ECFA Statement: Faith Christian Church Still Under Investigation

The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga posted a statement from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability about their ongoing examination of Faith Christian Church.

ECFA evaluates and accredits ministry organizations, including churches, only with regard to their compliance with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship. Occasionally we are presented with complaints or accusations about a member organization and while we do not automatically dismiss such concerns, the scope of our investigative authority and purview is, according to our bylaws, necessarily limited to issues directly related to these seven standards. With regard to Faith Christian Church, we are working to ascertain if, in fact, any complaint expressed from former church members falls within the scope of our seven standards.

As I reported recently, ECFA executive vice president John C. Van Drunen has interviewed at least one former member of Faith Christian Church and expressed an intention to interview those who signed a letter of concern to the ECFA.  Given what I have heard from former members, it seems inconceivable that the ECFA would find Faith Christian Church in compliance.
For instance, the first standard of responsible stewardship ends with this statement:

Summary. A member’s commitment to the evangelical Christian faith is the cornerstone of ECFA membership. The word “evangelical” connotes more than mere subscription to a doctrinal statement. It includes commitment to an ethical and moral lifestyle that seeks to conform to a biblical norm. It is the lifestyle envisioned in  ECFA’s own statement of faith: “We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live agodly life” (emphasis added).

Both Christians and secular society often do not distinguish between financial and non-financial issues. A moral scandal would be just as devastating as a financial scandal to the credibility of the organization.

Faith Christian Church has been accused of encouraging the abuse of infants. Multiple remorseful parents and witnesses have come forward with public statements to this effect. If the ECFA is not investigating this aspect of the situation, then they are not adhering to the spirit of this guideline.  There is no universe where the child rearing practices described by former members should be tolerated in an ECFA member church.

In the eyes of many Mars Hill Church former members, the ECFA’s reputation was tarnished by their lack of transparency surrounding financial and leadership issues at the former mega-church. How the ECFA handles this situation will be  a major test of their credibility.

Former Members: Faith Christian Church (Tucson, AZ) Coerced Donations

Earlier today, Arizona Daily Star writers Carol Ann Alaimo and Emily Bregel reported that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is now investigating the Faith Christian Church to determine whether or not ECFA guidelines are being met by the church.  From the article:

Dan Busby, president of the Virginia-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, expressed support for Faith Christian’s financial practices last week. In an email Tuesday, Busby said, “Since the issues were raised last week, we have had a senior ECFA executive on the ground in Arizona to confirm the Church’s compliance with our standards.”

I wrote Busby and ECFA counsel Michael Martin to find out if the “senior ECFA executive” would meet with former members of FCC. I have received no answer. Thus far, no former members I have interviewed have spoken with the ECFA about their experiences. In addition to the allegations about bizarre teachings on spanking infants, former members have described feeling forced to give money to the church. The level of coercion described by members would certainly violate one tenet of the ECFA’s Donor’s Bill of Rights:

Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.

The ECFA lists the following rights:

Donor’s Bill of Rights
You have the right to:
Know how the funds of an organization are being spent.
Know what the programs you support are accomplishing.
Know that the organization complies with federal, state, and municipal laws.
Restrict or designate your gifts to a particular project within the organization’s mission objectives.
A timely and courteous response to your inquiries about finances and programs.
Visit office and program sites of an organization to talk personally with the staff.
Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.
Obtain a copy of the organization’s most recent audited financial statements
Know that there is a responsible governing board providing oversight to the organization’s mission.
Know that all appeals for funds are truthful and accurate.

The former members of FCC and sister churches describe coercive tactics by church pastors and elders to gain contributions. Aaron Marley was a bookkeeper at sister church Hope Christian Church in Tempe, AZ. He told me that the giving history of members is reviewed by the ministers. Marley said a minister, who was not part of the church administration, interrogated him about his giving because it didn’t meet expectations. Marley assumed a church would keep giving records for tax purposes but not for the purpose of coercing donations.
Former staff minister Jeff Phillips told me that “tithing is strictly enforced. We were taught that if we did not tithe, we were cursed.” Phillips said he remembered FCC pastor Steve Hall say, “‘I WILL NOT pastor cursed people.'”
Phillips related the following account:

There was one occasion when some of the staff, including me, were caught not tithing soon enough. We were waiting until we had deposited our checks into the bank to tithe to the church. Steve found a verse in the OT about paying late fees for late tithes, so we were forced to pay extra for our lateness. So, essentially the ministers raised their own salaries and gave 13% of that and beyond to the church, which went to pay Steve’s salary along with the other members’ tithes.

A thorough investigation by the ECFA should take into account testimony from former members.

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.

ECFA Tells World Magazine Mars Hill Global In Compliance With Guidelines; Purges Another Page From Website

Yesterday, prior to Mark Driscoll’s resignation announcement, Warren Smith posted an article at World magazine which summarizes many of the controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church.  In it, Smith tells of statements made by Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability about Mars Hill.

The ECFA’s Dan Busby told me in July that his group reviewed Mars Hill Global and found it to be in compliance with ECFA standards. In September, a week after Driscoll announced his sabbatical and the church announced its review of his behavior, Busby said, “ECFA will let the church complete their review. Then, ECFA will be in a position to determine if our separate review of the same issues is warranted.”

The ECFA’s statement regarding Mars Hill Global is useless without explanation. Essentially, the ECFA is asking the public to accept their word. No explanation or rationale was provided as required by their own principles (now purged from their website).  Just a couple of days ago, ECFA promised:

ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

Another page (which is also now missing – see cache) promised that all allegations which involved their guidelines would be investigated.
I have raised several issues about Mars Hill’s lack of compliance with ECFA guidelines and the ECFA has never suggested mediation. All I have gotten is an assurance that everything is as it should be without explanation. I don’t know of anyone who has leveled a complaint with the ECFA who was pointed to mediation.
Since I raised the issue of a public statement with Dan Busby, there has been no response from the ECFA except to purge two pages from the ECFA website. I know of no direct response to the hundreds of people who have signed the ECFA/Mars Hill petitions which request increased transparency from both groups. It is amazing that people would have to beg for an organization to live up to its name.

Amid the Mars Hill Church Controversies, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Goes Quiet, Purges Website

I don’t understand the approach of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to the controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church.
Two petitions signed by hundreds have called on the ECFA to address financial accountability at Mars Hill Church. Numerous people, including many former and current Mars Hill members and donors, have written the ECFA asking for answers regarding Mars Hill’s Global Fund. I have written several emails requesting on the record comments about Mars Hill. Recently, silence is the answer.
Then on Monday, October 13, I wrote this email to Dan Busby, President of the ECFA:

According to this information:

  • ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

According to Justin Dean, the ECFA examined the dealings of Mars Hill Church regarding the Global Fund.
“I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we submit to outside CPA firms to review our financials, as well as submit to the ECFA who has reviewed our financials and in particular has reviewed in detail our donations from our Global audience and all communications and efforts around Global.”
Is this true? And did you communicate the results publicly? If so, where?
Thank you, Warren Throckmorton

Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean had made this statement about the ECFA and the Global Fund as a part of a conversation with Alex Terry which is reported in a post on Monday.
Then, yesterday, a commenter let me know that the Complaints page is no longer available.
The Google cache of the page is still available and I have the page saved.
I wrote to ask Dan Busby why the page was removed. No answer as yet.
If enforced, this principles on the missing page would address some of my concerns about the ECFA. For instance:

Standards that are not respected by members or that are violated – whether through ignorance or intentionally – and go unenforced lose their effectiveness in demonstrating God-honoring ethical practice.
Just as ECFA’s Standards stress members’ integrity and honesty in action and in communication with the public with certain obligations of disclosure, ECFA will conduct itself with the same requirements when communicating to the public regarding compliance matters.
ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

Unfortunately, the ECFA has not communicated on this matter.
If the ECFA has no intention of commenting regarding Mars Hill, then we can only assume the Board found no reason to investigate. In light of the evidence surround Mars Hill Global, that finding would be troublesome. On the other hand, if the organization has investigated as Dean implied, then it would be good for the organization to address the many emails, call, petitions and other clear concerns raised by members and former members of Mars Hill as well as other members of the public and the media.
The Mars Hill/ECFA petitions are here and here.