Wednesday, December 3, 2008

He could have been stopped

Gray Harvey was a Baptist missionary who allegedly stole about $360,000 from the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. Some say the amount of the theft was actually much greater, but $360,000 was the amount the Southern Baptist Convention settled for in a civil lawsuit in 2005.

As part of the settlement, Southern Baptist officials also entered into a “secrecy pact” and pledged not to talk about it. They terminated Harvey’s employment, but beyond that, Harvey didn’t face many consequences.

Southern Baptist officials let the guy go free without pressing any criminal charges.

And it appears they didn’t even collect on the $360,000. The Mobile Press-Register reports that, with interest, Harvey’s debt to the Southern Baptist Convention has now grown to about $500,000.

That’s a lot of moolah.

Think about that tired waitress who got up on her swollen feet the next morning, went to church, and put her tips in the plate for the Lottie Moon offering.

Think about that single mom working at Wal-Mart who bought a chicken for Thanksgiving dinner instead of a turkey because she wanted to have some money left over so she could give to her church for mission work.

Think about that man who’s up to his knees in muck, working overtime to fix the city sewer line, and he goes home filthy, but before he even cleans up, he tells his wife to write a check to the church for the overtime portion of his pay.

Think about that older factory worker who’s exhausted from a double-shift and wonders whether he’ll ever be able to retire, but though his arm aches, he still reaches for his wallet and puts money in the offering plate because he wants to support the missionaries.

Think about that frail widow who needs her prescription refilled but she prays about it and decides to give some of her Social Security check to the Lottie Moon offering instead.

Now think about this: Southern Baptist officials, sitting in their fine offices in Nashville, had so little respect for the hard-earned dollars that people gave to God that they didn’t even press charges. They didn’t want negative publicity. They “didn’t want people to know.”

Is this starting to sound familiar?

Southern Baptist officials handled this embezzlement scam in much the same way that church officials typically handle clergy sex abuse allegations. It’s the same keep-it-quiet pattern.

And they sure as heck can’t hide behind their “all churches are autonomous” wall on this one. Gray Harvey was an employee of the Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board. He was unmistakably one of their own.

Given this lack of transparency about financial wrongdoing in their ranks, is it any wonder that so many local churches do such a poor job of handling clergy sex abuse allegations? Look at the example set by the highest of Southern Baptist leaders. It’s an example that says “protecting the image is all-important.”

I wish I could say this story ended here. But it gets worse.

A whole lot more people got hurt.

Gray Harvey is now accused of selling fake insurance policies to residents on the Gulf Coast. Police say he may have swindled coastal residents out of as much as $750,000 -- and the fake insurance scam also left their homes unprotected during hurricane season.

This part didn’t have to happen. Gray Harvey could have been stopped sooner.

But rather than doing the right thing, Southern Baptist officials did virtually nothing. And their do-nothingness allowed for many more people to get hurt.

Sound familiar?

It’s the same dreadful pattern that we see with their do-nothing response to clergy sex abuse. The perpetrators are allowed to move on and more people get hurt.

Police believe Gray Harvey has left the country by now. So he’ll probably never be held accountable.

Sound familiar?

11 comments:

Elisabeth said...

And my pastor and his wife were missionaries in Portugal for three years. I have some friends who are missionaries in Niger. Not only do these people leave their country and their families, they leave the American standard of living, and, while they have enough money coming in from the convention to have the necessities, there is no extra. The missionaries on the field could have really used that money.

Christa Brown said...

Speaking of missionaries... I believe Lottie Moon herself would have probably raised heck about this. She wasn't exactly a shrinking violet. Isn't it ironic that one of Southern Baptists' greatest heroes was an outspoken, courageous woman named Lottie Moon who was far from submissive in her nature?

gwfrink3 said...

They've been blogging for International Missions Board accountability and opened books on this scandal over at BaptistPlanet: Mission Board should (finally) do the right thing.

gwfrink3 said...

I briefly blogged your take on this scandal as "Update II" to Southern Baptist missionary mess.

CB Scott said...

"Speaking of missionaries... I believe Lottie Moon herself would have probably raised heck about this. She wasn't exactly a shrinking violet."

Well said.

cb

Christa Brown said...

BaptistPlanet calls on the Southern Baptist Convention's mission board and other Baptist agencies to fully disclose their budgets, including executive salaries. "For too long," it says, "the salaries of Southern Baptist executives have been hidden from those who contribute the offerings that pay them. It has created the perception, perhaps a correct one, that the executives would be embarrassed if their high salaries were revealed."

Why do people tolerate from a mega-monied religious organization what they would never tolerate from any other sort of non-profit entity? Why do they continue to give money to an organization that won't even tell them how much the highest executives are being paid?

Thanks, gwfrink3, for your insights and for linking my blog.

Anonymous said...

I really think it is time for many baptists to rethink the SBC as a whole. It is just a bureaucracy that is not even needed for true missions in this day and time. There are examples of other missionary societies out there who are much more effective in terms of dollars. They are not paying for the Bob Reccord's and other high salaried middle managers in the SBC. The SBC has become a jobs program for retired and fired pastors and seminary professors.

I know that quite a few seniors in my church have quit giving to the CP because of the past controversies, legalism and secrecy. I also quit giving to them.

Wade got it right when he said that at least Harvey was not fired for having a PPL or being baptized outside a baptist church. Those seem to be the most important criteria for an IMB employee. Nevermind, character or ethics.

But their decision to keep this quiet put a Harvey victim in jeporady of being murdered by Harvey.

I really believe the SBC as an entity is spiritually dead.

John said...

This is what I have been saying for years. Yes, there would be a lot of red faces if ALL the facts were known. Yes, there is a growing number of important lay leaders, men and women, who are beginning to speak up. Yes there have been some talk of blowing the cover of the insiders. Yes, the SBC is in trouble in its present form and many individuals and churches are rethinking their blind support of such a "disorganization".
Will it happen soon? Maybe not, but, it WILL happen!!
Keep up the good work and pressure EVERYONE!

oc said...

"Police believe Gray Harvey has left the country by now. So he’ll probably never be held accountable.

Sound familiar?"

Yeah, but the difference is it got hot enough for Harvey that he had to leave the country in order to escape accountabiity. Perverted preachers are so comfortable and protected that they just stay here and jump from church to church.

oc said...

I should have used the word "slither" instead of "jump".

Christa Brown said...

"Perverted preachers are so comfortable and protected that they just stay here and slither from church to church."

Exactly right, oc!