Former North American Mission Board head Bob Reccord says he hasn’t read a new insider book alleging mishandling of donor money at the Southern Baptist Convention agency, but what he has heard about it leaves him “saddened and grieved.”
Tuesday’s lead story in Agape Press quoted a prepared statement by Reccord saying he had an open-door policy during his nine years at NAMB, and Mary Kinney Branson, author of Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, never expressed major concern about the organization’s policies or procedures while he was there.
Reccord resigned April 17 from the SBC entity he helped form in a denominational restructuring, following an investigation by NAMB trustees. Findings in a 19-page trustee report included an apparent “culture of fear” at NAMB about reprisal for asking tough questions or appearing to challenge the authority structure.
Branson, who worked 16 years in editing and marketing at NAMB and its predecessor Home Mission Board, said in the book she decided to leave in March 2004, because a supervisor told her two vice presidents did not like her. She had chaired a product-approval process based on marketing analysis, making it harder for higher-ups to get approval for what she termed “ego-driven” products.
Her supervisor’s advice: Keep being a “strong businesswoman” but be “sweet and feminine” to the two VPs in order to keep them happy.
Despite being discouraged, Branson denied being a disgruntled employee. E-mails about her resignation from NAMB officials described her as “a gifted and competent leader” and offered appreciation for “all you’ve contributed to NAMB.” Reccord said, “Your service here has been greatly appreciated,” and “I thank the Lord for you and your impact.”
Branson had just turned 55 and qualified for early retirement. She didn’t ask for a special deal and was offered none. Since she left willingly and under positive circumstances, she wasn’t required to sign a letter promising not to speak or write about NAMB, with restrictions and penalties for doing so.
“Former staff members were unable to speak,” she wrote in the book. “Current staff knew to keep their jobs they couldn’t question or complain.” That climate of “forced silence,” she said, allowed a vice president to tell one group of employees if they didn’t like the direction the bus was going, they should get off the bus, and another if they didn’t like what was going on they could use any of 16 building exits.
Branson said at one point someone told Reccord she wouldn’t write anything unkind in her book, because she loved NAMB and the missionaries. “I don’t love NAMB and its work,” she corrected. “I love God and His work, which includes His servants. If NAMB is doing God’s work, telling the truth won’t stop it. If they’re following their own egos, nothing can save them.”
For starters, she told Agape Press, mission boards should make it easier for donors to track their dollars, perhaps even putting the information online. “I believe it needs to be more than just giving information upon request,” she said. “That information needs to be there for any of us. We shouldn’t have to go looking for it. It should be available for us, because it’s our money.”
Reccord’s departure from NAMB prompted the SBC Executive Committee to recommend last fall that trustees of all SBC entities exercise “fiscal responsibility” in setting compensation for top executives, while proposing sweeping policy revisions concerning financial reporting, executive perks and conflict of interest.
But despite a highly critical investigation and imposition of executive controls, NAMB trustees never acknowledged that Reccord did anything wrong.
“Contrary to some opinions, Dr. Reccord is in no way being asked to resign, let alone forced to resign,” trustee chairman Barry Holcomb said in a statement. “I believe I speak for our board when I say that we are very grateful for the wonderful ministry that has been accomplished by our missionaries and our staff, under Dr. Reccord’s leadership.”
In his resignation letter, Reccord said he left with “mixed emotions,” while suggesting he was too “entrepreneurial” to function within a denominational structure.
But Branson said Reccord’s wheeling-and-dealing lifestyle that earned him the nickname “Hollywood Bob” caused major morale problems for many long-time employees. She quoted a letter to the editor from the mother of a son terminated from NAMB to make way for one of Reccord’s business deals. His wife was seven months pregnant with their second child when he was let go, and their only outside income was food stamps and Medicaid. Much of the son’s three-month severance pay went toward COBRA premiums to cover the baby’s birth.
“I understand from media reports that Dr. Reccord possibly received severance in the amount of two years’ salary,” she wrote. “If this is true, it deeply disturbs my husband and I as lifelong Southern Baptists, especially in light of what happened to our son and many other dedicated former employees of NAMB.”
After Reccord’s resignation, 41 Southern Baptist leaders signed a statement of support defending his integrity. They included five former SBC presidents, three state convention executive directors, 27 pastors and one president of a Baptist university.
Bob Allen is managing editor of EthicsDaily.com.