Where to start?
Mary Kinney Branson’s book, “Spending God’s Money” (Father’s Press), is a rambling tell all about the inner workings of NAMB (and the HMB) before, during and just after Bob Reccord’s Presidency. It is not the most well written book I have ever read, but it was riveting. Really hard to put down, the tale leaves you nauseous when you realize that the tithes and offerings that you and I have given have funded the largess that the book describes.
I have a few critiques of the book to start, but I’ll finish with the punch.
First, Branson comes off judgmental and mad. I am not saying that she has no right to be mad. From her account, she had some personal slights and legitimate problems with her time at NAMB, serving two steps under the President. Still, it reads as though she were one of the only few interested in God and His direction. It reads as pious indignation. That wears on the reader after a while.
Grammatically, she speaks poorly of others’ writing skills, but she has some awkward sentence structure in certain places. Stylistically, Branson tells stories out of sequence, which makes it hard to keep track of everything. She often tells parts of the same storyline chapters apart. It would have been better if she had started at the beginning and moved straight through in chronological order.
Also, she often refers to people ONLY by their first name. I am unsure as to why she did this. I have considered that she might have been trying to protect certain people with a general anonymity, but she could have been building some plausible deniability into the book in case she were sued by someone who took umbrage with her depiction. She should have used their full name, referred to them anonymously or not even mentioned them. The first name only references were a bad choice.
Finally, Branson gives us a jumble of documented research (complete with footnotes), personal observation and hearsay. Some of the stuff documented will curl your toes and some of the personal stories will leave you shaking your head. The hearsay will raise an eyebrow. I only caution you to differentiate what is what – not all things are irrefutable in this book and Branson is clearly not a dispassionate observer.
NAMB is supposed to be releasing an official statement – maybe today – and when it comes, I will post it here.
[update: This is NAMB's official response]
North American Mission Board
Spending God’s Money
During the spring of 2006, an article in the Georgia Christian Index raised a number of questions about the effectiveness and efficiency of the North American Mission Board. In response to these concerns, the Chairman of NAMB’s Board of Trustees appointed a task force to assess the claims and bring a report back to the full board of trustees. Similarly, an internal audit was conducted by Capin Crouse related to policy issues within the executive offices at NAMB. Both groups published reports including policy recommendations designed to provide increased accountability within the agency. In October, 2006, our Board of Trustees adopted these new policy recommendations and created a new trustee committee tasked with oversight of policy development and compensation assessment.
Recently, Mary Kinney Branson, a former NAMB employee, published a book entitled Spending God’s Money. In this book, she recounts personal events from her time at the Home Mission Board and NAMB. While some of the issues she discusses in the book were examined as part of work of the Trustee Task Force, other issues she discusses are based on her personal experiences, her personal opinion, or hearsay. The North American Mission Board will not comment on internal issues described in the book which are outside the scope of the work of the Trustee Task Force. This is not because NAMB is unwilling to address its problems—the clarity and transparency of the Task Force Report show the willingness of our trustees to deal with agency challenges. Rather, it is because many of the claims made by the author cannot be substantiated or represent only one side of the story.
We regret that while telling her story, the author called into question the character of many current and former employees; people who were not given the opportunity to respond to her charges. Regardless, those events are now in the past, and NAMB is now pressing on into the future. The North American Mission Board and its trustees stand behind the report of the Task Force and the policies which have been adopted as a result. During the past year, the North American Mission Board has worked diligently to refocus its vision and reconnect with its state partners. The January 4, 2007 issue of the Georgia Christian Index provides a helpful overview of the current status of ministry at NAMB during this season of transition.
While the North American Mission Board would take issue with a number of suggestions in the book, not the least of which is the writer’s call to do away with “SBC-style cooperative missions” through large agencies, NAMB does support the call to all churches and SBC entities to function within a system of accountability. NAMB, through the diligence of its trustees and staff, is modeling this type of accountability and oversight in the Southern Baptist Convention. And Southern Baptists are the true beneficiaries. The trustees, NAMB staff and missionaries greatly appreciate the faithfulness of Southern Baptists to North American Missions through this year’s record Annie Armstrong Easter Offering of $58.5 million. Southern Baptists have observed our agency during this challenging time, and they have responded to our transparency and commitment to accountability with their generosity. We believe 2007 will be an exciting year as we continue to partner with Southern Baptists to reach North America for Christ.
Sources within NAMB reveal a mixed bag. Some of Branson’s claims are denied – notably the things she does not document but are things she overheard. Some of her claims, most interesting the stories and descriptions of Bob Reccord (“Hollywood Bob”), are being confirmed.
Branson tells of, and sometimes documents, a series of cronyism; blind or ignorant Trustees; a disconnected President and set of VP’s who micromanage, mismanage and ignore personnel and our tithe monies; and even a scandalous double payment system where employees double dip from NAMB funds by receiving salaries and using NAMB resources to fund their personal enterprises. Can you believe that was all one sentence?
There are several versions of the double dipping formula presented. The simplest was the work on personally authored books contracted outside of NAMB by Reccord and others while in the NAMB office. This, apparently, set a standard that others followed and abused at new levels. I hear the story that “Ed” (presumably Stetzer) did this is being denied in house, but the implication that Reccord did it is being confirmed.
The worst stories (regrettably, there were multiple occasions and offenders) were about people who created and owned independent companies and then sent business to themselves from their NAMB office and paid themselves from their NAMB budget. Because contracts with these self owned companies had to be bought out after the story broke, I am under the impression that this is not illegal. If it isn’t illegal, it’s immoral. Beyond that, it is sickening.
If this book doesn’t cause a drop in CP giving, it will be because people don’t read it. I am afraid that if my church members read it, they would want to decrease (maybe significantly) our CP contributions. That would break my heart, as I want the SBC to be as equipped as it can be to take the Gospel to the lost, wherever they are.
Even though Branson suggests that the time may be over for the Cooperative Program (pg. 16), I do not feel that way at all. My conclusion is that Southern Baptists need to seek and obtain full disclosure of spending within all of our agencies and we need to root out mismanagement and immoral abuses of our tithes and offerings.
That would suit me just fine.