Tuesday, September 06, 2011

Making big bucks for Jesus. Or for somebody.

Investigative reporting isn't dead, fortunately for the public. Bob Smietana reports on his investigation of the financial management of Jay Sekulow, one of the most prominent figures in the Christian Right, in Christian crusaders cash in: Sekulow's family, firm collect millions The Tennessean 09/04/2011. Sekulow heads the Christian Right's main legal bulldog organization, the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) and another, less famous one called Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE).

I suppose this could be a case of "doing well but doing good," if you think ACLJ's rightwing political causes are good:

Along with its spiritual benefits, Sekulow's new calling has come with significant financial benefits.

Since 1998, the two charities have paid out more than $33 million to members of Sekulow's family and businesses they own or co-own, according to the charities' federal tax returns, known as form 990s.
Contributors to charities and nonprofits need to pay attention to the evaluations they receive from independent watchdogs like the American Institute of Philanthropy. Religious charities often have problematic ethical practices, especially ones not associated directly with major denominations.

This is a telling part of Smietana's story:

In a phone call, Ronn Torossian, a public relations executive serving as ACLJ’s spokesman, portrayed Sekulow as a great lawyer getting by on modest pay.

"You are asking about one of the most successful lawyers in the country whose income is very small and owns a very small home," he said.

Property records show Jay and Pam Sekulow own three homes, including one they bought in 2008 in Franklin for $655,000 and another in Norfolk, Va., bought in 2005 for $690,000. Their third home, which once belonged to CASE, is in Waynesville, N.C., and is assessed at $262,800, according to Haywood County, N.C., tax records.
Maybe the $263K one is small. So it would be true that Sekelow "owns a very small home." So I suppose that Torossian's statement is technically not a departure from Christian honesty.

Robert Parham comments on Smietana's story in Conservative Evangelical Turns Nonprofits into Lucrative Family Business Ethics Daily 09/04/2011. One of the bad ethical signs of Sekelow's operations is the prominent role family members play in governing the charities. Parham notes that Sekelow is not unique among conservative evangelical nonprofits in that practice, which he calls "a disturbing problem within some high-visibility quarters of the evangelical and Pentecostal community."

Faith can become a family business ...

High-profile examples exist in which financial gain is spread throughout a faith-based family organization, and family members seek control of the organization from generation to generation.

Some examples illustrate that passing organizational control from the founder to his children is seldom successful:

  • Faith-healer Oral Roberts passed his mantle to son Richard Roberts, who was forced to resign as president of Oral Roberts University due to financial improprieties.
  • With his wife and children in the faith business, Robert Schuller named son Robert as his successor. When that didn't work out, he gave the mantle to his daughter, Sheila. The Crystal Cathedral is now in bankruptcy.
  • Billy Graham passed the leadership mantle to son Franklin, who has squandered the credibility of the Graham name with extremist statements and had extremely generous compensations from two nonprofits.
Other examples of an entrepreneurial evangelical founder passing the mantle of leadership to the next generation include Pat Robertson naming son Gordon the CEO of Christian Broadcasting Network.
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