Monday, February 9, 2009

If the SBC is a "church," who are its ministers?

Scanning through the 2008 Annual of the Southern Baptist Convention, I ran across this bit of information:

The Executive Committee participates in a defined contribution annuity plan (the Plan) which covers substantially all employees. The Plan is sponsored by GuideStone Financial Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention (“GuideStone”). The Executive Committee makes contributions equal to 10 % of the participant’s compensation and also matches participant contributions of 1 % for each 3 years of service not to exceed 5% of the participant’s compensation. The Plan was amended in fiscal 1992 to change early retirement from age fifty-eight to age fifty-five and to change eligibility to participate in the Plan from two full years of service to the first day of employment.” (2008 SBC Annual at p. 253)

Now admittedly, I’m no retirement plan expert, but this strikes me as pretty generous. I can’t help but wonder how this would look if it were compared to retirement plans for employees of other organizations.

Is YOUR retirement plan this generous?

It’s particularly striking when you consider the repeated claim of Southern Baptist officials that the SBC really exists “only a few days each year.” That’s another one of the excuses they make for why they can’t do anything to systematically address clergy sex abuse. It’s their “gee-whiz-we-don’t-even-exist” shell game.

Yet, this entity that purportedly exists for only a few days sure pays out some generous benefits to all those honchos working in that block-long building in Nashville.

Speaking of which… do any of you know how to find out the total compensation packages for those Southern Baptist honchos in Nashville?

A couple reporters have told me it’s impossible. They say the Southern Baptist Convention won’t disclose that information.

From what I hear, the Southern Baptist Convention doesn’t make that information available because it claims to be exempt from filing the IRS-990 form. That’s the federal form that other non-profit entities file, which requires them to disclose how much they’re paying their executives.

But apparently, the Southern Baptist Convention claims to have status as a “church” and so it claims to be exempt from publicly disclosing how much its executives are paid.

How’s that for having your cake and eating it too? They claim to have no responsibility for clergy sex abuse within the denomination because the denomination is separate from the churches. Yet, they claim to be a "church" and hide behind that label when it helps them avoid federal standards of financial accountability.

So… if the Southern Baptist Convention is a “church”, who are its ministers?

The only way this makes sense to me is if you figure that the ministers of the SBC are the ministers of the local churches. After all, they’re the minister who carry the “Southern Baptist” brand on their shoulders.

Yet, those ministers who give the SBC status as a “church” for purposes of avoiding federal non-profit disclosure laws are the same ministers for whom the SBC claims it can’t possibly exercise any oversight.

Am I missing something here? Is my information wrong? Is there some piece of this that I just don’t understand?

Help me out, if you can. As I said, I’m no expert on retirement plans, and I’m sure as heck no expert on federal requirements for non-profit disclosures.

So how does this make sense?

Why aren’t all the thousands of hard-working people who put money in Baptist offering plates entitled to know how much those SBC executives are taking out for their own salaries and benefits? Huh?

I know a lot of you are undoubtedly a whole lot smarter than me on this kind of stuff.

Are any of you tax lawyers? Accountants?

Explain this to me. Please.

While you’re at it, if you’ve got a minute, take a look at that 2008 SBC Annual. It’s 1360 pages long. Maybe you’ll spot some other gem in there.

And remember… all of this comes from an organization that claims it exists for “only a few days each year.”

But of course, that’s what SBC officials say when they’re trying to deflect responsibility for clergy child molesters. When they’re justifying their salaries, I imagine it’s another story. I haven’t been able to figure out how much they actually make, but I bet they’re getting paid for more than just “a few days.”

You can access the 2008 SBC Annual by clicking on the link at the top of the upper-right column at


Anonymous said...

In the 80's a new President of the Southern Baptist Executive Board was hired. It was reported to us as Pastor's that his salary alone, not includung perks, of any kind, was areound $250,000. He spoke at a conference shortly after being hired and he was challenged about this seemingly high salary plus the numerous perks he was receiviving. His reply, [are you ready for this?] "I cannot be held responsible for how much they want to pay me." See, there are a lot of areas that are beyond control in the SBC.
The Executive Committee is the body that oversees the spending of the 100's of millions of dollars that come in through gifts, interests on CD's, plus other money making ventures, ie... LifeWay Bookstores.
When I asked one time why these salaries were so high when compared to the many pastors working in the field the response was, "We have to pay top dollar in order to attract the top people." Based on the answer alone the SBC is no longer a ministry but a large corporation run by high paid CEO's etc.
There is coming a day real soon when the IRS is going to take a hard look at "religious charities" and big changes will take place. I can already hear the wailing from the various denominations about how unfair it will be to those who benefit from their "mimistries". My opinion is, when you stop looking for the best minister and instead look for the best CEO with the world's business experience and philosophy, you are no longer a ministry but just another coporation.
Salary information is kept from the rank-and- file SBC church member under the claim of the right to privacy. What they know is that if it were ever made public you just think the noise you heard lately about overpaid bonuses for CEOs was loud. Furthermore, I believe the day is coming when the Federal Government is going to get more involved and require FULL revelation of all monies due to the growing number of scandles riseing up today.

BaptistPlanet said...

If you talk openly about the salaries paid and benefits delivered for the high torr positions, people who are sacrificing to give as they sit in the pew each Sunday could begin to ask, is that where my widows' mite should go?
Absent accountability, the money can be lavished as John indicates.
Has one modern SBC president followed Rick Warren's path and refused the pay, or given it back?
Excessive compensation aside, breaking down the legal pretext which allows this church to pretend to be an abstraction might make the SBC vulnerable to suit for clerical misdoings, the way the Catholic Church is in some regards vulnerable, might it not?
In that event, the SBC president would not have the papal benefit of being a head of state and as head of state immune to prosecution, would he?

Anonymous said...

Yes, the late W A Criswell returned all of his compensation to FBC in Dallas. Their reasoning was because the church gave the so much free time to write books, tours, and promotions. While it is commenmdable, it should not be used as a position expecting all pastors to do the same. What can be expected from ALL pastors is accountaibility and each doing their part to protect all members from the perps in the pew and pulpit.

BaptistPlanet said...

Good answer, John.
I was attempting to ask whether a modern SBC president had returned all of his SBC pay to the SBC.
My impression is that since 1990, when I started paying closer attention, SBC presidents have all aggregated the pay from their churches and their SBC pay during their terms as SBC president.
Is that a misimpression on my part?

Christa Brown said...

Thanks for the interesting information, John. If the President of the SBC Exec. Committee was paid $250,000 in salary alone back in the 1980s, then his salary and benefit package is probably astronomical now.

"...the SBC is no longer a ministry but a large corporation run by high paid CEO's...."

Yes, except the average large corporation would likely have more systems in place to assure the accountability of its CEOs. Even though they're motivated by pure profit and have no pretense of any "ministry," the average tobacco company would probably require more accountability from its executives than what the SBC requires. Sad, huh?

"...breaking down the legal pretext which allows this church to pretend to be an abstraction might make the SBC vulnerable to suit for clerical misdoings...."

I think you're right, BaptistPlanet. With all its pretexts of radicalized autonomy and "we exist for only a few days," etc. etc., the SBC has built for itself a very big wall of protection. But I believe it is inevitable that, sooner or later, that wall will come tumbling down. Because you're right... they're playing a pretend game, and it's a
pretend game that sacrifices the safety of kids on a phony altar of radicalized autonomy. Meanwhile, outside the world of pretend, the SBC is actually an overblown, tentacular corporate-style entity with $200 million in annual revenues and billions in paid-for assets. And it's an entity that is utterly lacking in effective systems for accountability.

As for the pay of the SBC president (which is an elected term position)... I don't think he gets any salary. If I'm wrong about this, I hope someone will let me know, but I think the benefit for the SBC president is in the form of prestige, speaking engagements, increased book sales, etc. The current SBC president is Johnny Hunt.

The people whose salary and benefit packages most need to see the light of day are the permanent SBC officers and staff -- for example, people such as the President of the SBC Executive Committee (Morris Chapman) and the executive vice-president for convention policy (Augie Boto). These are people with an enormous amount of long-term entrenched power.

Incidentally, it appears that Boto recently got upgraded. He used to be "vice-president for convention policy," and now he's "executive vice-president for convention policy." I wonder if he got an even bigger salary along with the enhanced title? I wonder if this was, perhaps in part, some sort of reward for assuring that the SBC continued to do nothing toward systematically addressing clergy sex abuse? I'm obviously just speculating about Boto's possible raise... but Boto was indeed the primary person who advised the Executive Committee and the Bylaws Workgroup in its so-called "study" on having a database of credibly-accused clergy sex abusers.

gmommy said...

I watch a few pastors on Facebook. Sometimes it looks like their lives are one vacation after another...oh...wait...they call them mission trips!
The pictures look like so much more fun and relaxation than getting in the trenches/Mother Teresa kind of missions.

I like these particular men as people. But it appears that if one is willing to be blind to the corruption in the SBC and knows how to play the political games....pretty nice life style.
Why would they rock the boat?

I hope I would if I were them.

Anonymous said...

First of all you would never be "one of them" as you would fail the physical! Secondly, you do not strike me as the kind of person who could be bought off. It is a great life style and as yu get too old to do the routine job of a "pastor" you get to move into the SBC jobs that pay much better and have much better perks.

Christa, you arew right, the President does not get paid in cash. However, for some it is like running for a political office that pays about 50K but leaves office a millionaire.

Christa Brown said...

Not only does the SBC not make the same financial disclosures as other non-profit entities, and not only does it not have the same sorts of accountability mechanisms as many other corporate entities, but apparently it doesn't have nepotism policies either, as many other large organizations would. A guy named Chris Chapman works as the Director of Information Systems for Augie Boto's office of convention policy. I'm told that this is the son of SBC Exec. Com. president Morris Chapman, and I believe it because the online photo of Chris Chapman bears a remarkable resemblance to the online photo of Morris Chapman. So perhaps we're also seeing the beginning of dynasty politics in the SBC. And in any event, if indeed they can put their kin into high-level positions, it seems all the more troubling that we can't easily find out how much the high-level execs get in salariy and benefits.

Anonymous said...

The President of the SBC is not paid a salary but his expenses are paid--as they rightly should be.

I find it interesting that you people want to talk about "accountability" and make that your constant harping point. A pastor should be accountable financially to those people in the church who are elected to oversee those matters. Not to someone sitting in the pew who never gives a dime and only shows up when its convenient. Get real with some of your criticisms.

Anonymous said...

Get Real??? That is what we want. Also, it sounds like you would do well in a church that has a cass system for members. I think "the widow" had as much right as the wealthy. And who knew but the Lord!!

oc said...

Well, the words "get real" show the same attitude of heart as those who would also use of the words "you people".

Just sayin'.

oc said...

My last post was poorly worded. Anyway, that was for you to consider, Anon 8:28. I think you know what I mean.

Christa Brown said...

OC: Your words were fine... always happy to have your voice here.

In fact, I'm happy to extend a welcome here to all "you people" -- "you people" who have been effectively spit on, slapped down and ignored by Baptist leaders who persist in wanting to pretend this clergy abuse problem is no big deal.

Like you, John, what struck me the most about Anon 8:28's remark was the disdain it seems to express toward people sitting in the pews. Where in the world does such an attitude come from?

Anonymous said...

All you have to do is self-proclaim yourself to be annointed. Then the cry is made, "touch not God's annointed'. Of course the obvious problem is this is "self-touch" not v"God's touch". Not to mention how this whole concept is misunderstood and has been corrupted by the self-servers.
A lot of today's religious practice is mind-control and high pressure emotionalism.
Christa, to be looked down on by this croud puts us in real good New Testament compasny. Guess who Jessus blessed the most!!!

Christa Brown said...

"Get Real??? That is what we want."

I thought this article today meshed well with John's words: "If a Religion must Lie, It Must Die."

John's right: Recognition of reality is exactly what we are seeking. Here's an excerpt from the article:

“How much reality must we choose to ignore for the greater good of our own souls, and society? My answer is simple: none. If my religion cannot stand up to reality, who needs it? If my faith doesn’t help me engage reality but rather demands that I ignore reality, who needs it? A religion that ignores reality is just escapist fantasy, no different than watching television or reading a good novel.... If a religion has to lie in order to survive, it is time for that religion to die."

Anonymous said...

"A guy named Chris Chapman works as the Director of Information Systems for Augie Boto's office of convention policy. I'm told that this is the son of SBC Exec. Com. president Morris Chapman, and I believe it because the online photo of Chris Chapman bears a remarkable resemblance to the online photo of Morris Chapman. "

Hmmm...beside the fact I am not a bit surprised that Morris Chapman makes over 250,000 a year from the widow's mite, I am definitely not surprised of the dynasties being built. I have found in large churches and parachurch organizations this same pattern.

There are places you can check this sort of thing for parachurch organizations. For example..Chuck Swindoll was paid quite a nice salary from his church. His personal para church ministry also paid him but also listed his wife as a VP and paid her 6 figures. His daughter was listed at 89,000 a year.

The same with RC Sproul and his ministry. There are a ton of examples but one starts to get the feeling that becoming famous and making a ton of money for the family coffers is the main purpose for these personal entities. How do they find the time to pastor with all this going on?

Paige Patterson, President of SWBTS, operating off tithe dollars has a pastry chef for Pecan Manor, the presidents residence. Besides that, His brother in law is the president of NOBTS and another brother in law, Russ Kaemmerling (sp) was a Trustee even after being investigated for fraud in his business activities. Seems he did not even step down until convicted. I heard somewhere he even did some time for it. (He was also employed at one time by a state convention)

Yes, it is a family affair. Your tithe dollars at work. One wonders who long this gravy train is going to last in this economy?

But, in the end, NONE of it represents what we see in the NT of those who sacrficed to proclaim the Word.


Anonymous said...

BTW: "Tithing" is not a NT command. When more folks study scrpture and realize this, the gravy train will be hurt. The NT command is to help those in the Body in need and to support those on the great commission.

We would all do well to stop giving to "organizations" who are not good stewards and to help individuals instead. Whether that is a single mom or a missionary.


oc said...


BaptistPlanet said...

In 2007, while President of the Southern Baptist Convetion, Frank Page wrote that the SBC president receives no salary.