A yearlong dispute over the election of church leaders at McLean Bible Church in Virginia moved closer to a resolution Monday — at least for the church‘s side — when the megachurch announced an overwhelming vote of 84.4% in favor of new voting rules for the elders’ council.
But an attorney representing five church members who’ve sued the 61-year-old congregation called the move “another sham vote” that “changes nothing.”
Attorney Rick Boyer said in a telephone interview the plaintiffs will be in court Friday to seek orders governing the discovery phase of their lawsuit.
Following an unsuccessful 2021 vote to put three new elders on the church board, the 3,000-member megachurch, which leaders say draws 10,000 attendees each weekend, has been riven by a dispute over policies and procedures in the voting.
The squabbles led to a lawsuit challenging the direction of the nondenominational church founded in 1961, known as “MBC,” an action that is still pending in state court in Virginia.
“I love this church, and I’m pleased that our church family has overwhelmingly expressed a desire to pursue unity and move past conflict,” the Rev. David Platt, the church‘s lead pastor, said in a statement Monday. “Our church leaders have been united in our desire for peaceful restoration, and it’s so encouraging to see the congregation longing for the same,” he added.
Under the plan MBC‘s voters approved in a vote over the weekend, a June 1 election for a new board of elders will be held under the supervision of “a neutral, outside observer.”
Balloting will be open to all members in good standing and will cover the appointments of six members of the board of elders, the group that oversees church operations.
One name has been proposed for each of the six positions, the church‘s website indicates.
Normally, MBC elects three elder board members each year, but the 2021 election — in which no candidate secured the 75% majority required by the church‘s constitution — made the expanded vote necessary this year.
The church said Monday it had “offered to pursue peaceful restoration” with the disaffected members “through independent Christian mediation,” but never received a response.
Mr. Boyer asserted that MBC‘s voting plan “gives us nothing of what we’ve asked for.”
He said the plaintiffs want a “free and fair, uncoerced vote” by those who were on the membership rolls as of June 2021.
Dissidents who object to the 2021 voting rules claim MBC leaders excluded those likely to vote against that year’s candidate roster. They claim the church should only allow those who were members in good standing before the June 2021 balloting to vote now.
An MBC statement says that “voting at the new election may be by any active member of the church, including individuals on the Church‘s active roll as of March 1, 2020 (when the pandemic began) who before God still claim to be an active member of the Church.”
Church officials offered the new rules as part of a plan to “resolve” the legal action and claim it gives the dissidents what they asked for, except the demand that voting eligibility is restricted to those on the membership rolls before June 2021. Doing so, an MBC pastor said last week, would create two classes of church members.
One member who supports church leadership said the dissidents’ action “has not been just a good reflection” of what the church should be.
Carole Schryber of McLean, who said she’s attended the church‘s main Tysons Corner location for 20 years and been a member “for at least 15 years,” said taking an internal church issue to secular courts was the wrong move.
“I think that, as unfortunate as it is that the church was put in this position, I do think it was a right response for our church, you know, to want to stay out of the courts and put this behind us, and so we could really move forward,” she said in a telephone interview.
The church attracted attention in 2019 when then-President Trump attended a Sunday morning worship service and was invited to the platform by Mr. Platt, who prayed for the president.
After criticism, Mr. Platt, who was not available to speak for this story, conceded the prayer had angered some members.