Kevin Hagan Says Good-Bye to Feed the Children; Travis Arnold is Interim CEO

In a May 27 tweet, Kevin Hagan posted a link to an article announcing his departure from Feed the Children. According to Hagan, who takes over at the American Diabetes Association tomorrow, he has helped restore some of the positive reputation lost by the massive charity over the past several years.

According to a tweet from Hagan, Travis Arnold, current COO of FTC will take over as Interim CEO. Arnold is also the president of FTC’s wholly owned subsidiary FTC Transportation, a for profit company.
FTC has been embroiled in controversy for much of the last six years. After multiple scandals involving FTC founder Larry Jones, he was relieved of his post in 2009. Even after he was fired, scandal over use of funds continued (e.g., here and here).
In his May 29 article, Hagan takes credit for restoring FTC to a more respected place, along with numerous other accomplishments.
The organizations donations, although still substantial, have been on a decline according to the organization’s 2013 990 form. Revenues are down from a high of just over $615 million in FY 2011 to over $396 million in FY 2013.
Especially given the organization’s recent history, it seems questionable to have the same person running both the non-profit FTC and the for profit trucking subsidiary. FTC’s conflict of interest policy is not available to the public according to the federal 990 form for fiscal year ending 2014.

Smooth Saturday Night Sounds – Dance of the Crickets

An instrumental co-written with Casey Walter, with percussion help from former Berlin drummer Rod Learned, I think we named it Dance of the Crickets because we had some crickets sounds available.

The crickets get busy toward the end and then they settle in for the night.

Believers' Church/Gospel for Asia May Lose Possession of Indian Rubber Plantation

cheruvally estateAlthough not your usual ministry tool, in 2005 Believers’ Church (which is synonymous with Gospel for Asia in India) acquired a working rubber plantation called Cheruvally Estate. The 2263 acre estate was purported to be a money making venture to help make Believers’ Church self-sufficient and according to reports in the Indian press cost just over $14.3 million.
Today, the Indian government is poised to take control of three properties once belonging to Harrison Malayalam, India’s largest producer of rubber. One of those properties is the Cheruvally Estate. It is not clear what if any compensation Gospel for Asia will receive. The government claims that Harriason Malayalam never had the right to sell the land in the first place.
The property has been in dispute since it was first acquired.

Former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert Charged with Structuring Payments

CashAlthough not normally of interest to me, I took a look at the hush money charges against former Speaker Dennis Hastert because of the additional wrinkle that he structured his bank withdrawals to avoid federal requirements to report those actions.
Such structuring is illegal whether one is an misguided creation science proponent, as in the case of Kent Hovind, or a mission organization moving over $10,000 out of the country without declaring it at customs, as former and current students and staff at Gospel for Asia have alleged.
I have learned a new term for using multiple people to move money to evade declaration – “smurfing.” Papa smurf arranges for all the little smurfs to carry the load, in the case of GFA envelopes of cash in their backpacks or suitcases, until they arrive at their destination.
Watch for more on this…

Mars Hill Church Dissolving "Soon"

Mars Hill Fellowship’s (the corporate name of the enterprise that was Mars Hill Church) president Kerry Dodd is looking for work. According to his Linked In page, Mars Hill Fellowship as an entity will dissolve “soon.” The end is near enough that he says he is “starting the search for his next endeavor where he can excel and make a difference.”  He describes his old difference making endeavor as:

A $30M, community-focused organization with 15 locations in five states, focused on enriching lives in the U.S., and around the world through digital media of biblical-based motivational talks. The organization recently launched 11 independent entities and is now dissolving.

“Biblical-based motivational talks?”
The current COO is Caleb Walters.
There is much unfinished business at the Entity, but it appears that the community-focused organization will soon leave its community in the dark.
Correction: Earlier I said that Frank Park was still Mark Driscoll’s assistant. Not so, according to good sources. He has moved on. I regret that I did not check that out before I printed it.

A Few Thoughts on The Village Church Controversy

UPDATE: Christianity Today is reporting this evening that Matt Chandler, pastor of The Village Church, plans to apologize to his church this weekend during Sunday services. He gave CT some comments which indicated that he believes the elders were “domineering” and “sinned against some people.”
Matthew Paul Turner has an email he says is an apology to the Village Church members from the elders. It appears that The Village Church elders have made a better move.
This post will be of most interest to those who have been following the controversy involving The Village Church and a former missionary couple, Jordan Root and Karen Hinkley (formerly Karen Root). I have received several requests from readers to comment on the matter. I will briefly summarize but to really get up to speed, there are several lengthy documents which must be read (see links at the end).
The Roots were missionaries to Asia with Serving in Mission (SIM) and supported by The Village Church beginning in August 2014. In December, Jordan Root confessed to his wife that he was attracted to minors and had used child pornography for years. This admission set off a cascade of events including return from the mission field, an FBI investigation, and Karen having the marriage annulled. She also left The Village Church which has become a major point of contention with the church as the church covenant doesn’t allow members to leave which under church discipline. According to the church, Hinkley is under church discipline because she completed the process to have the marriage annulled.
As I understand it, Mr. Root has not contested his ex-wife’s claims and the The Village Church has allowed him to attend as long as he avoids children and is supervised. The church considers Ms. Hinkley to be under church discipline and sent a letter to their 6,000 members advising them of their action toward Ms. Hinkley. Ms. Hinkley said she made the matter public because she was concerned that Mr. Root might have sexually offended in past positions where he was in the company of children and because she believes The Village Church is overstepping proper boundaries by trying to keep her as a member and by placing her under church discipline.
First, it is tragic that any of this is happening and I have prayed every day for everybody involved.
Second, I read on one of the blogs that the church had been criticized for not contacting former employers or families where Mr. Root had worked with children. In this case, I think caution is in order. The research of psychologist Elizabeth Loftus provides ample evidence that communications with young children can trigger recollections of events which did not happen. The “lost in a shopping mall” paradigm indicates that such contamination can occur in older people too. People can be induced to believe misinformation depending on how questions are asked. Experts in memory and working with children should be consulted on this point.
Third,  I can’t discern if Mr. Root has been involved with experts in sexuality and sexual orientation. Most counselors are not equipped to help people who struggle with this problem. Mr. Root should be in touch with a trained and experienced professional in addition to whatever spiritual care he is getting. There are also support groups of adults attracted to children who work to help those who struggle not become sexual offenders.
Finally, The Village Church’s allegiance to the man-made church covenant is such an overwhelmingly unimportant distraction to the repair of these two people. Karen Hinkley needs to leave the church in peace and Mr. Root needs for this to leave the public square.
There is precious little in the New Testament about church membership and nothing that I can find about signing a perpetually binding church covenant. I will grant that some instructions to the early church imply some kind of affiliation with a local body of believers, but we have no instruction about church forms, covenants, by-laws and/or constitutions.
For what it is worth, I got a Mars Hill Church feeling when I read this:

Karen has been through a terrible experience due to Jordan’s sin and wants to heal in her own way. Why are we continuing to pursue communication with Karen or even trying to minister to her if she does not want us to do so?
This is a tragic situation, and we are grieving with Karen. While the wounds of sin may be deep, Scripture states that the best care and counsel comes from the hope and comfort of the gospel, through the ministered Word in the care and community of the saints, particularly the local church. In our Membership Covenant, we articulate this belief and covenant with our members to be there for them in any type of situation, good or bad, including dealing with the aftermath of a spouse’s sin. In signing that Membership Covenant, a member agrees with that belief and covenants with us to receive that care. In essence, by signing the 
Membership Covenant, Karen asked us to minister to her in good times or bad, regardless of what might come.

As a Christian just watching this train wreck from afar, let me add my voice to the chorus of other believers asking The Village Church to let it go. Ms. Hinkley has been through enough without having to fight people who say they are serving her.
To conclude, I will refer back to thought number one above.
For reference see:
Watchkeep Blog’s initial post on the matter.
The Village Church letter to members.
Karen Hinkley’s response to The Village Church letter about the situation.

Science Retracts 2014 Study of Attributions About Gay Marriage Over Objections of Lead Author

This retraction had been anticipated, but just a little while ago, Science made it official. The 2014 study of attitude change toward gay marriage had been widely criticized. The now-retracted study abstract indicated that brief contacts with pro-gay marriage people could generate significant attitude change.

Can a single conversation change minds on divisive social issues, such as same-sex marriage? A randomized placebo-controlled trial assessed whether gay (n = 22) or straight (n = 19) messengers were effective at encouraging voters (n = 972) to support same-sex marriage and whether attitude change persisted and spread to others in voters’ social networks. The results, measured by an unrelated panel survey, show that both gay and straight canvassers produced large effects initially, but only gay canvassers’ effects persisted in 3-week, 6-week, and 9-month follow-ups. We also find strong evidence of within-household transmission of opinion change, but only in the wake of conversations with gay canvassers. Contact with gay canvassers further caused substantial change in the ratings of gay men and lesbians more generally. These large, persistent, and contagious effects were confirmed by a follow-up experiment. Contact with minorities coupled with discussion of issues pertinent to them is capable of producing a cascade of opinion change.

Science’s Office of Public Affairs provided the following press release:

Subject:For Immediate Release: Retraction of Science Report by LaCour and Green
Date: May 28, 2015 at 2:00:16 PM EDT
Dear Science press package registrants,
Today, Thursday, 28 May, 2015, Science, with the concurrence of author Donald P. Green, is retracting the 12 December 2014 Report “When contact changes minds: An experiment on transmission of support for gay equality,” by Michael J. LaCour and Dr. Green. Mr. LaCour does not agree to this retraction.
Science provided three key reasons for the retraction: (1) the misrepresentation of survey incentives; (2) false statements of sponsorship; and (3) the inability to produce original data, which makes it impossible to verify or alleviate concerns about statistical irregularities documented in an independent online response to the original work. Please refer to the “summary of irregularities” cited in the retraction.
Science had previously published an Editorial Expression of Concern about the study, on Wednesday, 20 May, 2015, to alert readers to the fact that serious questions had been raised about the validity of the study’s results. This was after receiving a retraction request from Dr. Green, on Tuesday, 19 May, 2015.
Reporters registered with EurekAlert! can also refer to the original Science Press Package summary of this study and related materials, which have been updated with a retraction notice.
A link to a related news story by John Bohannon, a contributing correspondent to Science’s news department, can be found here:
Links to Retraction and other Materials Cited Above:
Independent Online Response:
Editorial Expression of Concern:
Original Science Press Package Summary:
Science Press Package Team, Office of Public Programs
American Association for the Advancement of Science
1200 New York Avenue, NW | Washington, DC 20005
Phone: 202-326-6440 | E-mail:
Twitter: @scipak |


Over the Top Reactions to Gays and the Duggars

I read two op-eds this morning which took the same approach to different groups.
First, Jenny Kutner at Salon demonized the religious beliefs of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. Second, Matt Barber beat up on gays in an op-ed attacking the Boy Scouts of America’s president Robert Gates. Both authors, from opposing ideological perspectives, attempt to explain the factors behind child sexual abuse. Neither succeed.
Kutner finds the Duggars beliefs unacceptable and links the patriarchal beliefs to sexual violence. She ends her op-ed by saying, “Beyond that, though, there is the entire culture undergirding rape culture and victim-blaming, and the outcome is shaping up exactly as one would expect.” The implication is that Josh Duggar’s religious training directly contributed to his sexual offenses. 
On the other hand, Matt Barber leaves little doubt that he believes sexual abuse of boys is more likely if openly gay adult males are allowed to be scout leaders. He massacres social science data to craft a straw man which he savagely beats down. In fact, the consensus of social science research does not support his illusory correlation.  
Barber cherry picks his data and Kutner doesn’t offer any. The problem here should be clear. Both people have pre-existing views and they shape these vivid cases to support them. The confirmation bias is strong in these articles. In the face of horrific or confusing events, most of us fall back on our pre-existing biases and stereotypes instead of looking at the situation dispassionately.
It is certainly not wrong to inquire about the relationship, if any, between certain religious beliefs or sexual orientation and child abuse. Researchers should not be afraid to ask hard questions. Personally, I intend no defense of one or more Duggars. I reject the Quiverful movement and what I know of the Duggars’ beliefs about gender. I am inclined to agree that there could be problems in viewing women in keeping with Bill Gothard’s teachings.
My interest is in how we seek answers to important questions and how we discuss those important questions without demonizing entire groups of people. In my view, without research or evidence, Kutner’s incendiary language about religious beliefs is about as helpful as Matt Barber’s self-righteous rant about gay scout leaders.

How Much Does it Really Cost to Sponsor a Child with Gospel for Asia?

Yesterday, I pointed out that the expenditure of foreign funds by GFA in the fiscal year ending on March 31, 2014 for the support of children enrolled in the Bridge of Hope program seemed quite low, estimated at around $105 per year. Today, I want to point out that GFA’s request for child sponsorship in India is about one-third of what it is here in the U.S. and that the actual costs are even lower than that.
On the U.S. website, GFA requests $35/month to sponsor a child:

It only takes $35 a month to give a child everything they need—school supplies, a daily meal, medical checkups and more—to attend a Bridge of Hope Center. 100% of your sponsorship is sent to the field to support your child.

However, on the GFA/Believers’ Church Indian website, the cost is INR 800/month or about $12.50 in U.S. dollars per month. That’s quite a discount. The sponsorship page promises:

Your sponsorship of Rs. 800 per month provides [child’s name]:

  • An Education
  • A nutritious meal each day
  • A yearly medical checkup
  • Basic school & hygiene needs

I have also seen GFA budget documents which tell a more surprising story.* The actual cost during fiscal year ending 2014 to support one child in a GFA Bridge of Hope center in India was just under INR 500 or around $8.20 per month per child. This paid for the administration of the program, food purchases, and all child services. In fact, the actual items given to each child (school supplies, clothes, hygiene supplies and gifts) only cost INR 140 per child or $2.20 per month.
At that rate, Americans who send $35/month to GFA for a child sponsorship could actually support 4 children. Or GFA could keep the excess in a bank and draw interest on the balance as they appear to be doing. As I noted yesterday, GFA spent over $6 million in foreign contributions on Bridge of Hope expenses in FYE 2014 but had in the neighborhood of $25 million designated for “the welfare of children” sitting in a bank drawing interest at the same time.
GFA has to report that interest (the banks do as well) and all four GFA controlled organizations accumulated $4.2 million on the money in savings accounts by the end of FY 2014.
GFA says “100% of your sponsorship is sent to the field to support your child.” Perhaps this statement should be reworded. The money is sent to the field but a lot of it apparently ends up in a bank on the field.
It is past time for GFA to end the silence and address this matter as well as others which have come out in recent weeks.
*I have the documents but don’t have permission to publish them.

The Dark Side of Medical Research

Over the last couple of years, I have written mainly about fraud and double talk in religious settings. Deception about history shouldn’t happen in the church but it does; spin from church leaders shouldn’t happen but it does.
Academic fraud shouldn’t happen but it does. This NYTs article provides a glimpse inside the fiasco in the University of  Minnesota’s medical research program.
The author says an honor code isn’t enough; I agree. An independently funded body won’t solve every problem since it would be populated by people, but it would probably help.
Recommended reading.