It’s a truth as old as time, but Southern Baptists have yet to learn it.
We have seen this truth played out over and over again in the countless cover-ups of Baptist clergy sex abuse. And we also see this truth played out in the financial arena of Baptistland.
Even in these tough times, good hard-working people continue to put money in Baptist offering plates because they believe it will be used to spread the gospel and because they’ve been taught to tithe.
Shouldn’t those people be entitled to know how many of the hard-earned dollars they put into offering plates are actually being used to pay the salaries of Southern Baptist executives? Shouldn’t they be able to at least find out how much those top executives are making?
Wouldn’t you expect that ANY nonprofit organization would be required to disclose the salaries of its top executives?
Yes? So why don’t people demand the disclosure of salaries in the Baptist organizations that take their money?
I think it’s because people tend to automatically trust religious leaders.
And rather than honoring that extraordinary trust with transparency, Southern Baptist leaders exploit that trust with secrecy.
BaptistPlanet recently offered some insight into the dollar figures that likely hide behind Baptist officials’ secrecy. It had to go back almost two decades to get some numbers -- that’s how near-impossible it is to get information about Baptist executives’ salaries. But in a 1991 book, BaptistPlanet found 1990 salary information, and reported this analysis on it:
“Five top SBC executives at the time were paid more than $100,000 a year. Specifically, the book said:
[The Wall Street Journal's R. Gustav] Neibuhr said the controversy was forcing SBC agencies to cut their staffs and postpone salary increases. salaries and fringes for the top executives of three boards and seven agencies. Five earned well over $100,000. The five, according to [Southern Baptist Advocate Editor Bob] Tenery, were Lloyd Elder, President, Sunday School Board, $157,086; Harold Bennett, President-Treasurer, Executive Committee, $151,079; Larry Lewis, President, Home Mission Board, $113,583; Keith Parks, President, Foreign Mission Board, $113,000. The Annuity Board declined to report renumeration (sic) for its newly-elected president, Paul W. Powell. Tenery further noted that the top six men at the Sunday School Board, where Tenery is a trustee, were paid $715,475 in salary and benefits. ‘Does this appear as if Southern Baptist employees have been denied a raise?’ Tenery asked. ‘It is apparent that we take care of our workers quite well.'Even simple adjustments for inflation for the equivalent positions today result in very comfortable salaries for all. Such adjustments do not consider the implications of the subsequent revelation of extravagance by Bob Reccord while he headed the SBC’s North American Mission Board …. Reccord funneled $3.3 million to business friends, including current SBC President Johnny Hunt, while NAMB staff was downsized. His severance package of two years’ salary plus benefits reportedly exceeded $500,000.
A 2005 Associated Baptist Press article noted that even members of the SBC’s own Executive Committee must sign a pledge not to reveal employee salaries. Details from Reccord’s rein emerged only because NAMB marketing director Mary Kinney Branson escaped without signing the standard agreement.
Decades roll past and Southern Baptists are systematically kept in the dark about pay for their denomination’s executives. Now why is that?"