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.
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:
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
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.