Former president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s LifeWay Christian Resources, Thom Rainer, said he hopes to resolve a lawsuit for allegedly breaching his severance agreement with the denomination’s publishing arm by Tuesday, and has already started returning more than $1 million in severance pay.
“I am hopeful for a final resolution of the lawsuit by the end of the day. I did begin returning my severance several months ago at the request of LifeWay’s CEO,” Rainer said in a statement to The Christian Post on Tuesday in response to questions about a report that he was paid in excess of $1 million as part of the terms of the disputed severance agreement.
Rainer noted on Twitter Sunday that: “LifeWay has put forth six stipulations to end the lawsuit. For the sake of the gospel, I plan to accept all of those terms on Monday. This legal battle between Christians before the watching world has to end. I will end it.”
LifeWay’s lawsuit, filed Sept. 28 in Williamson County, Tennessee, points to an agreement between Rainer and the SBC’s publisher upon his 2019 retirement that prevented him from doing business with LifeWay 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.
Many high profile critics in the evangelical community decried the lawsuit as unbecoming of Christian witness, prompting Todd Fannin, chairman of LifeWay’s board of trustees, to announce a pause of the lawsuit to resolve the disagreement out of court.
“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,” Fannin said in an email to his colleagues who had planned to meet last Wednesday to discuss disagreements concerning the lawsuit.
“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.
Rainer previously told Baptist Press 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 last week.
LifeWay argues in its 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.