Well, Well: LifeWay Is SUING Former CEO Thom Rainer

Well, Well: LifeWay Is SUING Former CEO Thom Rainer October 3, 2020

Hi and welcome back! I found this article today and was completely gobsmacked. Well, a little gobsmacked. Surprised it went public, at least. We’ve been talking about Thom Rainer for a few days now — and now it turns out that his departure from LifeWay last year might not have been the folksy, genial parting-of-ways that he presented initially. Now, we learn that the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) publishing subdivision filed a lawsuit against Thom Rainer over conflict of interest concerns. I suppose it had to happen eventually. Today, let me show you what’s going on with the LifeWay lawsuit against Thom Rainer, and how TRUE CHRISTIANS™ ignore everything in the Bible whenever it becomes expedient. Also, I’ll show you the Christianese these folks are using to try to get their way!

a lifeway storefront
(hattiesburgmemory, CC.) This is from back in 2009, when LifeWay still operated real stores.

The Situation.

LifeWay functions as the publishing and faux-research arm of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC). They operate (or rather, operated) a string of lucrative brick-and-mortar bookstores, distribute printed materials to the denomination’s members, maintain a blog called Facts & Trends, and sell stuff online too. Thom Rainer was LifeWay’s CEO.

And they haven’t been doing too well in recent years. Under Thom Rainer’s watch, LifeWay lost its cushy digs in downtown Nashville and had to downsize to a single building, had to close a bunch of its stores, and laid off oodles of workers (they didn’t say how many). They’re currently considering the sale of another huge property they use for conferences and camps in North Carolina.

Last year, Thom Rainer announced very suddenly that he was retiring to spend more time with his family. At the time, I speculated that he was neither retiring in actuality nor leaving LifeWay to attend more to his family life. Instead, I figured he wasn’t leaving LifeWay on good terms and planned to start some new business venture almost immediately.

The latter speculation turned out to be true: he immediately began promoting his new church revitalization business, Church Answers.

And now, we discover that the former speculation was true as well.

LifeWay Is Suing Thom Rainer.

Last week, LifeWay filed a lawsuit against Thom Rainer in Williamson County, Tennessee. They allege that he violated a noncompete clause in his contract.

After Rainer retired, it seems, LifeWay kept him on as Chief Advisory Officer. The position ran until October 31, 2020. In essence, it was a cushy soft-landing for him. His salary didn’t even change. In fact, according to Julie Roys, LifeWay even gave him a car!

Under the terms of his contract with LifeWay, this new gig represented part of LifeWay’s transition — probably meaning as their new CEO hire, Ben Mandrell, settled into things.

One clause of this contract, however, demanded that Rainer not work with any of LifeWay’s competitors. They gave him a list of competitors to avoid. One of those was Tyndale House Publishers, who publish and sell all kinds of Christian literature (they’re famous for their Bibles).

And well, he decided to do business with a competitor anyway.

In August this year, Thom Rainer signed a multi-book publishing agreement with Tyndale. That move did not please his employer. According to this writeup from Houston Chronicle, LifeWay also got peeved that he’s been using his Twitter account to advertise his new partnership with Tyndale.

Christianity Today says that Ben Mandrell apparently contacted Rainer to tell him not to take LifeWay’s money while doing business with Tyndale. So Rainer says he’s been returning his paychecks to LifeWay “since the spring.”

Are They Or Aren’t They?

From the sound of that Christianity Today article (relink), it doesn’t sound like LifeWay’s current management team are completely on board with this move. I’ve heard conflicting reports about what they want to do. On Wednesday (September 30), the current chairperson of LifeWay’s board of trustees, Todd Fannin, said LifeWay and Thom Rainer were trying to work out their issues without a court case.

But whatever Christianity Today thought was happening wasn’t. According to a Religion News article from yesterday, the lawsuit’s still open as of Friday afternoon.

Thom Rainer’s son Sam Rainer sure seems to think the lawsuit’s still on. Yesterday, he tweeted to ask his followers to go sign a petition to strong-arm LifeWay into stopping the lawsuit. (Out of his 45k followers, about 500 had done so as of this writing.)

Their former chairperson and a current board member, Jimmy Scroggins, is on Team Thom Rainer for sure. The Christianity Today article tells us he’s been trying to convince the other LifeWay people to drop the lawsuit too.

But so far, it’s still on.

I still laugh to remember that like just yesterday I was talking about how weird it is that Thom Rainer’s business seemed to be so good-ole-boy-networked to the hilt, tied to so many ventures belonging to his friends and professional contacts in the denomination, and nobody in the SBC ever seemed to care. I reckon eventually, someone finally did.

The Hilarious Christianese Is Flowing.

If you check out these links, there’s definitely some Christianese you’ll want to know.

In the Houston Chronicle article (relink), Thom Rainer said he felt “grieved” by the lawsuit. “Grieved” means sadness — Jesus-flavored sadness. So it’s super-duper-important sadness. Whatever’s “grieving” a fundagelical is something that would upset Jesus. Therefore, if the other person doesn’t stop doing it, they’re upsetting Jesus. And there’s only one penalty for upsetting Jesus.

In the Christianity Today article (relink), Jimmy Scroggins complains that “Lawsuits between believers are public, embarrassing, and damaging to the kingdom.” The “kingdom” means the entire body of Christians worldwide. It’s shorthand for the kingdom of God. But it also means fundagelicals’ future domination of this world. Fundagelicals love this word. They often talk about “growing the kingdom.” So here, Scroggins implies that his tribe is damaging its own credibility, but also that the lawsuit will hurt their future sales of product (membership in their churches).

Sam Rainer’s Twitter feed is, of course, full of Christianese — he’s an SBC pastor, after all. This morning, his church tweeted that “Satan attacks with division.” In this context, “division” means that someone’s doing something that interferes with the judging Christian’s plans. Jesus doesn’t like division. But Satan loves it because it makes TRUE CHRISTIANS™ less effective. The solution, of course, is for the person accused of division to change course to please their (human) judge. Christianese speakers express this word in many ways. They accuse people of divisiveness or of sowing discord. The solutions never vary, however. I’m sure Sam Rainer is vague-tweeting to accuse his father’s enemies of Jesus-ing wrong.

Lastly, the Change.org petition contains an exhortation for signers to “Tell the LifeWay trustees to seek a Biblical Solution for Life.” The Christianese term “biblical/Biblical” usually means “something friendly to the fundagelical culture wars.” However, here it means that the petition’s writer (Sam Rainer, I’m guessing) thinks that the Bible supports his position. That means that LifeWay is not being “biblical.” And there’s only one penalty for not being biblical.

And Actually, Yes.

Hilariously, whoever came up with that last bit of Christianese is correct.

The Bible does, indeed, order Christians not to sue each other in secular courts of law. 1 Corinthians 6:1-7, in fact, seems pretty specific on that point. It begins:

If any of you has a grievance against another, how dare he go to law before the unrighteous instead of before the saints!

It also mentions how such lawsuits affect Christians’ collective image in verse 6:

Instead, one brother goes to law against another, and this in front of unbelievers!

But that exhortation just goes into the stewpot with all the other stuff in the Bible that fundagelicals — that tribalistic, ultra-politicized fusion of fundamentalists and evangelicals — have decided doesn’t count anymore.

Abortion? Oh, they’ll contort Bible verses all-day-erryday to support their culture wars. But not suing each other? Oh, it was just a different time then, you see. That one’s fine for them. Jesus said so in their heads. Interestingly, he always agrees with them.

To his credit, Jimmy Scroggins is right: Christians’ blatant hypocrisy certainly does negatively impact their sales these days. But one might think they’d want to obey because obedience is simply the right thing to do.

I mean, one might if one didn’t know anything about fundagelicals.

It’s Just Business. All Business.

It’s not that a lawsuit sounds like a terrible idea. That said, I don’t envy the lawyers who will be trying to untangle the Gordian knot of conflicting interests and strange liaisons in the top offices of the SBC.

It’s just always funny to me to see TRUE CHRISTIANS™ ignore the Bible’s commands every time it’s more advantageous to disobey. The SBC is a business, and its leaders remind us of that fact on a constant basis by using the Bible as a thin and poorly-fitting cover to mask their covert goals of self-enrichment and power-chasing.

Oops, the SBC’s self-interest is showing. Again. And always.

 

NEXT UP: Living in denial only works for so many decades. And now, it can have downright lethal consequences. See you tomorrow, when we check out the people playing stupid games and winning stupid prizes.

(Yes, one of them is orange.)


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About Captain Cassidy
Captain Cassidy grew up fervently Catholic, converted to the SBC in her teens, and became a Pentecostal shortly afterward. She even volunteered in church (choir, Sunday School) and married an aspiring preacher! But then--record scratch!--she brought everything to a screeching halt when she deconverted in her mid-20s. That was 25 years ago. Now a comfortable None, she blogs on Roll to Disbelieve about psychology, pop culture, politics, relationships, cats, gaming, and more--and where they all intersect with religion. She lives with an adored and adoring husband named Mr. Captain and a sweet, squawky orange tabby cat named Princess Bother Pretty Toes. At any given time, she's running out of bookcase space. You can read more about the author here.
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