Earlier today, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram published a story with a statement from Gateway Church confirming the staff reductions I reported on Tuesday. According to the statement from Lawrence Swicegood, executive director of Gateway Media, the church is going to “prune” staff to prepare for growth. I suppose that is one way to look at it, although I also suppose that the staff to be pruned might see it differently.
The Star-Telegram report said that the church planned to reduce staff by 10-15% but gave no time frame. My sources maintain that the plan is to eventually cut as many as one-third of 900 positions.
The Star-Telegram article may have misstated Gateway’s financial status for 2016. As I read the annual report, it appears that Gateway experienced a deficit. More about that in a future post.
To me, a curious note is that the Star-Telegram said the church confirmed the staff layoffs but did not say what initial report had been confirmed. You can read that report first published here on Tuesday.
Today, on the second hour of his radio show, Glenn Beck spoke briefly about the charity he founded, Mercury One. Listen:
We’re just going through an audit and I said to, Mercury One, I want the toughest auditors you can possibly find. Now that’s Mercury One, I’m not even on the board of Mercury One but I went to the board and said, ‘you guys should have the toughest audit and I want to see every page ’cause I’m raising most of the money for you. I want to see every page. And if there’s something wrong, I want the audience to know. If there’s something right, I want the audience to know. I think they should publish it on the website. We have to be transparent in everything we do and that means you too.
The audit may be in part a reaction to my recent articles about changes at Mercury One. Mercury One changed their donation allocation policy to avoid designated funds. Now all donations go into a general fund which may be spent as the leadership decides.
An issue which may have raised the need for an audit is the question about what David Barton did with the $104,000 given to him by Mercury One while Barton served as board chairman. Mercury One gave Wallbuilders (Barton’s charity) $204,000 in 2014 and 2015 combined. The IRS 990 reporting form for one of those years said Barton used the funds to help people with “unforeseen disasters.” Historically, Wallbuilders has not been engaged in disaster relief.
On transparency, I have asked Mercury One several questions but there has been no response.
If Glenn Beck wants to be transparent, he could start by getting David Barton to acknowledge academic fraud. Over six months ago, Barton claimed on camera that he had an earned degree. As it turns out, the degree was given by a diploma mill.
He could also have Barton admit that he never played Division One NCAA basketball for Oral Roberts University.
If Beck really wants transparency, he could start with Mercury One’s chairman of the board.
It is Spring Pledge Drive time at K-LOVE, and so far, the Christian mega station is just asking for money.
During past campaigns, K-LOVE has used other non-profits to provide a misleading incentive to give. One year, donors were told a $40/month donation would trigger a the gift of a pair of shoes for a poor child. Another drive, the hook was a warm coat. However, as it turns out, those shoes and coats would have been given anyway.
So far this year, as far as I can tell, the pitch has not included a misleading marketing partnership. Watch:
Also, the K-LOVE website doesn’t mention a marketing partnership.
About the only gimmick I see is the contests for a vacation and an Apple prize pack. While it may be a little tacky, it isn’t dishonest. I assume someone will win those things.
While I continue to believe donors should carefully assess whether or not K-LOVE really needs pledge drive funds to remain on the air (as opposed to using them to expand), so far the station has avoided the troubling marketing gimmicks of past campaigns.
If you hear any changes, let me know…
The fourth largest church in America is in the midst of what has been called a “pruning.” According to sources in a position to know, Gateway Church is in the midst of gradually laying off one-third of current staff. According to sources who wish to remain anonymous to avoid repercussions, Gateway leaders are downplaying the layoffs, calling them a “healthy pruning.” Without referring to the downsizing, Gateway is offering a resume writing workshop to help to those who have been “laid off or fired.”
While the classes will no doubt be helpful, it is worth asking: Why does a church which took in over $127-million in revenues in 2016 need to lay off staff? Gateway’s annual report for 2016 is below:
First of all, it is worth noting that Gateway is a massive enterprise with a fund balance of over $155-million. At first glance, I have a hard time understanding why Gateway makes their youth group pay for their mid-week pizza snack and is downsizing operational staff. Gateway has not responded to my questions about the matter.
Curiously, Gateway reports $13,123,084 in “non-operating expenses.” Non-operating expenses refer to funds spent not in keeping with an organization’s mission. As a non-profit, Gateway is supposed to spend donor funds on mission related purposes. If the non-operating expenditures were shown as a deduction from the “revenue over expenses-operations” as was Gateway’s practice in prior years (e.g., 2015), the statements would show a combined spending in excess of revenues (a net loss) of $9,617,522. It appears that Gateway altered their presentation to make the loss less obvious to statement readers. While non-operating expenses can refer to interest payments and other permitted purposes, it is fair to ask why there is no description of these expenses which comprise just over 10% of 2016 revenues.
Possible Non-operating Expenditures
During 2016, Gateway’s founder and Lead Pastor Robert Morris was a vocal supporter of the GOP and now serves on Donald Trump’s advisory committee. Gateway Church helped sponsor a inaugural ball for Donald Trump which took the Morris’ away from their annual January churchwide fast. At the same time, Gateway Church began charging the youth group for their weekly pizza snack at meetings. While the youth group paid for their pizza, the Robert and Mrs. Morris were spending Gateway’s funds on a pricey inaugural gala. With Trump winning the presidency in November, it seems likely that some of those sponsorship funds would have been committed from 2016 revenues. Listen to Tony Perkins thank the sponsors of the gala which celebrated “the great victory.”
In September 2016, Gateway sponsored and hosted a Solemn Assembly of Christian right pastors to pray for the nation. Although the event was a downsized version of the original plan (75,000 pastors in Cowboy stadium), the promotional video makes it clear that the event sought political change through a religious event. Is any of this political activity in Gateway’s non-operating expenses?
David Barton has been at war with higher education for many years. Glenn Beck gets involved from time to time but has decided to throw in with Barton’s war in a big way via his charity Mercury One. For $375, students (18-25 years old) can go to Mercury One and learn history from Barton and Beck. According to Beck, when it comes to having historical answers, “I guarantee you the professors in college will have the wrong answer.” Watch:
According to the Mercury One website, students will be taught about the following topics:
- A Biblical Worldview
- The Truth in History
- America’s Godly Heritage
- Early Education in America
- How the Bible Influenced America
- American Exceptionalism
- God and the Constitution
- Reclaiming the Land
When I first began to examine Mercury One, I had respect for Beck’s willingness to use his platform to help rescue religious minorities from ISIS held territories. However, of late, Mercury One has shifted the focus of charitable work to education. Donations are no longer accepted strictly for rescue work. With Barton and Beck trying to expand Barton’s influence through miseducation, I can’t see any reason to donate to the organization.
For students thinking about attending the program, please consider the other skills you could learn during your stay at Mercury One.
- How to omit and add words to the founders to create politically useful quotes.
- How to misattribute pithy quotes to your favorite historical figure (Part one, Part two)
- How to omit pertinent historical facts from your presentations.
- How to turn fiction books into sources of historical facts.
- How to cite only the statistics you need to support your position.
- How to demonize people who point out your mistakes.
- How to cover your tracks when you make an error you don’t want to admit.
- How to make up stories to embellish your personal history (Part one, part two, part three)
- How to use diploma mills to give you an earned doctorate without doing any academic work.
Joy to the World; He is Risen!
Recently, current pastor of The Trinity Church in Phoenix and former pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle Mark Driscoll told Sheila Walsh and Randy Robison that Mars Hill Church ended due to a church governance dispute which lasted eight years. Driscoll added:
We had a governance war at the church that went eight years behind the scenes over who is in charge and how things play out. At the end we had 67 elders in 15 locations in five states, a large percentage of whom I had never met. They wanted to have independent local churches and we were one large church in many locations. So there was an eight-year battle that finally went public the last year and it was very painful for everyone involved, especially the wonderful, dear, generous, amazing people that served and gave and made it all happen.
I have spoken to a dozen former Mars Hill Church elders and no one remembers it that way.
The eight year period must refer to the time when Bent Meyer and Paul Petry were removed from eldership because they questioned the changes which were eventually enacted at Mars Hill. After those men were publicly shamed and removed, others did not dare vote against the changes. There was no eight year dispute. The governance changes were made.
A remarkable letter written in 2014 provides a counter point to Driscoll’s account. As is clear from the letter, the elders other than Meyer and Petry feared being treated in a similar manner and fell in line. While those who left the church kept hoping for change at Mars Hill, those who stayed got with the program.
As Mars Hill Church was unraveling, a group of men who were elders at the time Meyer and Petry were fired got together to write a letter of confession to Meyer and Petry. Now seems like a good time to remember what they had to say.
The letter was originally posted at the Repentant Pastor website which is no longer working. I found the letter archived via the Wayback Machine and is reproduced in full here.
Letter of Confession to Bent Meyer and Paul Petry
Sunday, November 2, 2014
Dear Paul and Bent, we want to publicly confess our sin against you regarding events that took place at Mars Hill Church back in 2007. We were wrong. We harmed you. You have lived with the pain of that for many years. As some of us have come to each of you privately, you have extended grace and forgiveness, and for that we thank you. Because our sin against you happened in a public way and with public consequences, we want to make our confession public as well with this letter.
On September 30th 2007, you were both terminated from your employment as pastors at Mars Hill Church. Your status as elders of the church was suspended, according to the church’s bylaws at the time, pending an investigation of your qualification for eldership. It’s hard to imagine just how disorienting and painful this experience must have been for you. That night, Bent, you called Mike Wilkerson, your direct supervisor, to let him know that you’d been terminated. Within hours, Paul, you emailed all of the elders to notify us of what had happened to you that night. We had the opportunity and the responsibility to intervene, to care, to listen to you, and to make sure that any harmful treatment against you was corrected. Instead, we allowed the process of your investigation and trial to continue unimpeded and we participated in it. By failing to intervene and by participating in that process without protest, we implied to the members of Mars Hill Church, to each other, and to you and your families that your termination was above reproach. We stood by as it happened, and that was wrong.
We now believe that you were grievously sinned against in that termination. We believe that the termination meeting’s content and tone was abrupt, one sided, and threatening. Hearing each of you recount your experiences of this meeting is shocking and sad. By failing to intervene, we enabled a growing trend of misuses and abuses of power and authority that would be feared and tolerated by the rest of the churchs eldership. We now understand that these sorts of overpowering actions against elders were some of the very concerns that you had each expressed regarding some of the pending proposed changes to the bylaws. It is tragic that you were proved right by your own experiences. The harm permitted by our failure to protect you has had a devastating and lasting impact on you, your families, Mars Hill Church, and the watching world.
Paul, On October 15, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—voted that you were in violation of the biblical qualifications of eldership. The alleged violations included a “lack of trust and respect for spiritual authority”. All but two of the elders then voted to remove you from eldership based on these perceived violations.
We now believe our decisions were invalid and wrong. The entire investigation and trial process was skewed by the implication that your termination was above reproach and for just cause. If there had been sin in your life that might have warranted a warning about possible disqualification from eldership, we should have patiently, carefully, and directly addressed it with you before the matter became so extremely escalated. By reporting our wrongheaded assessment to the church, we put doubt about your character in the minds of church members, though you had done nothing to warrant such embarrassment and scrutiny. By doing this, we misled the whole church, harmed your reputation, and damaged the unity of the body of Christ.
Bent, On October 29, 2007, all twenty-three elders at the time—including most of us signers of this letter—agreed that you were guilty of “displaying an unhealthy lack of trust in, and respect for, the senior leadership of Mars Hill Church”. We also unanimously approved that, based on your repentance, you would remain an elder of the church on probation.
Bent, we were wrong to have called you guilty of lacking trust and respect for the senior leadership of the church when you had good reasons for challenging the church’s senior leadership. We were wrong to have insisted that you repent of this lacking trust as a condition of your continued eldership, because it was not sinful on your part in the first place.
Bent and Paul, you each had every right as an elder to openly express your strong concerns about the bylaws and to influence our thinking so that we might have made the most informed decision possible. You also had good reason to contact the church’s attorney about those bylaws. These were not sinful acts of mistrust on your part, but reasonable acts of due diligence. We needed to learn from you at that time and we should have trusted you and respected your spiritual authority as elders of the church to educate us about potential problems with those bylaws. Instead, we silenced your voices through our complicity in your terminations and our decisions to remove Paul as an elder and keep Bent on probation instead of examining the issues more closely.
Paul, On December 5th, 2007 those of us who were elders at the time voted to instruct the members of Mars Hill Church to treat you as an unrepentant believer under church discipline after you had resigned your membership from the church. This treatment was to have included “rejection and disassociation” in the hope that you would “come to an acknowledgment of [your] sin and repent.” This instruction was given with the weight of all twenty-seven elders at the time. This disciplinary rejection led to great loss to your family in extreme financial hardship, sudden loss of long standing friendships, spiritual and emotional trauma to your family, and the public shaming of your character. We share responsibility for those losses due to our participation in the vote.
A church disciplinary act of this magnitude is extreme. It’s perhaps the most powerful that can be enacted upon a pastor. We now think that motion was hasty and harmful. We should have challenged the motion rather than approving it. Instead, we used our voting power as elders in a way that resulted in further harm to you. Further, we brought disrepute on the Church and its responsibility to exercise church discipline in a godly, loving and redemptive way. We failed to love you as a fellow elder and brother in Christ.
Confessing our sins against you has been a process that has taken us some time. We have engaged in self-examination, challenged our memories of what happened by reviewing the documents and interviewing one another, and spent time listening to you and your wives tell your heartbreaking stories. Many of us have met personally with each of you over the years to confess our sin and to seek forgiveness for our sinful actions and inaction. We don’t intend to convey by this letter that we are the only elders or former elders who’ve come to similar conclusions, and we hope that in time, the others will join us in public confession. Our desire is to clear the reproach from your names.
We hope that our confession also brings healing to the many past and present members of Mars Hill Church whose hearts were broken for you and your families as a result of our sin. As part of our commitment to walk in repentance, we invite anyone who has been impacted by our sins against you to contact any of us so we can continue to walk in repentance by listening, confessing, and asking for forgiveness.
Paul and Bent, we are sorry for our sinful behavior toward you, for harming you, and for bringing shame to Christ’s church. We hope that you will forgive us. May the peace and grace of our Lord heal our hearts.
Mars Hill Elders as of October, 2007
Additional Mars Hill Elders as of December 5th, 2007
TJ was born on April 13, 1743. So what can you get a founder of our country who is experiencing his reward?
1. You can spread this post around Twitter and Facebook: David Barton’s Jefferson Lies: The Immigration and Healthcare Edition. This post illustrates how far David Barton will go to misrepresent Jefferson to suit Barton’s political views. Barton adds and subtracts words from our third president’s 1805 address to Congress in order to support Barton’s preferred narrative. Jefferson’s not here to set him straight, so you can help out.
In honor of Jefferson’s birthday, Barton should admit what he did and apologize.
2. You can get yourself or a friend a copy of critically acclaimed Getting Jefferson Right authored by Michael Coulter and me (now only $2.99 for the e-book). The book debunks many of key claims of Christian nation advocates (Barton is the most prominent among them) about Jefferson.
Chris Rodda has done it again. Although I can’t add much to this take down of David Barton, I want my readers to be aware of it. Let me summarize and further illustrate Rodda’s excellent post.
On the March 9 edition of Wallbuilders Live radio program, Barton took a question from a listener about immigration. To answer her, Barton claims to offer a quote from Thomas Jefferson. Listen:
Let me read a Thomas Jefferson quote on what the federal government’s to do with this combination of immigration-health care. He says quote, “The federal government is to certify with the exact truth for every vessel sailing in from a foreign port the state of health on that vessel, which prevails from which country she sails. But the state authorities are charged with the care of the public health.”
So the feds get to do health care only for ships carrying immigrants coming to the United States and we see what the health conditions were when they left, what they are when they get here, and everything else belongs to the states on health care. And immigration was very much the same.
Chris Rodda points out that Jefferson did not say what Barton made him say.
First, let me repeat what Barton said Jefferson said.
The federal government is to certify with the exact truth for every vessel sailing in from a foreign port the state of health on that vessel, which prevails from which country she sails. But the state authorities are charged with the care of the public health.
Barton changed Jefferson’s words in ways that make next to impossible to believe he did it without knowing he was distorting Jefferson’s words and meaning.
What is the source of Barton’s fractured quote? In his 1805 report to Congress on the state of the nation, Jefferson began by mentioning the yellow fever epidemics in the U.S. Jefferson first acknowledged the epidemic and then he told Congress that he had taken steps to reassure our European trading partners that the fever wasn’t spread via vessels sailing from our ports. Do you see how Barton changed Jefferson’s meaning?
In taking a view of the state of our country we in the first place notice the late affliction of two of our cities under the fatal fever which in latter times has occasionally visited our shores. Providence in His goodness gave it an early termination on this occasion and lessened the number of victims which have usually fallen before it. In the course of the several visitations by this disease it has appeared that it is strictly local, incident to cities and on the tide waters only, incommunicable in the country either by persons under the disease or by goods carried from diseased places; that its access is with the autumn and it disappears with the early frosts. These restrictions within narrow limits of time and space give security even to our maritime cities three fourths of the year, and to the country always. Although from these facts it appears unnecessary, yet to satisfy the fears of foreign nations and cautions on their part not to be complained of in a danger whose limits are yet unknown to them I have strictly enjoined on the officers at the head of customs to certify with exact truth, for every vessel sailing for a foreign port the state of health respecting this fever which prevails at the place from which she sails.. Under every motive from character and duty to certify the truth, I have no doubt they have faithfully executed this injunction. Much real injury has, however, been sustained from a propensity to identify with this endemic and to call by the same name fevers of very different kinds, which have been placed among those deemed contagious. As we advance in our knowledge of this disease, as facts develop the source from which individuals receive it, the State authorities charged with the care of the public health, and Congress with that of the general commerce, will become able to regulate with effect their respective functions in these departments. The burthen of quarantines is felt at home as well as abroad; their efficacy merits examination. Although the health laws of the States should be found to need no present revisal by Congress, yet commerce claims that their attention be ever awake to them.
To make this very clear, let me reproduce Barton’s quote but omit the words Jefferson didn’t say.
___ ______ ___________ __ to certify with ___ exact truth for every vessel sailing __ ____ a foreign port the state of health __ ___ ____, which prevails __ ___ _____ from which ________ she sails. (75 words) ___ the state authorities __ charged with the care of the public health (21 words).
Now let me do it a different way. I will reproduce the entire actual quote from Jefferson with the words Barton chose to include in his fractured quote in bold print.
In taking a view of the state of our country we in the first place notice the late affliction of two of our cities under the fatal fever which in latter times has occasionally visited our shores. Providence in His goodness gave it an early termination on this occasion and lessened the number of victims which have usually fallen before it. In the course of the several visitations by this disease it has appeared that it is strictly local, incident to cities and on the tide waters only, incommunicable in the country either by persons under the disease or by goods carried from diseased places; that its access is with the autumn and it disappears with the early frosts. These restrictions within narrow limits of time and space give security even to our maritime cities three fourths of the year, and to the country always. Although from these facts it appears unnecessary, yet to satisfy the fears of foreign nations and cautions on their part not to be complained of in a danger whose limits are yet unknown to them I have strictly enjoined on the officers at the head of customs to certify with exact truth, for every vessel sailing for a foreign port the state of health respecting this fever which prevails at the place from which she sails. Under every motive from character and duty to certify the truth, I have no doubt they have faithfully executed this injunction. Much real injury has, however, been sustained from a propensity to identify with this endemic and to call by the same name fevers of very different kinds, which have been placed among those deemed contagious. As we advance in our knowledge of this disease, as facts develop the source from which individuals receive it, the State authorities charged with the care of the public health, and Congress with that of the general commerce, will become able to regulate with effect their respective functions in these departments. The burthen of quarantines is felt at home as well as abroad; their efficacy merits examination. Although the health laws of the States should be found to need no present revisal by Congress, yet commerce claims that their attention be ever awake to them.
Barton added and subtracted words he wanted to make Jefferson say something he didn’t say. Surely David Barton knows the difference between “sailing for” a port and “sailing in from” one.
Clearly, Jefferson told Congress that he had taken steps to address foreign worries about disease coming into their countries, not from them. Barton also eliminated references to federal oversight of health because Barton wants his audience to believe the founders believed health care was a state matter. However, Jefferson refers to the State authorities and “Congress with that of general commerce.” Barton omits this reference.
Sometimes Barton’s errors are interpretive, but in this case, he simply took liberties with Jefferson’s words and has presented a false story. Such conduct disqualifies Barton as a historian.
Recently, I appeared on the Up for Debate radio program hosted by Julie Roys to debate the status of the Johnson Amendment. The Johnson Amendment forbids non-profit organizations from electioneering. Some religious groups want to repeal the amendment in order to allow pastors to endorse candidates for office without putting church tax exempt status at risk. Erik Stanley of Alliance Defending Freedom argued for the repeal of the amendment.
While discussing the matter, I volunteered that I have no problem with pastors expressing their views about political candidates but I do have a problem with tax exempt churches using tithes and offerings for political purposes. Those funds are exempt from taxation and as such should not be funneled into support for specific candidates. In short order, churches would become political action committees with donors getting a tax exemption for money eventually going to fund partisan politicking.
In response, Erik Stanley mentioned the Free Speech Fairness Act (HR 781/S264). Stanley characterized the bill as a fix for the Johnson Amendment, not a complete repeal. The text of the bill is as follows:
H. R. 781
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow charitable organizations to make statements relating to political campaigns if
such statements are made in the ordinary course of carrying out its tax exempt purpose. _______________________________________________________________________
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
February 1, 2017
Mr. Scalise (for himself and Mr. Jody B. Hice of Georgia) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the Committee on Ways and Means
To amend the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 to allow charitable organizations to make statements relating to political campaigns if
such statements are made in the ordinary course of carrying out its tax exempt purpose.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the “Free Speech Fairness Act”.
SEC. 2. ALLOWING 501(C)(3) ORGANIZATION TO MAKE STATEMENTS RELATING TO POLITICAL CAMPAIGN IN ORDINARY COURSE OF CARRYING OUT ITS TAX EXEMPT PURPOSE.
(a) In General.–Section 501 of the Internal Revenue Code of 1986 is amended by adding at the end the following new subsection:
“(s) Special Rule Relating to Political Campaign Statements of Organization Described in Subsection (c)(3).–
“(1) In general.–For purposes of subsection (c)(3) and sections 170(c)(2), 2055, 2106, 2522, and 4955, an organization
shall not fail to be treated as organized and operated exclusively for a purpose described in subsection (c)(3), nor
shall it be deemed to have participated in, or intervened in any political campaign on behalf of (or in opposition to) any
candidate for public office, solely because of the content of any statement which–
“(A) is made in the ordinary course of the organization’s regular and customary activities in carrying out its exempt purpose, and
“(B) results in the organization incurring not more than de minimis incremental expenses.”.
(b) Effective Date.–The amendments made by this section shall apply to taxable years ending after the date of the enactment of this
So if the speech is made in the course of carrying out tax exempt purposes and results in insignificant costs, the speech would be permitted. Given the restriction on spending, this is not a repeal but a fix.
But is it an adequate fix? I argue that it is not. I don’t think any loophole for churches to spend tithes on political purposes, even de minimis, should be allowed. What is de minimis to one church might not be considered de minimis to another. Furthermore, the point of fixing the free speech problem should be on speech, not money. In kind contributions should also be forbidden. As this is written, I don’t support it.
One of the co-sponsors is Jody Hice a Christian from Georgia who sounds dominionist tones. He talked about the “repeal” of the Johnson Amendment at a recent David Barton sponsored meeting.
As I have noted before, most pastors don’t want to endorse candidates from the pulpit which is as it should be in my opinion.