Former Members of Faith Christian Church (Tucson, AZ) to Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability: Talk to Us

Previously, I posted stories of abuse and pastoral control being alleged by former members of Faith Christian Church in Tucson, AZ. In the Arizona Daily Star article that broke the story, Faith Christian Church was defended by Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability as a member in good standing. Since then, the ECFA told the Daily Star that an executive is investigating.
However, the ECFA has not talked to any former members of Faith Christian Church. Some have now decided to take initiative and contact ECFA directly with the following letter. Signed by 22 former members, the letter makes request to speak with the ECFA in order to explain the coercion and other practices which may placed Faith Christian on the wrong side of the ECFA guidelines for member organizations. Here is that letter sent earlier today to the ECFA:

March 19, 2015
Dear Mr. Busby:
We write as former members hoping to engage you in a discussion of our experience at Faith Christian Church in Tucson, AZ.
We are aware that Faith Christian Church has been a member of the ECFA since 2004. Many of us have attended since then and are aware of the practices of the church while it was a member in good standing with the ECFA.
We saw in the March 12 issue of the Arizona Daily Star that the ECFA is conducting an investigation of Faith Christian Church and has sent an executive to Tucson for that purpose. We welcome this news, however we respectfully ask that the ECFA investigators speak to former members about violations of ECFA guidelines.  We can offer unique insight to the financial policies that current members or current church leadership cannot.
In violation of ECFA’s Donor’s Bill of Rights, most of us experienced pressure to donate at least 10% of our income while at the church.  In fact, it is clearly written in their membership that tithing is a requirement for membership.  If someone did not comply with this requirement, they were often notified that they were not trusting in the Lord and that they would be cursed.  The pastor, Steve Hall, often said he would not pastor cursed people. Weekly, most of us gave our 10%, but the church also encouraged a financial offering on top of that.  We could not designate where our tithe went, but we could designate where we wanted the offering to go (missions, building fund, etc.).  Sometimes, staff members from the church would ask to see the tax returns or bank statements of church members so that the leaders could know the exact figure the members were to give. Some members were even pushed out of the church for not giving the required amount.
Church members were allowed to see the church budget if they asked, although most of us would have felt uncomfortable doing so.  The financial statements were never reported in a church bulletin or discussed at a church meeting.  There was no outside agency that helped determine church spending, salaries, audits, or financial policies, although Steve Hall did use a formula to justify his salary of $100,000+  a year.  Non-staff members did not know how the tithe was being spent.
We ask that you contact ___________ at ­­­­­­­­­­­­_____________ or _____________ to facilitate interviews with former members for the purpose of investigating the issue of compliance by FCC with ECFA standards.
Sincerely,
The Undersigned Former Members (22 names redacted at their request).

Last week, I asked Dan Busby if the ECFA had plans to talk with the former members. He did not reply. However, according to Rachel Mullis, none of the former members disclosed any contact from the ECFA to date.
Below see the requirements for members. While other churches require financial support as a part of a covenant, according to the former members, FCC tied curses, and loss of membership to invasive enforcement.
FCC membership
 

Former Staff Members: Faith Christian Church Members Taught to Spank Infants to Curb Rebellion

Two former staff members of Faith Christian Church in Tucson AZ provided more details about the procedures church leaders told members to use to drive out rebellion from infants. The Arizona Daily Star reported the procedures described by former member and staffer Rachiel Morgan. According to the Star report, church pastor Stephen Hall taught members to spank babies as young as 8 weeks if they raised up their heads while laying on their stomachs.
Wanting to learn more about this claim, I spoke today with Rachiel Morgan. She told me that the techniques were taught in small groups by the elders and that her ex-husband was exhorted to spank his six month old baby in front of church elders to determine if the spankings were hard enough.
Another former staff person, Jeff Phillips told me that the techniques were taught to “drive out the rebellion” in the children. He said, according to church pastors, “The only way to recognize rebellion in a child that small is to place the child on his belly to put him to sleep.” If parents worried about infants suffocating or SIDS, they were told “to live by faith and not worry that our baby would die in the crib if he was on his belly.”
Both Morgan and Phillips described similar tactics. According to Phillips, parents were advised:

When putting the child down, if the child lifted his head, you were to push his head down and say “no” firmly. If he lifted his head again, you were to spank him on the backside with the rubber eraser end of a pencil or a cardboard tube from a clothes hanger. You were supposed to strike the baby hard enough to make him cry. You repeated this process until the baby complied, usually by falling asleep.

I wrote the email provided by Faith Christian Church to allow them to give their side or to rebut these charges but there has been no answer.
Morgan and Phillips described other concerns including financial ones with the ministers of a 400-500 member church getting six figure salaries while most staff were living off donations which had to be shared with the church leadership. Membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was used by campus non-salary staff to raise money for the church. Morgan and Phillips knew of no investigation on the part of the ECFA; according to the former staffers, the church pastors gloated about the credibility they had due to membership in the ECFA.
 
 

Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Defends Tucson Church at Center of Investigative Report

Faith Christian Church in Tucson emerged from the demise of Maranatha Christian Church in 1990.  The church seeks to convert college students as a part of the church’s ministry and as such has had a long standing relationship with the University of Arizona. Now the church is the subject of an investigation by the Arizona Daily Star over allegations of cult-like control over members and inappropriate punishments of children. Faith Christian Church has several affiliated churches around the country and one in New Zealand. I welcome input from FCC members and members of the affiliates. I have contacted FCC for comment about the allegations, especially those relating to children.
An aspect of the investigative report is the role of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. ECFA president Dan Busby is quoted extensively in the report in defense of the church. However, his comments raise concerns for me, especially knowing how he responded to the Mars Hill Church situation.
Busby defended several aspects of the church’s practices seemingly without the benefit of an investigation. I have contacted Busby for clarification.  I also contacted Arizona Daily Star reporter Carol Ann Alaimo to ask her if she asked Busby if ECFA had investigated the many allegations at FCC. Furthermore, I asked her if she asked Busby his opinion about the corporal punishment of babies described in the article. Numerous former members said the ministers told members to spank babies as young as 8 weeks old for rebellious reactions. One such reaction was demonstrated by babies raising their heads while laying on their stomachs. Members were instructed to spank the baby with a cardboard tube until the baby stopped raising his/her head.
Alaimo said Busby did not respond to her questions about the extent of an ECFA investigation of the church and the corporal punishment of babies.
I will keep up with this story and report any reply I get from ECFA.
Given the allegations, the ECFA should investigate the church. Probably child protective services should as well.
Additional information: The Arizona Daily Star is not the first article to call attention to Faith Christian Church. See this Arizona University student paper article back in 2012. According to the ECFA website, FCC has been a member of ECFA since 2004.
The churches affiliated with Faith Christian Church are (from a former members Facebook group):
Faith Christian Church in Tucson, AZ (http://www.faithchristianchurchtucson.org/)
Grace Christian Church in Fort Collins, CO (http://www.gracechristianchurchfortcollins.org/)
Palmerston North Victory Christian Church in Palmerston North, New Zealand (http://www.pnvictorychurch.org.nz/ and http://www.nzcm.org.nz/)
Cornerstone Christian Church in Tampa, FL (http://www.cornerstonetampa.org/)
Hope Christian Church in Tempe, AZ (http://hope4asu.org/)
New Covenant Christian Church in Albuquerque, NM (http://www.ncccabq.com/)
New Life Christian Church in Flagstaff, AZ (http://www.newlifeflagstaff.org/)
Resurrection Church in Boulder, CO (http://resurrectionchurchboulder.org/)
Living Hope Christian Church in Las Cruces, NM (http://www.livinghopelascruces.com/)

 
 

Why Did David Jeremiah's Turning Point Give Up Membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability?

When I first heard former Turning Point CFO George Hale’s account of David Jeremiah’s methods of gaining spots on best-seller lists, I checked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability membership directory to see if David Jeremiah’s ministry, Turning Point, was a member organization. It is not.
I checked because, in 2014, ECFA president Dan Busby took a public stance against the best-seller list manipulation scheme paid for by Mars Hill Church. At the time, he first told Ruth Graham that the scheme was “unethical and deceptive.”
Later, I asked Busby for an expanded statement which he provided and I published at the time. Busby said concerning best-seller manipulation schemes:

It is unethical and deceptive for ECFA-accredited churches (and other organizations) to:
a.   make efforts to mask the method of procuring products authored or developed by an organization’s leader in order to improve product ratings, and/or
b.   procure products authored or developed by an organization’s leader at a higher price than otherwise available for the sake of improving product ratings, even if there is a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.

These two elements appear to be true of former CFO Hale’s description of what Turning Point ministry does to elevate David Jeremiah’s books. According to Hale, Turning Point takes donations for the promise of a book in advance of the publication date. In addition to the book, the donor is often promised resources from Turning Point which are provided at the expense of the non-profit organization. The donations are then used to purchase books at retail cost from a variety of locations around the country in order to maximize the “product ratings.” The books have to be purchased at retail price in order to count in the best-seller list calculations. Jeremiah, as author, is able to purchase those books from the publisher at a tremendous volume discount but such purchases don’t “improve product ratings” nor do they generate royalties.
Busby then pointed to an advisory opinion which remains relevant today.

Product Procurement

Overview.  The leaders of many ECFA members author or develop various intellectual properties, including books.  Royalties received by these leaders for intellectual properties owned by the ECFA member should be considered as one of the elements of compensation when the organization’s governing body determines compensation for the leaders.
Additionally, the organization’s governing body should ensure that the organization is not involved in unethical and deceptive practices relating to the procurement of products authored or developed by its leaders.  The appropriate avenues with which to procure products should be reviewed against the backdrop of ECFA’s Standards 1, 4, and 6.
Standard 1 – Biblical truths and practices.  “Every member shall subscribe to a written statement of faith clearly affirming a commitment to the evangelical Christian faith, or shall otherwise demonstrate such commitment and shall operate in accordance with biblical truths and practices.”
In several of his letters, the Apostle Paul stresses the importance of being beyond reproach and behaving in such a way as to avoid even the appearance of wrong-doing. He tells us that we need to be circumspect to those outside the Church. The reason Paul most often gives is that we must not give Satan any opportunity to destroy the reputation of Christ. Arguably, and in an eternal sense, it may be true that the business of ministries and churches is of concern to God and not to others judging from the outside. However, Scripture is also very clear about our need to be open, honest, and above reproach as we wrestle with the issues of life before Christ’s return. As the Apostle Paul said, “For we are taking pains to do what is right, not only in the eyes of the Lord but also in the eyes of men” (2 Corinthians 8:21).
Standard 4 – Use of Resources.  “Every member shall exercise the appropriate management and controls necessary to provide reasonable assurance that all of the member’s operations are carried out and resources are used in a responsible manner and in conformity with applicable laws and regulations, such conformity taking into account biblical mandates.”
The use of resources in a responsible manner includes managing resources in a God-honoring way. An organization that has expended assets in an unwise manner may diminish its own Christian witness.
Standard 6 – Compensation-Setting and Related-party transactions. Every organization shall set compensation of its top leader and address related-party transactions in a manner that demonstrates integrity and propriety in conformity with ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Compensation-Setting and Related-Party Transactions.”
Analysis. In reviewing these Standards and their related commentaries against certain methods in which products may be procured, the ECFA Board, Standards Committee, and Staff found the following:
A potential conflict of interest arises when an organization’s leader decides the organization will promote or purchase books authored by the leader, with the leader receiving royalties on the books.  This risk of a conflict-of-interest is heightened when, in relation to products authored or developed by leaders of ECFA members, (a) products are purchased at a higher price than is required and/or (2) there is an effort to mask the method of procuring products in order to improve product rating.
ECFA members must avoid an actual conflict-of-interest by utilizing the related-party transaction process outlined in ECFA’s Policy for Excellence in Related-Party Transactions when purchasing products authored by an organization’s leader.
If an organization pays a higher price than required for procuring products authored or developed by leaders of an ECFA member, there must be a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.  Otherwise, the excess expenditure of funds is for a non-ministry purpose.
Where an organization attempts to mask the method of procurement from organizations that determine product ratings, ECFA believes such practices are not in accord with biblical truths and practices.
ECFA’s Positions.  It is unethical and deceptive for a member organization to:

  1. make efforts to mask the method of procuring products authored or developed by an organization’s leader in order to improve product ratings, and/or

  2. procure products authored or developed by an organization’s leader at a higher price than otherwise available for the sake of improving product ratings, even if there is a valid ministry purpose for paying the higher price.

Given Busby’s stance, it is not surprising that Turning Point is not now accredited; the Turning Point approach as described by former CFO George Hale runs afoul of this advisory opinion. However, I recently learned that David Jeremiah’s ministry was once accredited by ECFA. According to a 2010 ECFA newsletter (page 8), Turning Point voluntarily resigned membership in the ECFA in 2010. Who was involved in that decision from Turning Point? Presumably, the key decision makers were David Jeremiah as CEO and Sealy Yates, Jeremiah’s literary agent, who chairs the Turning Point board.
An anonymous source with knowledge of situation told me that the resignation was allowed by the ECFA after an investigation into Turning Point’s means of elevating Jeremiah’s books to the best-seller lists. Turning Point’s leadership was offered the opportunity to stay in the ECFA if the book promotion schemes ceased. However, according to the source, Jeremiah declined and was allowed to resign without action from the ECFA.
I continue to get silence from Turning Point to all questions regarding the best-seller list promotions. I wrote ECFA to ask for comment about the narrative disclosed by the anonymous source. I received no answer from Dan Busby. If anything in this article is incorrect, I invite Turning Point and/or the EFCA to let me know.
On one hand, I am encouraged that the ECFA would insist on compliance with their standards. However, it is discouraging that the ECFA would not alert donors that Turning Point – an organization that pulls in nearly $40 million/year — is not following these standards. Such a deal does not help donors and raises again the value of the ECFA for donors.
 
See also Christianity Today’s article on using book buying schemes to game the best seller lists.

John Piper on Lessons Learned from the Mark Driscoll Controversy; ECFA, Are You Listening?

In an audio presentation out today, John Piper doesn’t regret partnering with Mark Driscoll but does see some of the problems identified by Mars Hill’s elders. In this audio, Piper briefly admits that he could have done more to help. He also says that perhaps pulling Driscoll’s book from sale, as Lifeway has done, is a defensible temporary response to the controversy. I can’t get the embed code to work so click the link for the audio)
Most of the audio is about lessons learned. Piper identifies eight lessons:
1. People are complex and we can’t always see our own flaws.
2. We need to take seriously what wise counselors tells us about ourselves. Listen.
3. Sometimes you can see what others are saying and sometimes you can’t. Driscoll might not have agreed with his elders just because he didn’t see it. To me, it seems obvious that Piper hasn’t talked to many, if any, former elders at Mars Hill.
4. Churches should be led by a team of elders with all having one vote. Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, are you listening? Paul Tripp called the structure you require for accredited churches unbiblical, and now John Piper does as well.
5. The salary of pastors should not be treated as one treats the CEO of a corporation. He opposes pastors having salaries “in the 2,3,4,5,6,7,8 hundred thousand dollar range.” Well, that is the range for all of the Mars Hill executive elders. Again, ECFA, are you listening? The ECFA requires church boards to use salary comparison studies to set executive salary. All this does is create salary inflation when the same small group of churches examine salary ranges. A range from $200k to $1.2 million became a reason to bump Driscoll’s salary to $650k, and the other executive elders to the high $200,000 range. No governance is perfect, but the Mars Hill meltdown has exposed fatal flaws in your guidance to churches. Churches are not non-profit corporations and the ECFA’s guidance in area is deeply flawed.
6. Right theology can’t keep a person from sin.
7. God’s purposes are not foiled by one man.
8. Let him who thinks he stands, take heed lest he falls.
 

Mars Hill's Compensation Process and ECFA Guidelines

Recently, Wenatchee the Hatchet posted a memo from Sutton Turner regarding Mark Driscoll’s salary recommendations. In the August 2012 memo, Turner wrote:

I would like to put forth a recommendation to raise Pastor Mark Driscoll’s salary to$650,000 for financial year 2013 based on the following:

Turner then made a case to the compensation committee for Driscoll to receive a substantial raise for FY 2013. He also indicated in the memo that he was the only person outside of the compensation committee who knew Driscoll’s salary.
I submit that Turner’s activity violated at least the spirit of the guidelines of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Regarding the setting of compensation, the ECFA guidelines state:

1. The board or an authorized committee of the board shall make the decision regarding total compensation, and those participating in the decision-making process may not have any conflict of interest in the decision, whether direct or indirect. That is, no person in the decision-making process may:
a. be related to the person whose compensation is being addressed,
b. be subordinate to the person whose compensation is being set,
c. be a person whose compensation is determined in a manner that involves input or decision-making by the person whose compensation is being set, or
d. otherwise have a conflict of interest.

Determining the extent of the violation hinges on a definition of “decision making process.” It could be argued that Turner had no part in the decision and therefore did not violate the guidance. I would argue however that recommendation and advocacy to the compensation committee was a conflict of interest for Turner who served at Driscoll’s pleasure. Information gathering is part of the decision making process and should be done by the compensation committee. Turner had intimate knowledge of the process, participated in it, and was the only staff person who knew the facts. If the ECFA guidance permits this kind of participation, then the value of the guidance is again called into question.
One could also argue that this memo was written before Mars Hill was accredited. However, did the process continue over the remainder of Driscoll’s time at Mars Hill? If so, it seems to me that the ECFA should at least investigate the role of subordinates in the setting of compensation for FY 2014 and the current year which most likely forms the basis for Driscoll’s severance package.
 
 

Mars Hill's Non-Disparagement Clause, the Attorney General, and Blowing Whistles in ECFA Organizations

For a long time, Mars Hill Church used non-disclosure and non-disparagement clauses to keep departing staff and pastors quiet about problems at the church. As it turns out, the church might have been violating Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability guidance in yet another way by the used of what former pastor Dave Kraft called a “gag order.” The ECFA provides a template for a church whistleblower policy. If the guidance in this policy (and elsewhere) is observed, whistleblowing should not lead to adverse consequences. However, former employees have described intimidation and threats and so it is clear that the ECFA guidance has not been followed.
Even though, the ECFA has been a paper tiger throughout the many revelations about Mars Hill, the guidance is worth examining. The ECFA provides a sample policy that churches such as Mars Hill can use. I am open to correction but I have not heard from any former pastor or employee that such information was ever communicated. The policy begins:

SAMPLE POLICY FOR A LARGER CHURCH

Policy on Suspected Misconduct, Dishonesty, Fraud, and Whistle-blower Protection
XYZ Church is committed to the highest possible standards of ethical, moral, and legal conduct. Consistent with this commitment, this policy aims to provide avenues for employees to raise concerns about suspected misconduct, dishonesty, and fraud and to provide reassurance that they will be protected from reprisals or victimization for whistle-blowing in good faith.

A reporting procedure is suggested:

Reporting
Employees and any other person who has a concern relating to suspected misconduct, dishonesty or fraud may make a report. The XYZ Church wants to hear of possible problems in these areas.
Concerns or suspected misconduct, dishonesty or fraud may be reported by telephone, email or regular mail, at the employee’s or reporter’s preference:
An employee may telephone: (—) — —-. We have retained an independent company to receive calls and descriptions of possible issues. Reports they receive will be forwarded to the Chairman of the Audit Committee.
An employee can email directly the Chairman of the Audit Committee at: _________.
An employee may write a letter to the Chairman of the Audit Committee at the following address:

The organization must provide a safe environment for blowing the whistle:

SAFEGUARDS

No Retaliation
No pastor, officer, or employee or other person who in good faith reports a violation shall suffer harassment, retaliation or adverse employment consequence. An employee who retaliates against someone who has reported a violation in good faith is subject to discipline up to and including termination of employment. This policy is intended to encourage and enable employees and others to raise concerns within the organization prior to seeking resolution outside the organization.
Additionally, no employee shall be adversely affected because they refuse to carry out a directive which, in fact, constitutes corporate fraud, or is a violation of state or federal law.
Confidentiality
Violations or suspected violations may be submitted on a confidential basis by the complainant or may be submitted anonymously. Reports of violations or suspected violations will be kept confidential to the extent possible, consistent with the need to conduct an adequate investigation. Every effort will be made to protect the complainant’s identity.

This policy relates to people on the job. However, all former Mars Hill employees I have spoken with tell me that they never felt safe to press their questions or concerns very far. When Dalton Roraback asked questions about salaries and other financial matters, he was relieved of his position. Where was the ECFA when this happened?
According to the sample policy, there are clear issues at Mars Hill which could have been reported internally:

For purposes of this policy, the definition of misconduct, dishonesty, and fraud includes but is not limited to:

  • Acts which are inconsistent with ministry policy

  • Theft or other misappropriation of ministry assets

  • Misstatements or other irregularities in ministry records

  • Incorrect financial reporting

  • Misuse of ministry resources

  • Illegal activities

  • Immoral or unbiblical activities

  • Forgery or alteration of documents

  • Any other form of fraud

The Global Fund bait and switch, Result Source, year end offerings which were actually “hail Mary” offerings to bail out the general fund, using ministry funds to further Mark Driscoll’s book marketing, etc., are all issues that aroused concerns among staff and pastors.
As noted, the guidance above is aimed at existing employees. What about former employees? Recently, the ECFA removed two pages with guidance for the public (which would include former employees) from the organizational website. However, for now, a short section of guidance is on the FAQs page:

How does ECFA handle complaints?

Every day, ECFA receives inquiries from the public regarding ECFA member organizations. Occasionally, ECFA receives communication asserting inappropriate conduct on the part of a charity. We believe you should contact the ministry directly in an attempt to get a satisfactory answer from the ministry. Misunderstandings may easily be clarified with a telephone call, email or letter.
As a membership organization, ECFA will only accept complaints against member organizations. (Complaints against nonmember organizations should be directed to the state attorney general’s office.) The complaint should be in writing and signed. A request for anonymity will be honored. ECFA will be happy to discuss complaint issues over the phone, but will be unable to initiate any action based on a verbal complaint alone.
Complainants should identify the member organization and the standard violated. ECFA addresses and works through all complaints received. However, since membership is based on adhering to our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, ECFA can only take action against a member organization if it is shown that the ministry violated an ECFA standard.
Credible complaints relating to an ECFA Standard against member organizations will be investigated thoroughly. Complainants, however, must be aware that ECFA, through its Standards Committee and Board of Directors, interprets ECFA Standards, makes judgments relating to compliance with those standards, and determines a course of action if noncompliance is revealed. ECFA will not take punitive action in cases when it is not warranted.

What is the procedure for making a complaint or raising a concern about an ECFA member?

We believe you should contact the organization directly in an attempt to resolve the matter. Misunderstandings may easily be cleared up with a telephone call, email or letter.
If the matter cannot be handled by directly contacting the ministry, ECFA will accept a complaint against a member organization if the complaint is in writing and signed. If requested, your identity will be protected.
ECFA asks that the complainant identify a possible standard the ministry violated. ECFA addresses and works through all complaints received. However, since membership is based on adhering to our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship™, ECFA can only take action against a member organization if it is shown that the ministry violated an ECFA Standard. (emphasis added)

If an organization is not an ECFA member, the ECFA directs the public to the Attorney General’s office. This appears to be a subtle warning to non-member organizations. If you are not a part of the ECFA, complaints should go to the AG’s office.
As we have learned complaints to the ECFA don’t go very far. Partly as a consequence of the ECFA inaction and silence, some may now go to the AG in Washington. Joel Connelly, a Seattle Post-Intelligencer columnist, has called on the Washington AG’s office to investigate Mars Hill’s fundraising. At least one person who contacted the AG’s office was told that the office would investigate complaints against the church. I am aware of former members who have filed complaints.
In the end, the church may face the same consequences as if it had not been an ECFA member organization. One could make a case that this is fitting since they ECFA has not been transparent about the enforcement of its own standards with Mars Hill.
 
 

ECFA Guidance: a Year's Severance Pay is "Highly Unusual"

I reported yesterday that the terms of Mark Driscoll’s arrangement with the church upon termination that I have seen involve the provision of base salary and benefits for a year. If indeed these are the arrangements in force, then the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability may have yet another reason to review Mars Hill Church’s practices. According to an article on church employees and severance pay on the ECFA website, a year’s severance is “highly unusual.”

How Much Severance Pay Should be Paid?
No bright line rule exists for determining what how much severance pay to provide. The main concern should always be proper stewardship of the church’s financial assets in furtherance of the church’s religious purposes. If a long-term employee is leaving the church, it may be a very appropriate quid pro quo payment to provide generous severance. If a contentious pastor leaves, the church leaders may feel forced to provide extensive severance as a risk management decision. Generally, provision of a few weeks to a few months of severance pay should deemed reasonable under many circumstances. In contrast, a year’s worth of severance pay would be viewed as highly unusual and therefore would warrant extensive due diligence and substantiation to justify such a large severance package.

I realize that “no bright line rule exists” but since the ECFA guidance is there, I suspect it will be of interest to Mars Hill stakeholders.

Petition Asks Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to Suspend Mars Hill Church

GlobaFundA petition posted today “Mars Hill Church – Walk in the Light” at Change.org asks the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to suspend the membership of Mars Hill Church. The petition specifically points to a memo on Mars Hill’s Global Fund which planned to use “highly visible” mission projects as a draw to gain donations which were mostly used to support Mars Hill’s expansion and current expense spending. Very little actually went to missions according to the church, although Mars Hill leaders will not disclose details about how much went to missions and how much to fund current expenses.
The petition states:

Despite numerous scandals of confirmed deception to donors Mars Hill Church points to its ECFA standing to assure donors of its accountability and transparency. This is misleading donors and frustrating members and ex-members who are calling for financial questions to be answered.

The statements of support for the petition are quite strong. Alexa Shelley wrote:

I am an attorney for an ECFA-accredited organization. We are proud of our ECFA accreditation status and, I believe, it is important to many of our donors. For Mars Hill with its questionable accounting practices and complete lack of financial transparency to remain accredited only calls into question the meaning or value of any ECFA accreditation, including that of my organization. Frankly, if ECFA sits back and does nothing, in my opinion, it will devalue the ECFA accreditation of all accredited organizations…

Susan Gingrich:

I’m signing because it’s time for the Church to get its own house in order before the IRS does. ECFA is not doing its job and does the evangelical world no favors by looking the other way in the glaring light of Mars Hill’s obvious failure to walk in a manner worthy of the Gospel in its financial (and likely other) affairs.

Benjamin Dennison:

Using promo videos of foreign locations to get people to give to “missions”, while spending nearly all the money raised for U. S. buildings and keeping the exact amount secret (as revealed in a recent internal memo), is a disgusting and immoral practice. Mars Hill needs to own up to exactly what was planned and done with the Mars Hill Global Fund, and promise transparency going forward.

Current Mars Hill Pastors Express Concerns About Issues Covered By ECFA Guidelines

In the letter released today by nine current Mars Hill pastors (actually one former pastor, and 8 current; one was let go today – more on that later today), the pastors referenced concerns about the handling of the Mars Hill Global Fund, among several other issues of transparency.

…there is no dearth of examples in the last two years of very questionable transparency and truth-telling, including the Mars Hill Global Fund, Result-Source, Strange Fire, ghost-writing/plagiarism, explanations for staff transition, the resignations of BOAA members, etc.

Knowing that current pastors question the church’s handling of the fund and the transparency surrounding several issues raises anew questions about the value of accreditation by the Evangelical Council on Financial Accountability. The ECFA’s Guideline 5 states:

Every organization shall provide a copy of its current financial statements upon written request and shall provide other disclosures as the law may require. The financial statements required to comply with Standard 3 must be disclosed under this standard.

An organization must provide a report, upon written request, including financial information on any specific project for which it sought or is seeking gifts.

There is also Guideline 7.1, Truthfulness in Communications:

Current. An appeal for charitable gifts should only contain information that is specifically relevant to the purpose of the appeal. Using pictures, videos, descriptions, narratives, or other information from prior projects or events—which suggests a misleading relationship with the current appeal—is a violation of this standard. The prospective giver will assume that all of the information presented relates to the specific appeal. It is inappropriate to use “old” information in a current appeal simply because it might bring a “better” response from a giver.

And then:

Summary.  Questions about truthfulness in communication can best be answered by asking these questions:

  • “Will all of the text, photographs, videos, or other information included in this appeal lead the prospective donor to a current, complete, and accurate understanding of the facts surrounding the appeal?”

  • “Does this appeal communicate all of the information I would want to know if I were a prospective donor deciding whether or not to respond to the appeal?”

  • “Does this communication bear witness that we are trusting God to move in the hearts of our supporters, and we are not trying to manipulate their feelings by the way we portray our work or report its outcomes?”

The current pastors are not specific but include the Global Fund in their list of not very transparent, not very candid items. Clearly, people watching the Global videos in late 2012 through 2014 would have thought the money was going to Ethiopia and India since 22 of 25 pertained to mission work.
At least one former staffer has gone on record with questions about adherence to the guidelines, now we have current pastors expressing their lack of confidence in the public presentation of a variety of issues which are relevant to the ECFA guidelines. Perhaps the call for transparency should extend beyond Mars Hill Church.