Wasting Missions Money

April 27, 2009

Yesterday for Southern Baptists was "Cooperative Program Sunday." The Baptist Press ran several stories Friday promoting this emphasis. All of this was an effort to promote missions giving so that more people will be reached with the love of Christ. The day before the Baptist Press stories, the Missouri Baptist Convention's publication, The Pathway, ran its own stories about the Cooperative Program. However, these pieces were about how CP missions money should be spent to fund lawsuits against ministry organizations that are reaching people with the love of Christ. MBC leaders have been promising for years not to use CP money to fund their lawsuits. Recently, however, an Ethics Daily report demonstrated how the MBC has actually used CP money to fund its losing legal battle. The MBC responded by saying that it was not true (but offered no proof or explanation) and seemed offended that such a charge had even been leveled. Although they still have not admitted this past spending, they have now turned around just a few weeks later to promote using CP to fund the lawsuit. At least they are trying to be honest about it now.

The article explaining the proposal, which will have to be approved by messengers this fall, includes a few interesting items. First, the proposal is to include $468,957 of the MBC's CP budget for the lawsuits. Just imagine how many churches could be started, hungry people could be fed, Bibles could be distributed, or missionaries could be supported with nearly half a million dollars. Instead, it will be spent on a losing legal battle against ministries that are still fulfilling their work of ministering to others. Especially in these economic times it quite sad to see missions money spent this way. This proposal is not just about money, but tells us a lot about the organization's focus.

Second, MBC Executive Director David Tolliver stated, "CP dollars purchased, built, established and maintained these five institutions." That is only partially true since they also received money from other sources. But, I am not sure how that argument justifies spending CP money to sue the ministries. Just because that money was used to build them does not mean we must use that money to try and destroy them.

Third, the article notes how much CP money was given during the biggest thirty year period (about $25 million), which means that previous claims earlier this month were just plain wrong. Randy Comer of the Agency Restoration Fund (formerly the Legal Task Force) claimed then that they had given "hundreds of millions of dollars" to the ministries. That now is obviously a major exaggeration. So why are we supposed to trust him and other MBC leaders?

Fourth, the MBC finally came a little clean about their bridge loan they gave themselves last year. In April of 2008, they suggested that they needed about $140,000. In October of 2008, they said they owed themselves over $200,000. Now they finally admit that the loan was for $346,000. Additionally, they are taking out a $500,000 loan to pay it back, even though they claimed in April of 2008 that giving to their legal fund would pay the loan back in a year. Although they still do not admit that it was CP money that they loaned themselves, their new claim does partially vindicate the recent Ethics Daily article claiming the MBC used CP money. As that report stated:

Many questions about the loan remain. How much of the $17,000 to $18,000 needed monthly would simply reflect or maintain regular giving to the Agency Restoration Fund, and how much would be considered the extra required to pay back the loan? What was the exact size of the loan and what happens if the fund does not receive enough gifts? How then would Missouri Baptist churches be expected to view the use of CP dollars?
Good questions! It is interesting that the MBC leaders have become slightly more transparent in their first board meeting following the Ethics Daily article that called on them to become more transparent. Guess the piece is slowly having a positive impact.

Fifth, the new loan raises a couple of interesting points. It brings their total line of credit to cover legal spending to $2 million. How deep of a hole are they going to dig to continue a losing legal battle? More importantly, the collateral for this new loan is the CP reserve fund. Thus, CP money is being used to fund the lawsuit. And if the new loan is not paid back from donations, then the CP money may have to be spent to pay it back.

Taken together, this is a sad story that hopefully messengers will be able to bring an end to this fall. Of course, the MBC leaders might wise up and withdraw their proposal as they did in 2004 when they made the same proposal (they proposed it in April and withdrew it in July because of the outcry from Missouri Baptists). Either way, it seems to prove Paul correct: when there are lawsuits between believers, we are already losing.