I have spent the past two hours reading the blog. I had tried to keep up with the posts that were coming to my email site on my cell phone and thought I was getting all the messages, but I find here that much dialogue has taken place that, mercifully, was not on my email site.
We have had a good time on a week of vacation…45th reunion of my ’62 class at Oklahoma Baptist University; visiting with friends at our former church, FBC, Enid, Oklahoma, enjoying greatly the worship and preaching; admiring the recent remodeling of the 80 year old church buildings; relaxing at the Grand Lake of the Cherokees, visiting the tribal headquarters of the Osage in Pawhuska and finding out why they held up statehood for Oklahoma until they could get satisfaction regarding the treaty they had with the government…we were there on November 16th which was the centennial holiday for the whole state…the Osage Nation wasn’t celebrating…watched my nephew in an exciting 8 man football game at Pond Creek; and sat by my sister in her church on Sunday morning. So it was a good time for us.
I regret that I have not been able to respond more quickly and helpfully during this time. Your comments and interactions have been interesting to read. I am going to try to answer the questions that I have listed from a review of the blogs…if I overlook one, I am counting on you to ask it again and remind me.
I realize that several of you have copied your blogs to my email site. I am going to try to answer them here rather than a personal response to each blog. But if there is a question that you want to ask of me that you don’t want on the blog, please indicate that when you email me so I can respond there. The last thing I want to do is ignore someone or fail to be responsive…so if this blog does not cover everything, please press me again on the matter.
Let me express appreciation to my staff for trying to keep up with this during my time away. I have read Paul Atkinson’s comments and appreciate what he has brought to our church starting efforts. I also want to say, “thank you,” to Ron Gunter, our COO for the past two years, for leading the effort to review our church starting policies and procedures and getting them to the place they are now. We have elevated to policy status the bulk of our church starting procedures and they have been approved by the Executive Board and cannot be changed without Board approval.
I noticed that Paul Atkinson invited everyone to consider starting a new church and I want to echo that call. There are 10-11 million people in Texas who do not claim any church relationship. The need is vast…24 states, the last I checked, do not have as many people living in them as we have unchurched people in Texas!
Working the process with our church starters will do more to alleviate your concerns about the integrity of the process than anything anyone can say, I suspect. They are all very aware of the challenge we have to rebuild confidence and trust in our procedures. Many people in Texas live in areas where it may seem the last thing needed is another Baptist church, although new churches are needed for pockets of people in places that are often overlooked. But in other places in Texas the population is exploding and it is diverse and the need for new churches seems overwhelming.
Pray for our church starters, for pastors who have a vision for new churches, for our Mission Funding Group as they help us be both effective and accountable.
Now to the questions:
Did I offer money to Jon Becker to get him to move FBC, McAllen back to the BGCT? No, absolutely not. While I obviously would be glad to have the support and involvement of any of the churches which left the BGCT for the other convention, I, nor any of our staff, would ever offer funds or funding to anyone to “bring a church back.”
Regarding the character of FBC, Weslaco: I appreciate Manuel’s comments regarding his great appreciation for his church. I have celebrated across the last few years the growth and vitality of the church. Though, I do not know the people or leaders in the church, it is my impression that they felt they were adding another service, a third worship service, to accomodate the growing congregation. Jon explained to our church starter, and he had a well written document outlining the philosophy of “starting a church within a healthy church” in which he cited the success of this model in some other places, that he would like to start the new church as “The Family Fellowship,” and it would meet in the church building at the 9:30 a.m. time. As best I can tell, the church starter thought that this was a strategy adopted by the church or, at least, the missions committee.
What was not understood was that the church body, and apparently not the deacons or the missions committee, ever discussed that strategy of “starting a new church within a healthy church.”
Furthermore, it was never the plan for the monies allocated to the church to be used to pay Jon Becker. It was assumed by our church starting people that Jon was being paid by the church in the manner customary to Baptist churches. The reports turned into our offices never showed that the mission support dollars were being used to pay a salary to Jon.
Jon Becker came to my office in September of 2005 and asked for a one time gift to help the three church starts by FBC, Weslaco make the transition through his anticipated departure to FBC, McAllen. He indicated that the situation was critical. I had no idea that he was talking about money that would be paid to him.
I took him to our church starting office and asked them to talk to him and evaluate the need. I left him there to talk with the church starting leader (who no longer works for the convention, but was and is a faithful and sincere Christian) and the decision was made to give FBC, Weslaco another $5,000 to help make that transition. I don’t believe that our church starting leader knew that 2800 of the 5,000 dollars would go to pay a salary to Jon. I believe he thought that it was a good and wise investment to help the new church starts continue. At that time there was no reason not to believe the pastor’s word about the matter. In case you are wondering…my door is open to pastors, mission organizations, associations, institutions and many other people have come to me to see what the convention could do to assist them in worthy endeavors. I have taken those requests to others on our staff to see what their counsel would be and where we could help, many times we could and many times not, we have tried to do our best to pray for and where possible and appropriate offer financial assistance.
The two Hispanic congregations are still in operation and we trust will both grow into full orbed churches. The Family Fellowship was discontinued a few months after Jon left Weslaco to go to McAllen.
It is my clear understanding that FBC, Weslaco wants to put all this behind them, help the two Hispanic congregations continue to develop, and return the $26,500 that our records show was given to the church to fund the Family Fellowship “start up.” It is my understanding that Jon Becker has returned $30,000 to the church with an apology for his actions. It is also my understanding that the deacons and the church are seeking to act as redemptively as they know how to do in restoring Jon to a place of wholeness in their congregation. We should all pray for them in that process.
Someone asked if Jon ever offered to apologize to the BGCT for his actions. He has been repentant in his conversations with our representatives. He offered to come to the annual meeting in Amarillo and address the convention. We did not feel that was the right thing to do, since we were still working on details with the church and trying to make sure all the facts and details were in place.
Obviously, the tone of some of the blogs has been to suggest that as the Executive Director I allowed all this to take place. In the sense that the buck always stops at the CEO’s desk, I take that responsibility. Some suggested that I resign last year when the information from the Valley investigation was released. I did not do so for these reasons:
First, the investigation by the independent legal team did not point blame at my office and indicated that our church starters, although not following procedures, did not steal or misappropriate funds. There was no indication that anyone on the BGCT staff profited financially from any of the matters involved.
Second, it was and remains clear to me that I had the responsibility to make sure the problems were addressed and resolved, that a new process be developed, and trust restored. I believe the actions of our staff and Executive Board have affirmed that that decision was right. Not one thing has been “swept under any rug.” I don’t know of any denominational entity that has ever produced as thorough a report and been more open in discussing it in a public forum, including open Executive Board meetings, than the BGCT has been in this matter.
Even though we (the Executive Board and I) have been accused of not taking prosecution of those who apparently took money under false pretenses seriously, we have gone to the Valley and spoken with the three pastors, had prayer with them and asked for the restoration of funds. We have spoken with the leaders of all three churches where these men are or were pastors, and I admire and appreciate each of the churches and their people. They have been hurt by all this, but they have continued to serve God and to grow and I applaud them.
We turned over all the investigative materials to the proper authorities in Brownsville, Tx. in December of 2005. We have followed legal counsel since that time in our actions with them. They know we want them to proceed with their investigation. We have been ready to go and visit personally with them at any time. We have given regular updates to the Executive Board, including our attorney from the Valley who spoke to the Executive Board in its last meeting and gave a full report which was reported in the Standard.
We have rebuilt good relationships with the Association…in fact, we will be going to McAllen for our annual meeting in 2010…we have done what we can to encourage the churches affected by all this.
Hopefully, this has been of some help. I will try to stay involved on a regular basis through the holidays and December. I have a lot of other things I want to talk about, but I am willing to try to respond as long as is needed in these matters.
This week in the Standard, I will share a word about the great gift gratitude is to the human heart. I am grateful for you and for our work together. Let’s keep talking and keep praying for one another.