Baptist salaries, known and unknown
Although the seven-figure salary of one prominent Baptist evangelist was published this month, Southern Baptist Convention executive salaries remain hidden.
“The biggest compensation gainer among top executives was Franklin Graham of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, whose compensation rose 534% to $633,722, much of the gain because of a $366,000 retirement payment. Graham, 57, son of Billy Graham, also earns $483,000 as CEO of charity Samaritan’s Purse,” the story says.
So, Franklin Graham made more than $1.1 million last year. Not bad money if you can get it. Even without the retirement payment, he still made more than $750,000. Then again, it must be nice to get a hefty six-figure retirement payment when you’re 57.
Of course, we must consider all the great work done by the two organizations Graham leads. One would expect that the head of an organization which delivers Christmas boxes to needy children around the world wouldn’t be living a lifestyle of lavish luxury.
Remember too that the average Southern Baptist pastor’s pay package last year was roughly one tenth of the money Graham pulled in from just his father’s evangelistic association.
Finally, let’s be glad that we know how much Graham makes.
We don’t know how much top Southern Baptist Convention executives are paid. Although we do know that they’re paid very, very well.
The most recent published figures we could find for top SBC leaders’ salaries are from 1990. They’re cited in the book The Conservative Resurgence in the Southern Baptist Convention by James C. Hefley. According to that book, five top SBC executives at the time were paid more than $100,000 a year. Specifically, the book said:
[The Wall Street Journal's R. Gustav] Neibuhr said the controversy was forcing SBC agencies to cut their staffs and postpone salary increases. salaries and fringes for the top executives of three boards and seven agencies. Five earned well over $100,000. The five, according to [Southern Baptist Advocate Editor Bob] Tenery, were Lloyd Elder, President, Sunday School Board, $157,086; Harold Bennett, President-Treasurer, Executive Committee, $151,079; Larry Lewis, President, Home Mission Board, $113,583; Keith Parks, President, Foreign Mission Board, $113,000. The Annuity Board decline to report renumeration (sic) for its newly-elected president, Paul W. Powell. Tenery further noted that the top six men at the Sunday School Board, where Tenery is a trustee, were paid $715,475 in salary and benefits.
“Does this appear as if Southern Baptist employees have been denied a raise?” Tenery asked. “It is apparent that we take care of our workers quite well.”
Even simple adjustments for inflation for the equivalent positions today result in very comfortable salaries for all. Such adjustments do not consider the implications of the subsequent revelation of extravagance by Bob Reccord while he headed the SBC’s North American Mission Board (a consolidation Brotherhood Commission, the Radio and Television Commission and the Home Mission Board). Reccord funneled $3.3 million to business friends, including current SBC President Johnny Hunt, while NAMB staff was downsized. His severance package of two years’ salary plus benefits reportedly exceeded $500,000.
A 2005 Associated Baptist Press article noted that even members of the SBC’s own Executive Committee must sign a pledge not to reveal employee salaries. Details from Reccord’s rein emerged only because NAMB marketing director Mary Kinney Branson escaped without signing the standard agreement.
Decades roll past and Southern Baptists are systematically kept in the dark about pay for their denomination’s executives. Now, why is that?
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