Several years ago, my church in Cedar Rapids ran into a problem. We had a treasurer who jumped into the deep end and found she couldn’t swim. She went bizarre, then packed up and left the church. We had some pretty knowledgeable folks on our finance team who tried to figure out what on earth was going on with her accounting system, but we simply could not make heads or tails of it. For several months, we went to our monthly business meetings with a financial statement that was more of a best-guess than an actual statement. Every month I stood before the people and said, “Look, we have no idea how much money we really have. Our books are a mess, we are looking to figure them out as best we can.”
Guess what? There was not even the slightest hint of conflict. People were patient and supportive as we labored to sort out the mess. Why? Because we kept them informed. We told them exactly what was going on. They knew we had a problem. They knew we were doing the best we could to figure the problem out. Most of all, they KNEW we were not hiding anything from them. They were informed and they were supportive.
I don’t know if it is the same everywhere else, but in Iowa, the salaries of all public employees are published in the local newspaper. My wife’s salary was published. If I want to know what the Sioux City Dog Catcher makes – it’s in the paper. The DA? In the paper. My daughter’s choir director. It’s there for all to see. Iowa recognizes that if you work for the people, you are accountable to the people. Since our tax dollars pay the wages, we have the right to know what the public servants make.
Now, A Question
Do you find anything that approaches that level of openness and accountability in our Baptist entities? With very few exceptions, I would say that the answer is no. Decisions are made behind closed doors and facts are kept from those of us who on the outside. Salaries are not revealed. Decisions are not explained.
An Unfortunate Example
When the GCR Task Force embarked on their endeavor, they promised us that their work would be done in the open. It perhaps the biggest strategic blunder since the Red Sox sold the Babe to New York, the Task Force recommended that all their records be sealed for 15 years and the Annual Meeting approved the request. Who knows what is sealed in those records, but the decision to seal the records has given rise to a tsunami of suspicion.
The GCRTF did not have any moral obligation to reveal their workings to the rank and file SBC folks. They made a legitimate motion which the convention adopted. Nothing underhanded. Entity heads are ultimately accountable only to the Boards of Trustees who oversee their work. They have no obligation to reveal their salaries or the processes by which they make their decisions to the masses. Kevin Ezell has every right to avoid the questions that were raised about whether his support of the CP as a pastor qualified him for leadership of an SBC entity. If the duly elected trustees were satisfied, that is enough. He is under no obligation to explain himself to average Baptists.
But when the leaders of our convention recommend a complete restructuring of our convention’s workings, then hide the information about how they arrived at that decision, there will be consequences. Entity heads can rightly claim that they do not have to be accountable to average Baptists, but when they do that, there will be consequences. Ezell can insult us and not have to explain himself to anyone. But there are consequences for that. When they work in the darkness and keep secrets, when they seal records and ignore questions asked by “the people” they create a series of consequences that may not be what they hope. What are those consequences?
The Consequences of the Culture of Secrecy and Unaccountability
1) Secrecy breeds suspicion.
I remember back in 1986 watching Geraldo Rivera excavate “Al Capone’s Vault.” There was intense build-up to the night they opened the vault. We waited breathless until the dirt was moved and the vault was unsealed to reveal – nothing! Geraldo stood there with mud on his face and his credibility in tatters. Maybe in 15 years we will find out that there was nothing in the GCRTF vault – no more than was in Al Capone’s. Who knows?
But by sealing those records, the GCRTF created a suspicion that there is something there that the Task Force is trying to hide.
Why do our entities not reveal the salaries of their entity heads? Why should no one know what Al Mohler or Frank Page makes in salary? I would hazard two guesses about our entity heads salaries. First, I am guessing that they make more than most of the pastors who lead their churches to give sacrificially to the Cooperative Program to pay those salaries. I don’t have a problem with that. Listen, if Kevin Ezell can straighten out the dysfunctional family at NAMB, he is worth every penny he is paid. I would guess, though, that these men are paid pretty well.
Second, I would guess the salary packages of these men is small compared to other companies with similar budgets and of similar size. If you compare them to the CEOs of similarly sized companies, they are probably grossly underpaid.
But when they refuse to reveal their salaries, they help to create a culture of suspicion that there is something they are trying to hide.
2) Secrecy breeds cynicism and hostility.
I have not been impressed with the start that Kevin Ezell has gotten off to at NAMB. But I have been somewhat shocked at the cynicism and negativity that some have expressed about him and toward him. There is an assumption out there that our entity heads are trying to put something over on us. The culture of secrecy opens the door to this.
3) Secrecy demonstrates disrespect
When I was 8 years old, my parents made all my decisions for me. They did not consult me for insight on what we should do. What we ate, where we ate, where we went on vacation, what we did on those vacations – my parents decided it all. One night, when I was at the end of my sixth grade year, my dad came into the room my brother and I shared and said, “We are moving to Taiwan to be missionaries.” He didn’t ask my brother and I whether we wanted to move around the world, he just told us. He was the dad, we were the kids.
The leadership of the SBC treats us like children. We are supposed quietly acquiesce to their leadership and not raise a stink. “Do as you are told, young man!” “Why?” “Because I’m your father, that’s why.” That worked for my dad when I was a kid. It doesn’t work so well with me now.
4) The Culture of Secrecy discourages participation
Anyone who says, “the entity-heads are accountable only to the trustees of those entities” is technically correct. But I believe that the day when people will blindly follow leaders who do not inform them of what is going on is largely over.
When I first came to Iowa, we had a state executive who was decidedly “old school” – an autocrat who ruled with an iron fist. Our state administrative committee and Executive committee meeting consisted largely of him telling us what he was doing and we said, “okay.” He did not like to be questioned or challenged. He saw himself as the king of Baptist World in Iowa. When he retired, his job was taken by a man from a different planet. He asked us our opinions on things. He brought up issues for discussion instead of issuing edicts. It was an amazing change.
The difference in enthusiasm and participation was dramatic. We looked forward to heading to Des Moines for meetings because we knew we were part of the process, that our work mattered that our opinions were valued. It was an astounding change. When you demonstrate to people that you value their input, they tend to work harder for you, sacrifice more. Most of us in Iowa would walk through walls for our executive director.
Is there any correlation between the autocratic nature of our entities and the culture of secrecy that has developed and the tendency of a lot of people to participate less in denominational affairs? Are Baptists today going to simply send their money in and then do as they are told? Perhaps one of the ways to motivate people to
Remember the Garner Motion in 2007? The IMB had passed doctrinal standards for missionaries that went well beyond what the BF&M 2000 authorized. A motion was made and passed that defined the BF&M as the sole doctrinal standard for our cooperation and ministry. The entities looked at the motion and said, “We don’t have to do what you say.” The convention expressed its will and the IMB thumbed its nose at the convention’s will and refused to change its policies.
Again, they had the right to do that. According to Baptist polity, the entities are autonomous and are not directly accountable to the convention. But when the convention expresses its clear will and the entities simply ignore it, that creates ill-will, cynicism and feels disrespectful.
If the SBC wants greater participation, if it is going to call for greater sacrifice from the rank and file Baptists, then perhaps they could decide to walk out of the shadows into the light. Perhaps they could answer questions and explain their processes. Perhaps they could treat us like adults and not children. Perhaps they could end the culture of secrecy and begin a new era of openness and accountability.
My dad gave me a piece of wisdom many years ago. “An informed people is a happy people.” The SBC would do well to learn that principle and put it into effect.