Georgia Pastor Mike Stone has withdrawn his defamation lawsuit against former Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission President Russell Moore.
Stone, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church in Blackshear, is the former chairman of the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee and was a candidate for president at the SBC’s annual meeting this past June. Stone filed the paperwork to withdraw the lawsuit on Thursday (Dec. 9) and his request was dismissed without prejudice the next day by U.S. District Court Judge William Campbell.
The dismissal of the case reportedly came a week before the deadline for Moore to file a response to the allegations. Moore has not responded publicly to the lawsuit. Because the case was dismissed without prejudice, this leaves Stone with the option of later filing another lawsuit regarding the same allegations.
In a statement to Baptist Press about the decision to withdraw the lawsuit, Stone noted it was “a voluntary action on my part alone.”
Stone continued, “I have trusted the Lord with my eternal soul, my family and my ministry. I can and do trust Him in this present matter. He does all things well, knows all things perfectly and judges all things and all people rightly in His own sovereign time.”
‘Malicious and defamatory campaign’
Stone filed a $750,000 lawsuit Oct. 18 with the U.S. District Court for the Middle District of Tennessee in Nashville. He accused Moore, who is now the director of the Public Theology Project at Christianity Today, of “defamation, false light invasion of privacy and emotional distress.” This development comes as Southern Baptist Convention leaders continue to navigate scrutiny and a third-party investigation into how it has handled sexual abuse allegations and survivors.
In the lawsuit, Stone accused Moore of leading a “malicious and defamatory campaign against him” that allegedly kept him from being elected SBC president. Ed Litton, pastor of Redemption Church in Saraland, Alabama, won the election in a runoff, earning 52% of the vote. Among other allegations, Stone claimed Moore harmed his reputation and caused “extreme mental anguish and emotional distress.”
The lawsuit specifically focused on two letters Moore wrote as ERLC president. Stone alleges the first letter, released Feb. 24, 2020, was in “retaliation” for Stone’s role in leading a task force created to investigate the role of the ERLC. The task force concluded the ERLC was a “significant distraction from the Great Commission work of Southern Baptists.” The task force also noted the organization negatively impacted the Cooperative Program, the SBC’s giving channel for ministry and missions. In the lawsuit, Stone claimed Moore began a campaign against him within days of the creation of a task force.
The second letter was released to the public June 2 and, according to the lawsuit, “contained false allegations” claiming Stone and other EC leaders inhibited sexual abuse reform. Southern Baptist messengers would go on to approve a Sexual Abuse Task Force at the annual meeting a couple weeks later to investigate allegations against the SBC Executive Committee of mishandling reports of sexual abuse and survivors.
The task force will report its findings in Anaheim, California, during the SBC’s next annual meeting in June 2022.