An updated and expanded version of Mary Kinney Branson’s Spending God’s Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry is out this month.
Originally published in January 2007, the book details the freewheeling spending of Bob Reccord, former president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. This fourth printing contains 45 new pages of revisions and updates, including responses to the original release.
Branson was uniquely positioned to write this most revealing account of an egomaniac using the sacrificial offerings of faithful Baptist Christians to support his extravagant lifestyle and to provide big financial deals for his friends.
As NAMB’s director of marketing, Branson saw the abuses of leadership up close and knew many colleagues who lost their jobs or worked under intimidation. Because she left voluntarily and on good terms, Branson — unlike most departing employees — was not required to sign an agreement “to make no public or private statements or disclosures concerning my employment or treatment by NAMB or any of its officers, directors, or employees, and not to portray them in a negative or poor light to anyone.”
Reccord, a former Virginia pastor, chaired the committee that formed NAMB by combining previous SBC agencies. He used the position to gain the top job.
Obviously, it went to his head quickly. Some of his actions demonstrated wild spending of millions of dollars without the knowledge of trustees. Others simply revealed a man who thought he was more important than others, earning him the nickname “Hollywood Bob.”
Branson tells of Reccord hosting a luncheon for local political leaders at which he arrived late and had his personal server bring him his food first. He didn’t even share his private salad dressing!
As marketing director, Branson was instructed to “brand Bob” rather than the work of the missionaries. In addition, Reccord had NAMB paying $12,000 a month for an outside public relations firm to try to get his face on CNN.
Also, Reccord and his wife, Cheryl, spent nearly $3,800 to fly to London for the movie premiere of The Chronicles of Narnia.
These abuses that Branson details first came to light through extensive reporting by Joe Westbury, managing editor of The Christian Index. Trustee leaders reacted very defensively before finally carrying out their own investigation into Reccord’s leadership.
Even when Reccord finally resigned in April 2006, with the promise of a reported half-million-dollar severance package, trustee chair Barry Holcomb of Alabama praised him for “the wonderful ministry that has been accomplished by our missionaries and our staff under Dr. Reccord’s leadership.”
Reccord, instead of apologizing for his multiple and extensive abuses, blamed his departure on being too “entrepreneurial” to work within a denominational structure.
It is interesting to note that with a $126 million budget, NAMB only fully funds 32 missionaries in North America. That leaves millions available for an out-of-control CEO to use for his extravagant lifestyle.
Reccord’s “wonderful” and “entrepreneurial” leadership — as detailed in Branson’s book — included an annual $1-million-dollar slush fund requiring no approval or reports of spending, a contract for a private jet although Atlanta has the most daily flights of any airport in the world, a relatively unused and then dismantled million-dollar welcome center, and other failed projects that wasted millions of dollars of blue-collar or fixed-income tithes.
“Bob Reccord wanted to brand himself, and in a sense, he has,” Branson wrote. “His name is right up there with Bakker and Swaggart, synonymous with extravagance and self-indulgence.”
Reccord had his friend, Steve Sanford, conduct an audit of NAMB’s media strategy in 2003. In response, Reccord canned 31 employees. Then he contracted with Sanford, who had created a company called InnovOne, and funneled $3.3 million to his buddy.
According to Branson, Reccord also funneled $300,000 to evangelist Jay Strack and $92,000 to Johnny Hunt, Reccord’s pastor at Woodstock First Baptist Church, without written contracts for specific ministries.
Not surprising, Strack and Hunt were among the 41 big-time SBC leaders who came to Reccord’s defense when his leadership abuses surfaced. They signed a statement expressing support for Reccord as “a godly man of uncompromising integrity.”
How did this happen? Why would someone spend the offerings of faithful Christians so carelessly? How could it go so far without accountability?
Since the fundamentalist takeover of the Southern Baptist Convention in the 1980s and ‘90s, a culture has emerged in which the top leaders are not to be questioned. Any criticism of leadership or convention action is equated with disloyalty to the cause.
Trustees like the perks of traveling to board meetings, having their housing and meals covered and positioning themselves for future appointments. To ask questions is to risk future assignments.
NAMB trustees have reported making policy and procedure changes to assure no future abuses. However, they seemed way too eager to move ahead without contrition.
And there was no salary package reported when Reccord’s successor was hired earlier this year, indicating that the people who give the money do not have the right to know how their offerings are being spent.
One messenger to the SBC annual gathering in San Antonio this summer sent an email to Branson noting that the meeting’s focus was on repentance. Then the Louisiana pastor asked: “I’m wondering if there has ever been any apology given from any of our convention leaders? Has anyone stated anywhere that what was allowed to take place [at NAMB] was wrong?”
In a word: NOPE. Just excuses about being too entrepreneurial — and another quick call to “trust us.”