Does the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Benefit Donors? (UPDATED)

Yesterday morning, Christianity Today announced that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability suspended Harvest Bible Chapel for potential violation of four of seven financial integrity standards. ECFA’s president Dan Busby told CT that ECFA is trying to find out if the church is or is not in compliance. Although it has been obvious for some time, at least the ECFA has given the public some indication that all may not be right at HBC.

ECFA’s renewed investigation appears to be a response to Julie Roys’ indefatigable investigation of HBC and pointed questions in print for ECFA about HBC’s financial practices. Roys’ work is like deja vu all over again. ECFA also said Gospel for Asia and Mars Hill Church were meeting standards until it was learned that the organizations weren’t as they seemed. In light of the current HBC debacle, I thought of this 2014 article about ECFA’s benefit to donors and am reprinting it here.

Without the work of whistleblowers, bloggers, and journalists (mostly bloggers in these cases), would we ever have known any of what we know now about MHC, GFA, and HBC? (If a former board member had not leaked the ECFA report about GFA to a blogger, the public would never have known the extent of the financial issues with that mission giant.) ECFA membership gave those organizations a seal of approval which helped convince people to part with their money. I hope these glaring situations prompt some changes at ECFA and perhaps even some additional regulation of non-profits.

…………………………………

August 6, 2014

The mission statement of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is “Enhancing Trust in Christ-Centered Churches and Ministries.” A primary means of pursuing their mission is through promotion of their seven standards of stewardship. The ECFA website states that the standards are “are fundamental to operating with integrity.” The ECFA tells the public that organizations who voluntarily agree to adhere to the standards “must comply with all of the standards, all of the time.”

But what happens when an ECFA member does not adhere to “all of the standards, all of the time?” What does the ECFA do to alert the public when non-compliance is discovered? The disappointing answer for donors is that the ECFA may do nothing to alert the public when an organization is or was out of compliance. In contrast to former years when the ECFA publicly suspended organizations, now the ECFA conducts a private review if there is concern over compliance with standards. Michael Martin, Director of Legal Services and Legal Counsel for the EFCA told me, “When standards-related issues are under review with respect to a particular member, ECFA does not comment on our review.”

I have written numerous emails and left phone messages with the ECFA regarding the Mars Hill Global Fund since May, 2014. I am aware that former members of Mars Hill Church have also contacted ECFA about the use of donations to the Mars Hill Global Fund from 2012-2014. In response to one of those former member emails, Michael Martin replied:

We are aware of the issues you mention and are in communication with leaders of Mars Hill concerning matters which relate to ECFA standards.

True to his word, the ECFA did not comment from May until July 25 when the organization released a statement to World Magazine:

The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) conducted a review of Mars Hill Global and issued a statement that read, in part, “The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent. This commitment, which ECFA will periodically verify, demonstrates the integrity of Pastor Mark Driscoll and Pastor Sutton Turner.”

In other words, trust us, we will let you know. However, the problem for prospective donors is no one let them know. This statement is very close to an admission that the church did not comply with ECFA guidelines “all of the time” (“The Church has gone the second mile to address use of any funds if they were not used consistently with donor intent“). About donations to the Global Fund between 2012-2014, the church had already acknowledged that the “preponderance of expenses related to church plants and replants in the U.S” which was a change from their 2013 Annual Report when they reported that Global Fund money went to mission efforts in India and Ethiopia. There was no report of money spent on U.S. church plants. Yet, donors would not have known that if not for those outside of Mars Hill Church and the ECFA writing about it. Mars Hill Church is still misleading people about how they portrayed Mars Hill Global and has certainly done their part to keep this information out of public view by scrubbing video evidence. Apparently, the ECFA also believes that these matters should be handled secretly without potential donors knowing what is going on.
The ECFA touts their standards as “fundamental to operating with integrity.” They are good standards. However, if the public does not know that an organization has not or is not following them, then how can that integrity be assessed?

In recent years, the ECFA has removed very few organizations from membership due to violations. Most former members have either voluntarily given up their membership or merged with other organizations.
In the old days, it seems to me that donors had more of an advocate with the ECFA. For instance, witness this response from then ECFA president Paul Nelson to criticism received in 1997 when the ECFA suspended Gospel Rescue Mission (a homeless mission?!) for using generic fundraising letters (a more minor offense than re-routing mission money, in my view):

The ECFA, Mr. Nelson said, does not want to punish member organizations, which by joining are voluntarily submitting to accountability. “By the same token we must call attention to the issues when a violation has occurred, and that’s what we’ve done in this case,” he said. “Our whole approach is not to be adversarial to the membership but to take disciplinary steps when we have to, which is what we felt we had to do. Now we’re prepared to work with them, if they are prepared to work with us.”

At the time, the ECFA seemed to take a more diligent approach to their public role. Nelson added:

The standards have not changed, Mr. Nelson said, and the suspension is a reminder that ECFA intends to be vigilant. “I think it does send a clear message-that if there are practices going on, and if those practices are widespread, that are borderline, or are moving in and out of compliance-that ECFA is serious about truthfulness in communications.”

As an evangelical donors to evangelical causes, this research into Mars Hill Global and the ECFA has been surprising and disappointing. More so than ever, if I have doubt about an organization, I will check that organization’s ECFA status but that will be only the beginning. I now know that an organization could be out of compliance even if accredited. Worse yet, the accrediting group could know an organization is out of compliance and never make it known. I may use the ECFA standards, but realize I will have to explore compliance on my own with the organization. I will have to ask for reports of how money is used (apparently the ECFA is not going to require this report from Mars Hill Church regarding their Global Fund) and not assume that accreditation means the organization has been or is in compliance with the guidelines.

Unfortunate, but good to know.

For more on Mars Hill Global, click the link.

For a donor-centered watchdog organization, see Ministry Watch.

Mega-Ministry Methods: David Jeremiah Sows the Wind and Reaps the Windfall

David Jeremiah, Screen capture from YouTube
David Jeremiah, Screen capture from YouTube

One of the key events that led to the demise of Mars Hill Church in 2014 was the revelation that the church leaders had used around $250,000 of church money to strategically buy a spot on the New York Times bestseller list for Mark and Grace Driscoll’s 2011 book Real Marriage. Manipulating bestseller lists became a debated topic for several months after it was learned that other leading Christian authors had also used Result Source to manipulate the bestseller list (e.g., Les & Leslie Parrott, and David Jeremiah). Articles in World, Christianity Today, and this blog examined the ethics of the matter.
Stepping into the debate at the time was a former Chief Financial Officer (2007-2009) of David Jeremiah’s Turning Point ministry, George Hale. In a January 14, 2015 post, Hale asserted that David Jeremiah used similar book buying practices as those made famous by Mars Hill Church and Mark Driscoll. Hale said he left Turning Point because he didn’t agree with the ethics of using ministry funds to manipulate the bestseller lists and enrich Jeremiah.
Turning Point is a large ministry that took in over $47 million in 2013 compared to nearly $40-million the year before. The last two years David Jeremiah’s non-profit has spent more than it made by around $3.2-million. However, the organization’s balance is strong with net assets of just over $9.5-million, as of June 2014.
At the time, Hale did not explain just how beneficial the arrangement was for Jeremiah. Now, Hale has disclosed that Jeremiah was able to purchase a $2-million ocean front condominium (San Diego Co., grant deed) in January 2010 not long after receiving a $3-million advance from Faith Words, a book publisher based in Nashville.
Hale said, “I never saw a contract between David Jeremiah and a publisher, but I did see an advance check made out to David for $3-million for a multi-book deal.” The books covered by the advance were The Coming Economic Armageddon (2010), I Never Thought I’d See The Day (2011), and God Loves You (2012). All three of these books made the New York Times bestseller list.
Despite the financial success of the books, Hale questioned the ethics of using donor money to create a fiction and personally benefit David Jeremiah. In 2015, Hale said in his public letter:

I began my employment at Turning Point during July 2007.   During August of 2007 Turning Point began promoting David Jeremiah’s Book “Captured by Grace” for pre-publication purchase for a donation of $25 or more.  I believe that approximately 100,000 books were pre-purchased (I could be wrong on this number but I think it is close) for an average donation of $25 during the months of August and September 2007.  When the book was released in October, Turning Point used the money donated for the book to purchase copies of the book from retail booksellers such as Amazon and Borders. Turning Point then sent the book to those who had donated and requested the book.  These purchases where timed to get the book listed as a “best-seller.”  It worked.
After this occurred, I voiced my concern as to the ethics of such action to David Jeremiah.  I was also concerned because Turning Point could have purchased the same books directly from the publisher for approximately $10 each instead of the $25 each paid to the book retailers.  David assured me that his agent and attorney, Sealy Yates had opined that the transactions were honest and ethical.
This same action was repeated during August, September and October 2008 with the same results. I again requested that Turning Point not repeat such transactions as I could not discern any benefit to Turning Point for purchasing the books at retail versus purchasing the books wholesale from the publisher.   I thought the transaction to be unethical.  David told me that he would take my advice under consideration.
During August 2009 David Jeremiah said that he wanted to promote his new book for pre-publication purchase but for a donation of any amount.  He had not yet made a decision as to the method that Turning Point would use to purchase the books to be sent to those who would request them.
During September 2009 David Jeremiah told me that he had decided to use the money received by Turning Point from those requesting his book to purchase the books at retail from booksellers and not purchase the books from the publisher at a lower amount.  He acknowledged that he was aware that this was disappointing to me.
Turning Point had received an average donation of $35 per book instead of $25 dollars during this 2009 campaign.  Therefore, if my memory is correct, Turning Point had received approximately $3.5 million dollars for the approximately 100,000 books pre-sold.  I thought that the added donation over and above the $25 purchase price of the book was meant to benefit Turning Point and was not to be used to purchase additional books at retail.  This did not happen. This thought, together with my prior opinion that the entire method was unethical and did not benefit Turning Point, led me to immediately resign my position with Turning Point which I did September 15, 2009.

Hale later told me that he was paid until early 2010 to allow a narrative to be floated that Hale retired instead of quitting abruptly over ethics concerns.
As a result of the book buying scheme, Turning Point’s membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was jeopardized. Hale told me, as did one other source in a position to know, that in early 2010, Turning Point was allowed to drop membership in the ECFA instead of being publicly removed over the bestseller list manipulation scheme. These tactics are not allowed for ECFA members and, according to Hale, Turning Point chose to drop out instead of modify their book business.
One consequence of losing ECFA membership was the loss of membership in the National Religious Broadcasters since members are required to either be members of ECFA or some comparable group. However, after years of non-membership, I have learned that Turning Point is a member again. It is unclear if this means Turning Point has renounced the book buying scheme or if the NRB made an exception. Neither organization has responded to my questions regarding Turning Point’s membership.
If the return of Turning Point to the NRB means that David Jeremiah has finally taken George Hale’s advice, that would be quite a story. I hope the usual big evangelical cone of silence doesn’t cover up the matter.
In any case, with the ongoing silence and secrecy over bestseller list buying, the debate over the ethics of it will continue.

Gospel for Asia and ECFA: Is Reporting Information About An Organization Harassment?

Gospel for Asia has not answered any requests for information from me since May 7. GFA’s COO David Carroll told me my questions had become too frequent and numerous for them. Former donors have also asked many of the same questions I have asked. Many former donors have written to tell me that GFA representatives said the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability advised GFA not to talk to me. I have seen evidence that GFA is internally telling staff that they refuse to answer questions from me at the advice of ECFA. That would not be surprising since ECFA has not responded to my questions for months.
If indeed ECFA is advising a member organization not to answer questions from me, what could be the reason? I will address a possible rationale in a moment. However, before I do, it is worth asking GFA publicly: why won’t you answer questions from donors? Former donor and Canadian pastor Bruce Morrison asked you many questions about discrepancies between U.S. records and Indian reports. You didn’t answer them. He and his church supported GFA for 20 years. Former donor and blogger Jimmy Humphrey supported GFA for years until recently. However, he told me you didn’t have any answers when he wanted to know why discrepancies exist between U.S. and Indian records. GFA sent him a form letter but no specific answers. I have heard similar stories from over a dozen former donors; some of them are posting at the Phoenix Preacher blog (see the comments section of this post).
Now about GFA’s silence in response to my questions:
The ECFA has a guideline called Transparency. Generally, it encourages organizations to be open about their dealings and specifies that ECFA member organizations must provide an audited financial statement upon request. GFA provided me with a copy of that statement when I asked back in April. This is the one area where compliance with ECFA guidelines has been advantageous. If the ECFA sticks by its own rules, the 2014 audited statement should be available soon because it was due to be filed with ECFA by July 31.
An aspect of the Transparency guideline gives a member organization a loophole for disclosure of the audited statement. If the organization deems that the request is part of a harassment campaign, then the group is exempt.

Harassment campaign.  An organization may be exempted from the requirement to provide a copy of its financial statement if ECFA determines that the organization is the subject of a harassment campaign, the requester is part of that campaign, and compliance with requests that are part of that campaign are not in the public interest.
What constitutes harassment? A group of requests for an organization’s documents is indicative of a harassment campaign if the requests are part of a single, coordinated effort meant to disrupt the operations of the organization rather than to collect information about the organization.

In ECFA speak, this exemption applies to requests for audited financial statements and is based on IRS guidance about disclosure of a tax exempt organization’s 990 form. Since tax exempt groups are supposed to operate for the public benefit, public accountability is served by the government requiring non-profits to file a disclosure of income and expenses via the 990 form. However, GFA doesn’t file a 990 since the organization is considered a religious order by the IRS.
The ECFA spells this out to members in a document on their website which provides the relevant IRS guidance. Reviewing the IRS guidance, it becomes clear that ECFA has adapted IRS language to their guideline for disclosure of financial statements.  Organizations are not required to provide 990 forms under the following circumstances:

§ 301.6104(d)–3 Tax-exempt organization subject to harassment campaign. (a) In general. If the district director for the key district in which the [26 CFR Ch. I (4–1–06 Edition)] organization’s principal office is located (or such other person as the Commissioner may designate) determines that the organization is the subject of a harassment campaign and compliance with the requests that are part of the harassment campaign would not be in the public interest, a tax-exempt organization is not required to fulfill a request for a copy (as otherwise required by § 301.6104(d)–1(a)) that it reasonably believes is part of the campaign.

What defines harassment?

(b) Harassment. A group of requests for an organization’s application for tax exemption or annual information returns is indicative of a harassment campaign if the requests are part of a single coordinated effort to disrupt the operations of a tax-exempt organization, rather than to collect information about the organization. Whether a group of requests constitutes such a harassment campaign depends on the relevant facts and circumstances. Facts and circumstances that indicate the organization is the subject of a harassment campaign include: a sudden increase in the number of requests; an extraordinary number of requests made through form letters or similarly worded correspondence; evidence of a purpose to deter significantly the organization’s employees or volunteers from pursuing the organization’s exempt purpose; requests that contain language hostile to the organization; direct evidence of bad faith by organizers of the purported harassment campaign; evidence that the organization has already provided the requested documents to a member of the purported harassing group; and a demonstration by the tax-exempt organization that it routinely provides copies of its documents upon request.

The IRS does not require non-profits to answer endless requests for the same form from coordinated sources. Doing so would take up too much time and resources and might be designed to disrupt the organization’s functioning. Even so, an organization cannot simply declare itself the subject of a harassment campaign and be free from the disclosure requirement. The organization has to request a determination by the IRS within 10 days of the organization’s leaders believing the organization to be the subject of a harassment campaign. According to the guidelines:

(d) Harassment determination procedure. A tax-exempt organization may apply for a determination that it is the subject of a harassment campaign and that compliance with requests that are part of the campaign would not be in the public interest by submitting a signed application to the district director for the key district where the organization’s principal office is located (or such other person as the Commissioner may designate).

To my knowledge, Gospel for Asia has not requested any such determination. You can read the rest of the procedure at this link (page 91).
ecfa sealClearly, none of this applies to media, public, or donor requests for information about financial dealings. Neither the IRS nor the ECFA guidelines advise or allow a public charity to ignore questions about public documents (audited statements, reports filed with the Canadian and Indian governments) already filed by the organization. If indeed the ECFA advised a Christian ministry to refuse to answer questions about finances from other Christians, then we have a whole new way of defining “evangelical financial accountability.”
In the Public Interest
Let’s make this very clear.  There is no harassment campaign. GFA did not try to work with me as one GFA representative said according to former donor Jimmy Humphrey. There is no reason in the public interest either here or in India for GFA to hide information or fail to answer questions about discrepancies in financial reports available freely to the public. There is no reason in the public interest for the ECFA to advise their member organizations not to talk to me or any other writer.
If anything is true, it is that GFA has operated in such a way as to thwart the public’s interest in knowing how tax exempt donations are spent. For instance, without brave former staffers disclosing the money smuggling to India, the public wouldn’t know that, GFA, a tax exempt religious order, conducted business in violation of its own standards and possibly U.S. Customs law. GFA began by telling staff that the procedure was legal and they cleared it with their auditors. Later, ECFA told Christian Today that GFA was seeking “legal counsel” to determine “remedial measures”:

It confirmed that GFA had sent cash with individuals travelling to India, but said that it had “stopped this practice entirely, and is working with legal counsel to determine appropriate remedial measures, if any”.

If the practice is legal and cleared with auditors Bland Garvey, why check with lawyers?
Maybe there are good answers for every question. If so, the public interest demands that GFA answer them. If not, then whose interest is served by silence?

Former Faith Christian Church Members: ECFA Owes Us a Public Apology

After Faith Christian Church dropped membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the point person for former FCC members involved in providing testimony to the EFCA, Rachel Mullis, expressed her disappointment with ECFA’s decision not to publicly release the results of the investigation.
Now joining in is another supporter of former FCC members, Sandy Wade, who said in a comment on this blog:

FCC took the cowards way out and so did ECFA. They obviously feel no moral obligation to protect the Christian community, and they have no interest in telling the truth. Their only public comment was to defend the FCC organization. You would think that after making such public remarks in their defense they would want to complete their investigation and release their findings. Cowards, they owe us all a public apology!

Wade makes a great point. The ECFA publicly defended the church before doing any kind of investigation. Given that the ECFA went out on a limb in the press to defend FCC, it seems reasonable to think they comment publicly now that they know more.
Former member Connie Cohn of Tucson, AZ is not impressed with ECFA’s integrity over the matter:

I believe that if an organization wants to maintain their credibility then, they must adhere to their policies and speak out when those policies/standards have not been met. They say that their mission is to protect the Christian community. To allow a church to resign in the middle of an investigation and not say anything about what was being investigated seems to make us question how respectable they are. They didn’t have to give all the details, but they could have at least said something about them leaving other than that they have decided to resign. They have a responsibility to the hundreds of people who left FCC and are still a part of the Christian community. I, for one, am not very impressed with the integrity of the ECFA.
Another former member said:
To me it shows laziness.  ECFA doesn’t want to finish compiling and publishing a report for an organization not under its oversight anymore.  But to let an organization just leave in order to halt any investigation is a major loophole that shouldn’t be there. The FBI doesn’t halt an investigation when someone leaves the country and just say “oh well nothing we can do, they left”.  ECFA needs to complete what they started ad make the results public so that people will take them seriously.  Since this loophole exists the ECFA really isn’t protecting members and donors at all.

Marcus DiMarco
Former Member of FCC

ECFA Will Not Release Faith Christian Church Investigation Results

This post is a follow up to the resignation of Faith Christian Church from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. I reported early in April that FCC resigned from the ECFA. FCC was being investigated by the ECFA for possible violations of ECFA guidelines. Numerous former members had described the extreme pressure to give 10% or more of their income to the church along with other problems at the church.
Even though the FCC resigned while under investigation, the ECFA does not plan to say anything further about the findings of the investigation. According to an April 9 email from John C. Van Drunen to former FCC member Rachel Mullis, the ECFA will only “cite their resignation” on their website. Writing to Mullis, Van Drunen said:
Thanks for your follow-up.  Since they have resigned there is not anything further we are able to say other than to cite their resignation.  Regarding follow-up with the former members, I have sent an update this afternoon to each person who responded to thank them similarly for their assistance and to give them the same update.
Thank you,
John

John C. Van Drunen
Executive Vice President

Mullis told me that she felt “disappointed” by the ECFA decision not to alert the public in some manner about the problems at FCC. She added that she felt like FCC got a “‘get out of jail free’ card.”
This is another example of how the ECFA’s decisions do not serve donors or the public. All that a prospective donor would know about FCC from the ECFA is that FCC resigned. The ECFA should have a category of resignation that indicates that an organization resigned while under investigation.

ECFA Statement: Faith Christian Church Still Under Investigation

The Washington Post’s Susan Svrluga posted a statement from the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability about their ongoing examination of Faith Christian Church.

ECFA evaluates and accredits ministry organizations, including churches, only with regard to their compliance with our Seven Standards of Responsible Stewardship. Occasionally we are presented with complaints or accusations about a member organization and while we do not automatically dismiss such concerns, the scope of our investigative authority and purview is, according to our bylaws, necessarily limited to issues directly related to these seven standards. With regard to Faith Christian Church, we are working to ascertain if, in fact, any complaint expressed from former church members falls within the scope of our seven standards.

As I reported recently, ECFA executive vice president John C. Van Drunen has interviewed at least one former member of Faith Christian Church and expressed an intention to interview those who signed a letter of concern to the ECFA.  Given what I have heard from former members, it seems inconceivable that the ECFA would find Faith Christian Church in compliance.
For instance, the first standard of responsible stewardship ends with this statement:

Summary. A member’s commitment to the evangelical Christian faith is the cornerstone of ECFA membership. The word “evangelical” connotes more than mere subscription to a doctrinal statement. It includes commitment to an ethical and moral lifestyle that seeks to conform to a biblical norm. It is the lifestyle envisioned in  ECFA’s own statement of faith: “We believe in the present ministry of the Holy Spirit, by whose indwelling the Christian is enabled to live agodly life” (emphasis added).

Both Christians and secular society often do not distinguish between financial and non-financial issues. A moral scandal would be just as devastating as a financial scandal to the credibility of the organization.

Faith Christian Church has been accused of encouraging the abuse of infants. Multiple remorseful parents and witnesses have come forward with public statements to this effect. If the ECFA is not investigating this aspect of the situation, then they are not adhering to the spirit of this guideline.  There is no universe where the child rearing practices described by former members should be tolerated in an ECFA member church.

In the eyes of many Mars Hill Church former members, the ECFA’s reputation was tarnished by their lack of transparency surrounding financial and leadership issues at the former mega-church. How the ECFA handles this situation will be  a major test of their credibility.

Former Members: Faith Christian Church (Tucson, AZ) Coerced Donations

Earlier today, Arizona Daily Star writers Carol Ann Alaimo and Emily Bregel reported that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is now investigating the Faith Christian Church to determine whether or not ECFA guidelines are being met by the church.  From the article:

Dan Busby, president of the Virginia-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, expressed support for Faith Christian’s financial practices last week. In an email Tuesday, Busby said, “Since the issues were raised last week, we have had a senior ECFA executive on the ground in Arizona to confirm the Church’s compliance with our standards.”

I wrote Busby and ECFA counsel Michael Martin to find out if the “senior ECFA executive” would meet with former members of FCC. I have received no answer. Thus far, no former members I have interviewed have spoken with the ECFA about their experiences. In addition to the allegations about bizarre teachings on spanking infants, former members have described feeling forced to give money to the church. The level of coercion described by members would certainly violate one tenet of the ECFA’s Donor’s Bill of Rights:

Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.

The ECFA lists the following rights:

Donor’s Bill of Rights
You have the right to:
Know how the funds of an organization are being spent.
Know what the programs you support are accomplishing.
Know that the organization complies with federal, state, and municipal laws.
Restrict or designate your gifts to a particular project within the organization’s mission objectives.
A timely and courteous response to your inquiries about finances and programs.
Visit office and program sites of an organization to talk personally with the staff.
Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.
Obtain a copy of the organization’s most recent audited financial statements
Know that there is a responsible governing board providing oversight to the organization’s mission.
Know that all appeals for funds are truthful and accurate.

The former members of FCC and sister churches describe coercive tactics by church pastors and elders to gain contributions. Aaron Marley was a bookkeeper at sister church Hope Christian Church in Tempe, AZ. He told me that the giving history of members is reviewed by the ministers. Marley said a minister, who was not part of the church administration, interrogated him about his giving because it didn’t meet expectations. Marley assumed a church would keep giving records for tax purposes but not for the purpose of coercing donations.
Former staff minister Jeff Phillips told me that “tithing is strictly enforced. We were taught that if we did not tithe, we were cursed.” Phillips said he remembered FCC pastor Steve Hall say, “‘I WILL NOT pastor cursed people.'”
Phillips related the following account:

There was one occasion when some of the staff, including me, were caught not tithing soon enough. We were waiting until we had deposited our checks into the bank to tithe to the church. Steve found a verse in the OT about paying late fees for late tithes, so we were forced to pay extra for our lateness. So, essentially the ministers raised their own salaries and gave 13% of that and beyond to the church, which went to pay Steve’s salary along with the other members’ tithes.

A thorough investigation by the ECFA should take into account testimony from former members.

Former Staff Members: Faith Christian Church Members Taught to Spank Infants to Curb Rebellion

Two former staff members of Faith Christian Church in Tucson AZ provided more details about the procedures church leaders told members to use to drive out rebellion from infants. The Arizona Daily Star reported the procedures described by former member and staffer Rachiel Morgan. According to the Star report, church pastor Stephen Hall taught members to spank babies as young as 8 weeks if they raised up their heads while laying on their stomachs.
Wanting to learn more about this claim, I spoke today with Rachiel Morgan. She told me that the techniques were taught in small groups by the elders and that her ex-husband was exhorted to spank his six month old baby in front of church elders to determine if the spankings were hard enough.
Another former staff person, Jeff Phillips told me that the techniques were taught to “drive out the rebellion” in the children. He said, according to church pastors, “The only way to recognize rebellion in a child that small is to place the child on his belly to put him to sleep.” If parents worried about infants suffocating or SIDS, they were told “to live by faith and not worry that our baby would die in the crib if he was on his belly.”
Both Morgan and Phillips described similar tactics. According to Phillips, parents were advised:

When putting the child down, if the child lifted his head, you were to push his head down and say “no” firmly. If he lifted his head again, you were to spank him on the backside with the rubber eraser end of a pencil or a cardboard tube from a clothes hanger. You were supposed to strike the baby hard enough to make him cry. You repeated this process until the baby complied, usually by falling asleep.

I wrote the email provided by Faith Christian Church to allow them to give their side or to rebut these charges but there has been no answer.
Morgan and Phillips described other concerns including financial ones with the ministers of a 400-500 member church getting six figure salaries while most staff were living off donations which had to be shared with the church leadership. Membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability was used by campus non-salary staff to raise money for the church. Morgan and Phillips knew of no investigation on the part of the ECFA; according to the former staffers, the church pastors gloated about the credibility they had due to membership in the ECFA.
 
 

ECFA Tells World Magazine Mars Hill Global In Compliance With Guidelines; Purges Another Page From Website

Yesterday, prior to Mark Driscoll’s resignation announcement, Warren Smith posted an article at World magazine which summarizes many of the controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church.  In it, Smith tells of statements made by Dan Busby, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability about Mars Hill.

The ECFA’s Dan Busby told me in July that his group reviewed Mars Hill Global and found it to be in compliance with ECFA standards. In September, a week after Driscoll announced his sabbatical and the church announced its review of his behavior, Busby said, “ECFA will let the church complete their review. Then, ECFA will be in a position to determine if our separate review of the same issues is warranted.”

The ECFA’s statement regarding Mars Hill Global is useless without explanation. Essentially, the ECFA is asking the public to accept their word. No explanation or rationale was provided as required by their own principles (now purged from their website).  Just a couple of days ago, ECFA promised:

ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

Another page (which is also now missing – see cache) promised that all allegations which involved their guidelines would be investigated.
ecfacomplaintsFAQ
 
I have raised several issues about Mars Hill’s lack of compliance with ECFA guidelines and the ECFA has never suggested mediation. All I have gotten is an assurance that everything is as it should be without explanation. I don’t know of anyone who has leveled a complaint with the ECFA who was pointed to mediation.
Since I raised the issue of a public statement with Dan Busby, there has been no response from the ECFA except to purge two pages from the ECFA website. I know of no direct response to the hundreds of people who have signed the ECFA/Mars Hill petitions which request increased transparency from both groups. It is amazing that people would have to beg for an organization to live up to its name.
 

Amid the Mars Hill Church Controversies, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability Goes Quiet, Purges Website

I don’t understand the approach of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to the controversies surrounding Mars Hill Church.
Two petitions signed by hundreds have called on the ECFA to address financial accountability at Mars Hill Church. Numerous people, including many former and current Mars Hill members and donors, have written the ECFA asking for answers regarding Mars Hill’s Global Fund. I have written several emails requesting on the record comments about Mars Hill. Recently, silence is the answer.
Then on Monday, October 13, I wrote this email to Dan Busby, President of the ECFA:

Dan:
According to this information:
http://www.ecfa.org/Content/2MembManComplaintsCompliance:

  • ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

According to Justin Dean, the ECFA examined the dealings of Mars Hill Church regarding the Global Fund.
“I’m sure you’ll appreciate that we submit to outside CPA firms to review our financials, as well as submit to the ECFA who has reviewed our financials and in particular has reviewed in detail our donations from our Global audience and all communications and efforts around Global.”
Is this true? And did you communicate the results publicly? If so, where?
Thank you, Warren Throckmorton

Mars Hill spokesman Justin Dean had made this statement about the ECFA and the Global Fund as a part of a conversation with Alex Terry which is reported in a post on Monday.
Then, yesterday, a commenter let me know that the Complaints page is no longer available.
ECFANoComplaintsPage
The Google cache of the page is still available and I have the page saved.
I wrote to ask Dan Busby why the page was removed. No answer as yet.
If enforced, this principles on the missing page would address some of my concerns about the ECFA. For instance:

Standards that are not respected by members or that are violated – whether through ignorance or intentionally – and go unenforced lose their effectiveness in demonstrating God-honoring ethical practice.
Just as ECFA’s Standards stress members’ integrity and honesty in action and in communication with the public with certain obligations of disclosure, ECFA will conduct itself with the same requirements when communicating to the public regarding compliance matters.
ECFA’s only public relations contacts are its President (or his designee) and Board Chair. While they will protect confidential and proprietary information, they will communicate publicly that a Compliance Review is in process or has been completed, what the Standards of concern are or were, and the final decision once the Compliance Review has been completed.

Unfortunately, the ECFA has not communicated on this matter.
If the ECFA has no intention of commenting regarding Mars Hill, then we can only assume the Board found no reason to investigate. In light of the evidence surround Mars Hill Global, that finding would be troublesome. On the other hand, if the organization has investigated as Dean implied, then it would be good for the organization to address the many emails, call, petitions and other clear concerns raised by members and former members of Mars Hill as well as other members of the public and the media.
The Mars Hill/ECFA petitions are here and here.