Former North American Mission Board President Robert Reccord’s books, media appearances and exotic hobbies like scuba diving earned him the nickname “Hollywood Bob,” according to a new insider book written by a former employee.
In Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry, Mary Kinney Branson says she knew many dedicated workers who operated with financial integrity during her 16 years with NAMB and its predecessor the Home Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. But she also saw extravagance and misuse of millions of dollars of contributors’ money, she says, prompting her to write the book.
“I’m not a theologian, and I’m not particularly political,” she said in a press release. “But I believe I was placed at NAMB ‘for such a time as this.'”
Branson says NAMB’s culture plummeted when Reccord, the first president of the agency established in a denominational restructuring in 1997, became an author. After his first book, ghost written by a magazine editor and promoted by NAMB staff, she says lines blurred between personal and NAMB business.
Reccord resigned in April after a Georgia Baptist newspaper ran an investigative article describing waste and ineffectiveness at the agency, but NAMB’s chairman insisted Reccord was not asked to step down. That effort to whitewash his leaving, Branson writes, indicates that NAMB trustees are more concerned with secular criticism than getting God’s work done.
“Bob Reccord wanted to brand himself, and in a sense he has,” she says. “His name is now right up there with Bakker and Swaggart, synonymous with extravagance and self-indulgence. Unfortunately, he’s taken NAMB down that branding road with him.”
Branson worked 16 years as editing director at the Home Mission Board and director of marketing for NAMB, which formed in a merger of HMB and two other agencies. She says she left in 2004 on good terms but with knowledge that mission money given sacrificially by people in the pew was being misspent on perks like ice sculptures and private jets. Unlike nearly 100 NAMB workers let go during Reccord’s nine years as president, she didn’t sign a severance agreement promising not to talk or write about her experience.
Though Reccord’s starting salary was much higher than the last president of the HMB, Branson writes, he branched out into writing and speaking for profit. Focus of the agency shifted from telling stories of missionaries to promoting Reccord, she says. Money was spent on flying Reccord and his wife to London for the premiere of “The Chronicles of Narnia” and expensive vacations guised as executive retreats. Reccord funneled $3.3 million to business friends, while NAMB staff was downsized. All power was vested in micro-managing vice presidents, paralyzing competent staff. Decisions were based on ego and power struggles instead of solid business.
Branson said she doesn’t want to harm NAMB. In fact, she says NAMB may be one of the safest large organizations to support, because once burned leaders there won’t likely allow the same things to happen twice. She encourages church members to give even more to ministry causes, but to pay closer attention to how their tithes and offerings are spent.
While there are some things large agencies, do well, like training international missionaries, she says, other tasks are handled better at the state or local level. She points out that out of a budget of $126 million, only 32 North American missionary families were fully funded by NAMB.
“Wouldn’t it be great if we gradually stopped feeding the mega agency dinosaurs, possibly moving 1 percent of our giving each year from national to state/association/church level–until we reduced our national and international agencies to a reasonable size?” she asks. “I believe Southern Baptists could give much less than the current $190 million to national and international cooperative efforts and see no measurable difference in advancing the Kingdom. And if that money were redirected to effective ministries, we could see a positive difference.”
When scrutinizing those who spend your mission money, she recommends: “If we pay for it, we have a right to know what it cost. Salaries, severance packages, buildings and anything else paid with contributor dollars should be public record or at least available on request, with no hoops to jump through to obtain it. If any organization will not tell you how they’re spending your contributions, why not give to an organization that will?”
“If you’re not driving the bus, make sure you know who is,” she continues. “And be sure they’re not asleep at the wheel. Check out the involvement of trustees, board of directors or whoever is assigned to oversee the operations of paid staff. Make sure they’re asking the hard questions and not just accepting periodic free trips to the agency’s main headquarters.”
Branson says it is difficult but not impossible to scrutinize large agencies. Waste and dishonesty can occur in a smaller organization, but it’s more easily discovered.
“Statistics vary,” she concludes. “Exceptions abound. But the basic formula holds true more often than not: The extent of misuse is directly proportionate to the distance between the giver and the spender. And it’s up to you and me to reduce the distance.”
Branson is a professional writer. The book is her 17th. She is also president of a literary service that assists writers in preparing their books for publication.
Order Spending God’s Money from Amazon.com.
Managing editor at EthicsDaily.com from 2003-2009, Allen wrote more than 1,500 news stories during his tenure.