Over the years Bill Gothard has sought to avoid publicity. The seminar leader is noted for turning down interviews with secular and religious publications wanting to describe to a curious public his popular Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts (IBYC).
Because the institute probably would have received much positive publicity over the years, it is ironic and unfortunate that recent reporting has reflected badly upon it. Gothard’s supporters and all evangelicals were shocked to learn of the institute shakeup, which caused Gothard to step down as president. CHRISTIANITY TODAY sought to explain with accuracy and sensitivity the apparent causes: sexual involvements between staff members (not involving Bill Gothard), internal discontent with Gothard’s exercise of authority over his staff, and allegations of lavish spending of institute money. (See News, Aug. 8 issue.)
For some, the revelations may have confirmed suspicions that the institute has had something to hide—that otherwise, it wouldn’t have been so secretive. We disagree; we believe Gothard’s motives were sincere: he wanted the focus on the teachings, not the man, and he believed reporters would present his complex teachings out of context. At the same time, we also disagree with his institute’s well-known avoidance of publicity and its posture of nondisclosure. Every Christian organization, particularly when it is tax exempt, has the responsibility to be accountable to its supporters, to the church, and to the public.
Some might criticize the reporting of an organization’s internal problems as irrelevant and detrimental to the cause of Christ. However, large Christian organizations touch thousands of lives and depend upon the church and individual Christians for financial support.
Gothard’s seminars, for instance, have attracted hundreds of thousands of people; many have attested to changed lives and strengthened spiritual commitments. Pastors need to know about Gothard’s teachings so they can knowledgeably answer parishioners’ questions. Potential attenders need to be able to evaluate whether the seminar is worth time and money.
Also, the institute is a multimillion-dollar, nonprofit corporation, owning a 200-acre slice of choice property in the Chicago suburb of Oak Brook, as well as a 3,000-acre retreat facility in Michigan. Donors must know whether the institute is spending its money wisely. This is especially important in light of questions about funds put into the Michigan property.
Any Christian organization that refuses disclosure breeds suspicion. More seriously, it denies (though it may not mean to) the responsibility and integrity of supporters taught by Scripture to be accountable to one another and to God.
Too many organizations give the impression that individuals “can’t handle” or don’t need information. But whenever a Christian organization appeals to Christians for support, it owes them a strict accountability. Otherwise, it encourages them to disobey God by failing to exercise good stewardship of the resources that God has graciously entrusted to them.
We regret the sentiments expressed by one telephone caller, who warned us that the IBYC “has too many alumni that are loyal.… If you [CHRISTIANITY TODAY] put out anything adverse to the institute, you’re going to be the ones to suffer for it, not us.”
In the long run, who gets hurt is not the issue. The church in general suffers. The Christian journalist’s responsibility is to report truth the churches need to know, even if the content seems to reflect badly upon some individual or organization.
Bill Gothard did release a letter to his supporters, frankly admitting the tragic events that have taken place at the IBYC. We honor his courage and forthrightness. Since the institute has made clear that Gothard’s departure is only temporary, we trust that he will continually lessen the tight controls on information the Christian public has a right to know. We sincerely hope that other Christian organizations learn from his experience, and remove any roadblocks to full public disclosure.
Almost weekly I receive requests to serve on the advisory or governing board of some evangelical organization. The invitation often comes with something to this effect: “You are a well-known, trusted leader in the Christian community. We are not known; we need your support—your name on our letterhead and in our advertising—so that people will have adequate confidence in our organization. Moreover, because of your knowledge of theology (or of theological education or evangelical churches), we need your wisdom and counsel to enable us to become more effective in the Lord’s work.”
But what is the responsibility of a board member—particularly a board member of a nonprofit Christian organization? His is a position of trust. For Christian organizations, he represents the church of Jesus Christ on that board. For all nonprofit organizations, he also represents the general public. By allowing his name to be used, he is declaring to all concerned that he stakes his own integrity on the fact that the organization is worthy of the trust and financial support of Christian people and, in the case of the general public, that it is an honest organization worthy of the privilege of being tax exempt.
A board member can function responsibly only when he knows adequately both an organization’s structure and its actual practice so he can stand as a knowledgeable witness to its integrity.
A member of an advisory board naturally assumes less responsibility to the public for encouraging confidence in the organization he in effect endorses. If only his advice were needed, there would be no need of advertising his relationship to the structure. His name is presented publicly to win public trust and support (and usually public and Christian funds) for the organization. If he allows his name to be used, he must take a significant measure of responsibility for the honesty and moral and spiritual integrity of the organization, for the worth-whileness of the work it does, and for its financial probity. The least he can do is to make continual inquiries and to request copies of a detailed budget and an approved auditor’s report from a well-recognized, highly rated auditing firm (not from an untrained, friend-of-the-board auditor).
The responsibility of a member of any governing board is far greater. I serve on such a board (a Christian college), and I make it my business to be nosy. I attend all meetings of the board and ask questions inside and outside the board meetings. I talk with staff members. I have lunch with faculty and students. I read the school’s advertising mail. And, of course, I regularly receive (and examine minutely) a detailed copy of the budget and its annual audit by a highly competent, trustworthy auditing firm.
I also serve on the reference board of another nonprofit organization. I know only its president. I am confident he is a charming person and thoroughly honest; but I have no way to check on what this organization actually does. I never receive a copy of the budget. Its accounts are audited not by a reputable, well-known auditing firm, but by a private Christian businessman, whom I do not know. That’s about all I know about this organization. Because it doesn’t give me any more information, I am resigning from its reference board—right now!—KSK
When Food Is Basic
What force poses the greatest threat to international order? The Soviet Union? The Islamic world? Inflation? The energy crisis?
None of these, according to a recent study. “The most potentially explosive force in the world today is the frustrated desire of poor people to attain a decent standard of living,” says the report of the Presidential Commission on World Hunger.
The problem of world hunger has no easy solutions. What should a country like the U.S. do? Two years ago the Presidential Commission on World Hunger set out to answer this question, and its findings and recommendations have now been published under the title “Overcoming World Hunger: The Challenge Ahead.” The most startling of its recommendations (to many observers) is that the U.S. should center its policy toward developing nations on the task of ending hunger.
To achieve this goal, the commission suggested that the U.S. take several important steps: (1) give the head of the U. S. International Development and Cooperation Agency cabinet-level status; (2) double the $1.5 billion of technical and economic aid it gives to developing countries for advancing agriculture; (3) set up a national grain reserve and help to form an international reserve for times of shortage; (4) promote greater self-sufficiency among poor nations; and (5) educate the American people in order to build support for policies that help to conquer world hunger.
Some have criticized the report, claiming it did not adequately consider the economic impact of its proposals on the U.S., the rapidly multiplying world population, the long-term effects on political and economic policies, and other factors. Certainly these criticisms deserve careful study. But the chief strength of the report is that it seems to treat the world’s hungry as persons rather than as “economic entities” or merely a “potential labor force.” Most important is to meet the basic needs of people. Setting aside the question of just how evangelism and social concern relate to each other, Scripture makes it clear that Jesus took time to meet people’s physical needs. He ministered to the whole person, treating people as human beings in God’s image, not simply as potential converts or church members.
The commission’s report reinforces the conclusions of a growing number of researchers who feel we already have the technology, resources, and people to end hunger. We need the moral courage to get with it. No doubt human depravity and human selfishness almost guarantee that we shall fail to meet this challenge. But evangelicals who guide their lives by biblical principles know that God cares about the 500 million to 1 billion people in the world who are suffering from hunger, and so must they. Without the strong and vigorous commitment of evangelicals motivated by a divine love for God and for fellow human beings, the world’s hungry will live and die in their hunger. Evangelical faith and integrity are on the line.
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