Toward Transparency: Disclose SBC Pay!

Containing revisions made by the author, this post was originally published at SBC Voices on December 16, 2010.

“My Administration is committed to creating an unprecedented level of  openness in Government. We will work together to ensure the public trust and establish a system of transparency, public participation, and collaboration. Openness will strengthen our democracy and promote efficiency and effectiveness in Government.  President Barack Obama

Component Two: Making Our Values Transparent: We must also work toward the creation of a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention. If we are to grow together and work together in faithfulness to the command of Christ, we must establish a culture of trust, transparency, and truth among all Southern Baptists. . . .  (GCR Final Report and Recommendations) 

Talk is cheap!  Does anyone, other than his most blindly loyal supporters, still believe that President Obama has shown leadership in creating an “unprecedented level of openness in Government?”  That’s what I thought.  Obama, like his predecessors, spoke eloquently of the lofty principles of transparency and openness in Government before assuming the reigns of power.  However, once in office, Obama’s leadership on this issue, like so many others, has simply not matched his soaring rhetoric.

Six months following the passage of the GCR Task Force’s Final Report, which included “Component Two: Making Our Values Transparent,” how are we doing in establishing “a culture of trust, transparency, and truth among all Southern Baptists?” That’s what I thought too. 

If the leadership within the SBC — including the GCRTF — wanted to “work toward the creation of a new and healthy culture within the Southern Baptist Convention,” their very first action would not have been to put the “patient” on life support!  Even if the Task Force and its supporters misread their mandate coming out of Orlando, I’m convinced that they have been surprised by the breadth and depth of the pushback against the GCR recommendations.  However, what should one expect when there was a lack of transparency and openness (which was promised) in the GCR process followed by the unbelievable lack of transparency and openness when the Task Force unilaterally sealed their records for 15 years.

If we are to create the “transparent and open” culture that the GCR Task Force wrote so eloquently about (and which all Southern Baptists deserve), we must begin to take bold steps.  Those in leadership positions within the Convention, particularly those who serve at the executive level in our entities, must be willing to lead by taking the first steps toward true transparency.  If they fail to move, then grassroots Southern Baptists will have no choice but to demand new leaders who understand they are accountability to the churches of our Convention.

The first step on the road to a more transparent and open culture is always the hardest to take, but take it we must if we are to have any hope of continuing to cooperate together for the sake of missions and ministry.  In the long and difficult journey that lies ahead of us as Southern Baptists, there are several positive steps that could be taken to restore trust and establish transparency. 

I respectfully suggest one such step for serious consideration.  Others before me have called for this step to be taken.  I have no illusions that our current leaders will take this step.  In fact, if past is prologue, I do not believe that many within the leadership class of the SBC will rush to be the first to step up and step out.

What step am I and others calling our leaders to take?  To voluntarily disclose the compensation/benefits packages for all executive level employees (Presidents and Vice-Presidents) at all SBC entitites!  Why do the trustee boards of the various SBC agencies, boards and seminaries refuse to release the compensation and benefits packages of their top executives?  I am well aware that churches and conventions of churches, like the SBC, are exempt from the IRS’s mandatory disclosure requirements.  However, just because the Federal Government gives churches and religious organizations certain exemptions does not mean that we should use the First Amendment as a shield against doing what is right! 

As to objections to even voluntary disclosure, we continue to hear the same worn-out arguments sounded from the offices in Nashville, Richmond, and Alpharetta:  “What? Don’t you trust us? You voted for the trustees. Let them do their job of oversight and just trust them. If you really trusted leadership, you should not have to know what everyone makes?”

This is not a matter of lack of trust on the part of the membership of the SBC. It’s a matter of our trustees and those in positions of leadership, who are supposed to serve the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention, taking the necessary steps that will ensure that we are fiduciarily sound and above reproach. And, for the record, I do not know whether or not any of the high-level executives at any of our entities are “fairly” compensated or “excessively” compensated.  I would certainly hope the former and not the latter.

The call that I and others have made regarding transparency, including in the compensation and benefits packages (and even retirement packages), is a call to create more “trust, transparency, and truth among ALL Southern Baptists.” When people from all walks of life – most of whom would not be considered “wealthy” — continue to give sacrificially to the mission and ministry of the Southern Baptist Convention, then I believe we have an obligation to ensure that their (i.e., God’s) money is being wisely spent. Our moral and fiduciary obligations begin at the local church level. When our members and others invest their financial resources to support the local church, there should be a high level of accountablility and transparency in our church finances.

I would not call for this kind of disclosure on the national level if I were not a proponent of it on the local level. That’s why every member of my congregation not only knows what my compensation/benefits package is, but actually votes to approve it.  No hidden jet leases to defend. Everything’s out in the open. I know that’s a novel concept to some of the larger churches in the SBC, but to most grassroots churches that still practice some form of congregational polity, this is just a common sense (and transparent) way of doing church.

I suppose that some (many) leaders within the Southern Baptist Convention will continue to ignore calls for transparency and openness in the area of compensation/benefits disclosure.  The demand for more transparency and openness — including a demand for OUR trustee boards to voluntarily disclose compensation/benefits packages for OUR Presidents and Vice-Presidents who serve OUR entities — will only continue to grow.

We need leaders in our SBC entities who will lead their trustee boards to implement voluntary disclosure of executive level compensation/benefits packages immediately!  And, we need trustees who will serve the best interests of the churches of the Southern Baptist Convention by standing up for what is right, even if it won’t get them appointed to another trustee position.  Remember, it only takes one to get a fire going!

After all, if the Boy Scouts (here), American Red Cross (here), and even the dreaded ACLU (here) are required to disclose executive level pay, shouldn’t we expect much more from the SBC?  Which leader will take that first step? Will it come from one of our seminary Presidents? Perhaps from Dr. Frank Page, President of the Executive Committee? Maybe a dark horse that no one expects (I can think of a few)?  If our leaders don’t begin to take steps to implement the vision of true transparency, the grassroots will continue to speak out with their voices and eventually with their money!  I hear that some churches in the past actually lowered their giving when they didn’t agree with the leadership and vision of our entities.  It could happen again.  Go figure!

3 comments for “Toward Transparency: Disclose SBC Pay!

  1. December 17, 2010 at 4:14 PM

    In the comments at SBC Voices, David Miller says Frank Page has his total trust.
    I think Page is an honorable man, but his connections to the Tea Party movement and leaders of the Jim DeMint designs for America from his former Congregation are of some concern to me.
    Page’s board Membership on this organization:

    Mon Nov 15, 2010 8:22 pm

    http://www.ceopac.org/

    I list several other concerns in the link on Page and Demint at SBC Trends of http://www.baptistlife.com/forums . Would be interesting to have Dave Miller come there on a level playing field and address Frank Page’s involvement with satellite organizations of the Tea Party purists.

  2. Bennett Willis
    December 18, 2010 at 12:05 PM

    Transparency sounds really good until you try to do it. However, my experience has been that once you really decide to be transparent, lots of things become much simpler.

    I have no desire for anyone who negotiates anything to be transparent about some of the things that are/were considered during the discussion. If you can’t propose a position that you know is unacceptable (as a place to start) then you have a very difficult time ever covering the possibilities adequately. In some respects, this may have influenced the GCR recommendation–but if you are completely transparent (include video these days) then things take care of themselves.

    However, salaries (and/or the whole compensation package) of people who are paid by charitable contributions should be completely open. Every line item in a charitable organization budget and spending should be on the Internet. If you do this, many problems simply never come up.

    I worked for a large corporation who made available (on the company intranet) the general trends/graphs/titles associated with compensation. I could look at those and “estimate” my compensation relatively closely–and expect that I could have done the same for most of the people I worked with. I did not notice any problems that resulted from that.

    • December 18, 2010 at 3:35 PM

      Bennett,

      I think you have hit the nail on the head. If people truly believe in transparency, especially with a non-profit charity (which is what the SBC is), then we should at least be held to the same standard as other non-profits (and for profits for that matter) who are required to disclose their top executives pay. I would submit that we should be implementing an even higher standard of disclosure. When that happens (won’t hold my breath), then it becomes a non-issue. Until then, it is very much alive. As to local churches, I personally have never had a problem — either in principle or in fact — with my compensation and benefits package being shared with those who are paying my salary. My salary has been public in every church that I have served. I wouldn’t suggest that every church should do this, but the more transparency the better, IMO. Thanks and God bless,

      Howell

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