Lawsuit Against McLean Bible Church & David Platt Dismissed

By Bob Smietana
platt mclean dismissed
Pastor David Platt preaches at McLean Bible Church, July 18, 2021, in Vienna, Virginia. (Video screen grab via MBC)

A yearlong legal battle over a contested election at a prominent Washington, D.C.-area church appears to be over for now.

On Friday, a Fairfax County, Virginia, judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by dissident members of McLean Bible Church who sought to overturn the results of an election for church leaders, known as elders. Those dissident members argued that church leaders, including senior pastor David Platt, a best-selling author, had violated the church’s constitution.

The suit was dismissed with prejudice.

“I know that many churches across America have faced and are facing similar challenges during these days, and it is vitally important that we move past division and live out John 13:35, demonstrating love for one another and love for a world in need of Jesus,” Platt said in a statement Monday.

Rick Boyer, attorney for the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, said his clients plan to appeal.

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The dispute at McLean centered around a failed June 30, 2021, election. The church’s constitution requires that new elders receive 75% approval — and for the first time in McLean’s history, a new group of elders failed to reach that margin

The election came amid simmering unrest at the church, where political polarization in the wider culture seeped into the congregation — the larger “woke war” in the evangelical world. 

A group of critics that runs a Facebook group called “Save McLean Bible Church” claimed that church leaders had substituted critical race theory and social justice for biblical teaching. Rumors had begun to circulate around the church that Platt and other leaders planned to sell a church building to a local Muslim congregation for a mosque.

COVID-19 also played a role. Some church members who had been attending online, rather than in person, claimed their ballots had been disqualified.  

Following the first failed election, a second election was held in early July 2021, this one where members had to sign their ballots — which critics said violated the church practice of using secret ballots. In that election, the elders were approved, which led dissident members to file a suit.

This past spring, hoping to resolve the dispute, McLean leaders decided to discard the results of the July 2021 elder election. They organized a new election for elders in mid-June 2022, using secret ballots. All active members were allowed to vote.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit objected, saying anyone who joined the church after the June 2021 election should not be allowed to vote. 

All six elders on the ballot received at least 86% approval.

Wade Burnett, a pastor on McLean’s leadership team, said the congregation decided to move forward together in a difficult time.

He told media that the church believes it will prevail if there is an appeal.

“Every time this lawsuit has been filed or amended or refiled, it has resulted in a dismissal,” he said. “We believe the same thing would happen on appeal in this matter, as our church has now voted and revoted in ways that are crystal clear. We want to move forward in unity and we do not believe any appellate court would restrict us from doing that.”

Bob SmietanaBob Smietana is a national reporter for Religion News Service.

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8 thoughts on “Lawsuit Against McLean Bible Church & David Platt Dismissed”

  1. Cheryl Martin

    Praising God for this outcome. Prayerfully and with God’s leading, MBC can move forward with those who desire to be affiliated with this church and its leadership. We all have options to attend churches that are in alignment with our beliefs and where we respect the leaders. Thankful for God’s grace since no church or leader is perfect. I am a long time member of MBC and continue to worship there with no regret. I’ve been reminded through this process that just reading a few articles, perusing websites and social media, and forming an opinion without all the facts seldom uncovers what the “real” issues are and simply produce a lot of judging and a smokescreen. There is always a back story. So glad that God is the only righteous judge. I stand by His verdict.

  2. We attended MBC years ago but live in NC now. I have followed this news with a bit of disbelief that some followers of Jesus would go outside the church to take up their grievances against those in the Body with whom they disagree. Can you ever imagine the Apostle Paul going to a Roman court to sue Barnabas over their disagreement about John Mark (Acts 15:36-41)? Disputes within the church should never be cast to the world for them to rule on internal matters. This can only drag the name of Christ into the mud. That said, I am happy to know that the courts have thrown out this suit. May there be a desire to humbly understand the position of each party that leads to reconciliation. We are one in Christ.

    1. Neil Cameron (One Salient Oversight)

      Obey your leaders and submit to them, for they are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will have to give an account. Let them do this with joy and not with groaning, for that would be of no advantage to you.

      Hebrews 13.17

    2. @David – what do shepherds to for their flock? They lead and feed, though they are not to “lord it over the flock” but are to “exercise oversight” (1 Peter 5:1-4)

  3. Marin Heiskell

    Amen! I hadn’t heard much about MBC before this happened, and when it did, I was embarrassed as a Christian and for the fellowship of MBC. I pray all are able to move on.

  4. Another megachurch celebrity rock-star who is an idol in the eyes of the public with nothing holding him accountable to anything. Megachurches whether on the left or right are a plague on Christianity.

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