Southern Religion

Mission Board should (finally) do the right thing

The Southern Baptist Convention’s International Mission Board (IMB) missed an opportunity to secure its credibility and protect the public when it failed to prosecute an embezzler, who is now accused of insurance fraud in Alabama, and concealed the incident.

We’ll see if the board’s leaders make the same mistake twice.

In 2005, the mission board decided that a judgment ordering Benton Gray Harvey to repay more than $362,000 was sufficient.

According to former IMB member Wade Burleson, the trustees took an oath of secrecy and so managed to keep the issue hidden from the public until news reports revealed investigations into the dealings of Harvey and another man at an insurance company in Alabama.

The IMB’s decision was clearly flawed. But the recent revelation gives it a second chance to make things right.

Here’s what its leaders should do immediately.

  • Release all the information (not otherwise sequestered by law) from its own investigation into Harvey’s handling of mission board money. This should have occurred three years ago.
  • Call on the Southern Baptist Convention Executive Committee to hire an independent firm paid by the mission board to conduct a thorough audit of all board finances, including those handled by Harvey.
  • When the audit is completed, allow the auditors to conduct press conferences and release all their findings. This will show that mission board leaders want all the truth to come out.
  • Release the full mission board budget, including salaries and expenses, and call on other Southern Baptist agencies to do the same. For too long, the salaries of Southern Baptist executives have been hidden from those who contribute the offerings that pay them. It has created the perception, perhaps a correct one, that the executives would be embarrassed if their high salaries were revealed.
  • Reconsider and reevaluate its mission strategy in areas where missionaries are legally not allowed. This complex issue deserves close examination.
  • Repay the insurance company in Alabama for its losses due to Harvey’s activities – activities which timely criminal prosecution by the IMB would arguably have made impossible. The owner of the insurance agency that hired Harvey is trying to repay those he swindled. The mission board should do no less.

These steps will bring the IMB closer to regaining the trust of those who pay its bills through the Cooperative Program and the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering.

December 4, 2008 Posted by | Religion | , , , , , | 1 Comment