The Arizona Daily Star is reporting that the Faith Christian Church, accused of being a cult by former members, is now without a building for services. The Star also disclosed that the University of Arizona found no violations of the student conduct code in the operation of FCC’s student groups on campus. The action by UA doesn’t relate to the church nor does it prevent the school’s University Religious Council from keeping the church’s student groups from membership.
In March, Tucson, AZ church Faith Christian Church was rocked by allegations that church leaders encourage spanking of infants and practice coercive cult-like control over member’s personal lives and finances. FCC runs three student groups on the UA campus where many of FCC members begin their relationship with the church. FCC boasted membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability but later dropped membership amid an ECFA investigation. ECFA never released results of that inquiry. Former members were disillusioned by the lack of transparency.
Now the church will no longer meet in Amphitheater High School following a school district investigation into the church.
As pointed out in the Star article, students might wonder why the UA cleared FCC’s student groups while the URC removed them from membership. I asked URC spokeswoman Michelle Blumenberg about the apparent discrepancy. She told me:
The standards are different for a public university than for our organization. Because we are a member organization we hold our members to a higher standard, and it is one which all organizations agree upon when they are accepted for membership. Organizations need to go through an application and voting process in order to join the URC.
FCC’s groups were voted out by the religious council last year. This year the organization’s membership directory connects the ban to characteristics of a cult.
On the back of the directory page are these warnings:
After Faith Christian Church dropped membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the point person for former FCC members involved in providing testimony to the EFCA, Rachel Mullis, expressed her disappointment with ECFA’s decision not to publicly release the results of the investigation.
Now joining in is another supporter of former FCC members, Sandy Wade, who said in a comment on this blog:
FCC took the cowards way out and so did ECFA. They obviously feel no moral obligation to protect the Christian community, and they have no interest in telling the truth. Their only public comment was to defend the FCC organization. You would think that after making such public remarks in their defense they would want to complete their investigation and release their findings. Cowards, they owe us all a public apology!
Wade makes a great point. The ECFA publicly defended the church before doing any kind of investigation. Given that the ECFA went out on a limb in the press to defend FCC, it seems reasonable to think they comment publicly now that they know more.
Former member Connie Cohn of Tucson, AZ is not impressed with ECFA’s integrity over the matter:
I believe that if an organization wants to maintain their credibility then, they must adhere to their policies and speak out when those policies/standards have not been met. They say that their mission is to protect the Christian community. To allow a church to resign in the middle of an investigation and not say anything about what was being investigated seems to make us question how respectable they are. They didn’t have to give all the details, but they could have at least said something about them leaving other than that they have decided to resign. They have a responsibility to the hundreds of people who left FCC and are still a part of the Christian community. I, for one, am not very impressed with the integrity of the ECFA.
Another former member said:
To me it shows laziness. ECFA doesn’t want to finish compiling and publishing a report for an organization not under its oversight anymore. But to let an organization just leave in order to halt any investigation is a major loophole that shouldn’t be there. The FBI doesn’t halt an investigation when someone leaves the country and just say “oh well nothing we can do, they left”. ECFA needs to complete what they started ad make the results public so that people will take them seriously. Since this loophole exists the ECFA really isn’t protecting members and donors at all.
Former Member of FCC
Even though the FCC resigned while under investigation, the ECFA does not plan to say anything further about the findings of the investigation. According to an April 9 email from John C. Van Drunen to former FCC member Rachel Mullis, the ECFA will only “cite their resignation” on their website. Writing to Mullis, Van Drunen said:
Thanks for your follow-up. Since they have resigned there is not anything further we are able to say other than to cite their resignation. Regarding follow-up with the former members, I have sent an update this afternoon to each person who responded to thank them similarly for their assistance and to give them the same update.
John C. Van Drunen
Executive Vice President
Mullis told me that she felt “disappointed” by the ECFA decision not to alert the public in some manner about the problems at FCC. She added that she felt like FCC got a “‘get out of jail free’ card.”
This is another example of how the ECFA’s decisions do not serve donors or the public. All that a prospective donor would know about FCC from the ECFA is that FCC resigned. The ECFA should have a category of resignation that indicates that an organization resigned while under investigation.
Faith Christian Church has voluntarily resigned membership from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
The ECFA was in the middle of an investigation of the church’s compliance with ECFA’s guidelines. By resigning, the church can escape that process.
I have asked the ECFA if they plan to issue a report and will report any response I receive.
If the past is a guide, I am not optimistic that the ECFA will publicly comment.
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.