more than 80% of their church family in a congregational vote last Sunday, after a previous election on June 30 was marred by “irregularities.”
“At our most recent congregational meeting on June 30, there were a number of voting irregularities that prevented us from declaring a clear outcome. We are voting again so that the entire body of MBC has an opportunity to speak into this critical moment in the life of our church,” the church said in a statement on their website about the first election.
In his message to the congregation on July 4, Platt revealed that a group of activists inside and outside the church coordinated a campaign to vote down the newly affirmed elders in an attempt to seize control of the church.
“I want you to listen closely to the words I am about to say,” Platt said. “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.”
Platt said the campaign mainly targeted the Tysons campus of the multisite megachurch as the other four campuses — Arlington, Loudon, Montgomery County and Prince William — were “almost unanimous in their affirmation” of the three elders.
He 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, including a false claim that if members voted for the three elders, the building for the Tysons campus would be sold to Muslims and the proceeds given to the Southern Baptist Convention.
“You might think there is no way people would believe that, and I wish I was making this up,” Platt said.
“Just to hear all the buzzwords and scare tactics they were using, MBC would be gone, down the road leaving the Gospel behind, leaving the Bible behind, embracing liberal theology and cultural Marxism,” he explained.
“That we would change our stance on abortion and sexuality, that we will allow critical race theory, Black Lives Matter and defunding the police to drive our agenda as a church,” he continued, noting that all those claims are “unquestionably untrue.”
The church explained that their constitution requires at least 75% of members to vote in the affirmative to confirm elders, and “all three elder nominees received over 80% affirmation from our church family” in Sunday’s vote.
In a complaint filed last Thursday, however, five longtime church members, Steve Gaskins, Michael Manfredi, Roland Smith, Deborah Ash and Kevin Elwell accused McLean Bible Church and its board of elders of denying members the opportunity to cast a secret ballot in the July 18 elder election.
“This is a breach of contract action seeking to remedy Defendants’ illegal actions to deny Plaintiffs their rights to cast a free and fair vote, to have those votes lawfully counted, and to enjoy their right to a secret ballot. Plaintiffs pray this Court to enjoin Defendants from taking numerous threatened actions to deny Plaintiffs those rights in a congregational vote scheduled for the morning of Sunday, July 18,” the members argued.
The complaint further alleged that Platt and the current elders have sought to purge the church of conservatives.
“The congregation includes some 100-plus members who are also paid staff of MBC. On information and belief, some of these staff persons voted against the proposed slate of Elders at the Meeting. The elimination of the secret ballot will likely subject these staff persons to ‘discipline’ up to and including termination and being ‘publicly dismissed from the Church fellowship’ at the hands of the powerful Board of Elders, who – should this Court not intervene – will know, to a person, how each member and staff person voted,” the disgruntled members argued.
Mark Gottlieb, a former elder of McLean Bible Church who served from 1996-2020, wrote in an open letter on July 8 that: “The unifying concern among those who knew the church is that David Platt is the wrong pastor for MBC. We were historically a conservative church and David is left of center — he’s taken our church down paths we never anticipated. Thousands of our brothers and sisters in Christ have left our congregation, some slipping away quietly, with over a hundred writing letters to the Elders as they went. David clearly did not know his flock or listen to them when they shared their concerns.”
He noted that he had been fighting to challenge the church on these points for about two years without success and urged Platt’s critics to quietly walk away instead of tarnishing the church’s reputation.
“If I’m being honest, I hope the vote does not go in your favor on the 18th, because I think it will completely destroy whatever is left of the church and, at the same time tarnish the name of Christ across this nation,” Gottlieb wrote in the letter that was shared on a Facebook page called Save McLean Bible Church which has more than 400 followers.
He explained that most of the people who didn’t support the direction of the church had already left and if they were to succeed in ousting Platt “more than half of the current members (essentially the majority of the young people) would leave.”
“You’d be left with a remnant, with no clear plan on how to move the church forward,” Gottlieb wrote.