SBC Forensic Audits: Essential Transparency at NAMB and LifeWay
- Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee
- United States of America
SOUTHERN BAPTISTS for TRANSPARENCY and FINANCIAL ACCOUNTABILITY
The North American Mission Board (NAMB) Trustees and staff steward assets of $435 million on behalf of Southern Baptists, with an annual budget of $125 million. It is imperative that we operate with full transparency and accountability in order to build trust in our voluntary cooperative Kingdom work. We believe there are significant questions and concerns around possible financial irregularities, misuse of funds, use of funds outside of their approved purposes, conflict of interests with NAMB Trustees and the NAMB auditor and violations of SBC bylaws and governing Business and Financial plan.
Therefore, we the undersigned call upon the SBC Executive Committee (EC) to commission and direct an independent forensic financial audit of the North American Mission Board and report the complete findings of the audit to the entire Southern Baptist family of cooperating churches and partners (State Conventions and Associations). As well, because of similar questions of irregularities we are calling for the SBC EC to conduct a forensic audit on LifeWay Christian Resources.
No Southern Baptist should fear or fight or interfere with efforts to bring transparency to the financial dealings of SBC entities. A forensic audit will enhance trust in NAMB, LifeWay or any SBC entity that is operating rightly, but if financial problems are discovered, they can be addressed in keeping with SBC Bus. and Financial Plan XIII 13(B)(c) “All corporate expenses are incurred by the administration in a manner that reflects integrity and avoids appearances of impropriety while upholding a positive Christian witness to the Convention and beyond.”
RATIONALE Re: NAMB
Over the last 10 years NAMB has spent $1.2 billion from the sacrificial mission gifts of SBC members and churches with diminishing results in evangelism and church planting. This has resulted in the worst decade in the 175-year history of the SBC in terms of decline in baptisms, missionaries on the field, new church starts, Cooperative Program mission giving, church attendance and church membership. In addition to steep declines in mission effectiveness, serious concerns related to financial practices, financial expenditures, conflict of interests, and financial reporting at NAMB supply the rationale for requesting a full forensic audit beyond the annual audit submitted by NAMB.
• NAMB HAS MULTIPLE LARGE FINANCIAL RESERVE ACCOUNTS. Since the SBC EC and NAMB Trustees have policies that cap reserves, has NAMB leaders violated the policy or the intent of the policy by creating various reserves that topped $200 million, well beyond the one-half year limitation? (Bus. and Financial Plan article XII)
• FINANCIAL AUDITS BY NAMB Questions have arisen regarding the independence of NAMB’ independent auditor. Michael Batts, the independent auditor, has spoken on several SBC platforms and events. Additionally, Mr. Batts was a recent chairman of the Board for the ECFA and is reported to be a current ECFA Board member, which has put its seal of approval on NAMB financially. The current NAMB Trustee Chairman Danny de Armas is served as Chairman of the ECFA and a NAMB Trustee at the same time. (Bus. and Financial Plan Article XIII)
SBC BUSINESS AND FINANCIAL PLAN…
• Requires SBC entities to provide access to information related to expenditures and salary structures to members of churches cooperating with the SBC. Several members of SBC churches have not received information that is required to be given to them and others have received partial information in lieu of the required information on salary structure. (SBC Constitution Article XII, Bus. and Financial Plan article XIV)
• Limits and make requirements for entities regarding fundraising. (Article VI Fund Raising Activities)
o One requirement is for NAMB to get “advance approval of the Convention, or its Executive Committee” before fund raising (article VI A). Reports reveal that NAMB is raising funds for (1) Send Relief with various types of ads and (2) is Lobbying the US Congress. Did NAMB seek and receive advance approval from the SBC EC?
o Has NAMB met the requirement to “report annually to the EC of the SBC on any type of fundraising activity conducted by the entity”? “The report shall include a summary of the activity, its title, financial goals, structure, cost, and the results of such fund raising during the past year.” article VI (B)
o NAMB and its President had staff members out raising money directly from churches. Article VI (D) states that “In no case shall any Convention entity approach a church for inclusion in its church budget or appeal for financial contributions.” Did NAMB have other NAMB staff members out raising funds from churches like former NAMB Send Baltimore Coordinator Ron Larson did?
SBC BY-LAW 15 (F) addresses limitations on behaviors for Trustees, their spouses and their ministries in areas of conflict of interests as a part of their continued service as a SBC Trustee assigned to NAMB. Questions arise regarding the following reported claims and concerns…
1. A former NAMB Trustee’s husband was may have been receiving financial aid as a church planter (Living Faith Community Church in Corapolis, PA – Ken Cordray) who is now a NAMB employee. Was Pastor Cordray receiving NAMB funds while his wife was a NAMB Trustee?
2. A current NAMB Trustee’s husband is a church planter (Transcend Church in Harrisburg, PA – John Weathersby). Is Transcend Church or Pastor Weathersby receiving NAMB funds?
3. A former NAMB Trustee receiving funds from NAMB for his Association.
4. Several Trustees receiving benefits and/or compensation from NAMB (an example NAMB Trustee 2nd Vice Chairman Willy Rice with Who’s Your One events)
5. Several Trustees’ churches receiving funds for church plants in which the Trustee has authority over the sponsoring church and the funds (current NAMB Trustee officers and numerous others)
6. A NAMB Trustee served as a NAMB employee at the same time (Michigan’s David Washington) – also SBC Constitution Article VI (6)
• MILLIONS IN HOUSES FOR A VERY FEW CHURCH PLANTERS. NAMB has spent tens of millions on houses for use by a few church planters. Some of these homes cost over $500,000 and have amenities like swimming pools. Where are these homes? How many are there? Who lives in them? How many of these homes are tied to SBC President Greear and NAMB Trustees or the churches they lead in violation of SBC governing documents? Are there any other favors or friendships factors in the distributing use of these homes? Are any of the homes not being used for their NAMB Trustee approved purposes as evidence reveals may be the case in several homes.
• LARGE FINANCIAL GRANTS TO A FEW CHURCH PLANTERS, some via a church pastored by a current NAMB VP. NAMB has given large grants to a select number of church planters, some of whom are no longer Southern Baptist. In July 2020 it was revealed that one Atlanta, GA church planter received church planting funds and later a NAMB loan to purchase a church building. Still later, the former planter received a $175,000 grant (cashier's check) to remodel the building via NAMB VP Dhati Lewis’ Blueprint Church. This raises conflict of interest questions. Was giving NAMB money to Lewis’ BluePrint church in violation of the SBC Bus. and Financial Plan, including article XVII which prohibits even loans from being made to any officer or employee? Additionally, that church planter, and his NAMB-funded church, has left the SBC. Who else has or is receiving large grants from NAMB? James MacDonald/Harvest Bible Fellowship? What contracts with MacDonald and others did NAMB enter? (Bus. and Financial Plan article XVII 6)
• NEW HOME BUILT and LARGE INVESTMENT TO NAMB STAFF MEMBER WHO IS A NAMB PLANTER Questions arise regarding the building of a new 3,300 square foot home valued at $500,000+ for a planter who is a NAMB staffer in Pittsburgh. Questions arise regarding the purchasing of about a dozen homes in Pittsburgh and the $500,000 church building purchased from the Presbyterians that was being used by a NAMB planter, who was subsequently hired by NAMB for Send Relief. Can a NAMB staff member, Rob Wilton, receive NAMB planting money for the church he pastors and also have controls of money from NAMB to distribute to other planters as well as his own? Are there questions related to excessive compensation and will the planter move from the home in the 18-24 months as per NAMB Trustee approval of the housing for planters? Are select other planters staying in the homes more than 24 months and since yes, why and are those tied to deal making and influence?
• CHURCH PLANTING BUDGET TRIPLED WHILE PLANTS REDUCED BY HALF. The NAMB church planting budget has grown from $23 million to $75 million in 10 years, but the number of new church starts has dropped to less than half the number a decade ago. How is NAMB spending $50 million more in church planting and getting less than half for it? Where is that money specifically going?
• OVER $600,000 PAID TO LOBBY US CONGRESS. NAMB has paid hundreds of thousands of dollars to lobbyists to secure federal government funding for Send Relief. Why is a Southern Baptist mission agency, supported through the Cooperative Program and annual missions offerings, lobbying to influence Congress or seeking federal funds? Has this been approved by the Executive Committee of the SBC as is required by SBC governing documents? Is lobbying Congress in keeping with the assignment or mission of NAMB? Is this in violation of Bus. and Financial Plan article XVI?
• MILLIONS IN MARKETING STAFF AND ADVERTISEMENT How much is NAMB spending on marketing and public relations? NAMB’s marketing staff is four to five times larger than the evangelism staff and evangelism is a key assignment and purpose of NAMB. How much money is spent on marketing verses evangelism? Annual baptisms have plummeted by over 100,000 in the past decade to levels not seen since 1938. Are the NAMB Trustees ensuring that NAMB is putting emphasis on its assigned priorities with staffing and budgeting in keeping with their fiduciary duties?
• $15 MILLION SPENT ON ONE PROPERTY IN A SMALL TOWN in Metro Atlanta. NAMB spent a reported $15 million on a mission center in Clarkston, GA, which includes soccer fields, among other amenities. Clarkston has a population of about 13,000 while NAMB was defunding local Associations and State Conventions. Is spending $15 million in an single fixed location in Georgia in keeping with NAMB’s primary mission and for effectiveness in evangelism and church planting? Is this action in keeping with SBC Bus. and Financial Plan (article XI) on Capital Fund Allocations? Questions arise as to whether or not there other such mission centers that NAMB has bought or built and if so, how much has the NAMB President authorized?
• INFLUENTIAL PASTORS AND OTHERS ON NAMB'S PAYROLL. NAMB is paying monthly stipends to select pastors to represent NAMB in nearly every State Convention, which includes using their influence for NAMB’s benefit, sometimes to the detriment of other Baptist entities and conventions. Which pastors are receiving NAMB funds? What criteria is being used? Questions arise about possible influence peddling.
• COSTLY AND NEGATIVE LAWSUIT. NAMB is engaged in a costly lawsuit in which NAMB claims absolute rights and privileges over Baptist State Conventions. This is in violation of the SBC governing documents, historical practice and consistent SBC legal arguments. and defenses How much money is NAMB spending on lawsuits? Southern Baptists have a right to know.
• NAMB DEFUNDING STATE CONVENTIONS. NAMB has defunded State Conventions by some $50 million annually, while giving large sums of money and houses to individual churches, many of them mega-churches, including the current SBC President. Who is receiving the money and how much are they getting? Are NAMB trustees receiving funding and honorariums for speaking at NAMB events? Are the funds being used for influence peddling or to gain favors?
Published reports and statements by both the LifeWay Trustee Chairman and LifeWay President reveal that … A LifeWay Trustee, Pastor Jimmy Scroggins, who was under financial contract with LifeWay in violation of SBC bylaw 15-F, solely decided to give LifeWay President Thom Rainer over $1 million in a retirement agreement without knowledge or approval from the LifeWay Trustee Board, the LifeWay Compensation Committee or the LifeWay Trustee Executive officers. Scroggins and Rainer were also in financial relationships with NAMB via at least printed materials and professional services contracts.
Forensic audits are good for the giver, the mission organization and the mission leaders. Therefore, we are calling for the highest level of financial accountability before God and a watching world. NAMB, LifeWay, nor any Southern Baptist leader or church, should fear, fight or interfere with an effort to bring transparency to our financial dealings.
In light of the questions, concerns and evidence involving the misuse of financial resources, conflict of interest of several Trustees and the independent auditor, and the apparent failures to follow SBC governing documents regarding financial matters such as fundraising and reporting, we the undersigned members of churches in cooperation with the Southern Baptist Convention call upon the SBC Executive Committee to commission and direct an independent forensic financial audit of the North American Mission Board and report the complete findings of the audit to the entire Southern Baptist family of cooperating churches and other partners (State Conventions and Associations).
Furthermore, based on the ties and conflict of interests between LifeWay, the former LifeWay President and the LifeWay Trustee who solely authorized at $1 million payout, and their financial interests with the NAMB President, we call on the SBC Executive Committee to commission and direct an independent forensic financial audit of SBC entity LifeWay Christian Resources and any other SBC entity where there are concerns related to: sufficient financial irregularities, or a violation of the Business and Financial Plan , or perceived or real conflicts of interest, or fiduciary failures, or a failure to follow internal financial governing policies, or perceived or real influence peddling. In these cases, the SBC Executive Committee is justified and should conduct a forensic financial audit.
The SBC Forensic Audits: Essential Transparency at NAMB and LifeWay petition to Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee was written by SBC for Financial Transparency and Accountability and is in the category Religion at GoPetition.