Nearly a year after Southern Baptists affirmed the integrity of Dr. Bob Reccord, who headed their missions agency, amid a critical report of his leadership, a new book is disclosing Reccord's misuse of funds.
"I'm not a theologian, and I'm not particularly political," said Mary Kinney Branson, author of Spending God's Money: Extravagance and Misuse in the Name of Ministry. "But I believe I was placed at NAMB (North American Mission Board) 'for such a time as this.'"
Branson served as editing director at the Home Mission Board and director of marketing for the NAMB for 16 years, during which she saw evidence of financial integrity among dedicated workers as well as extravagance and misuse of millions of dollars.
She mainly pointed to Reccord, who headed the NAMB since its birth. He resigned in April 2006 after a Georgia Baptist newspaper published a critical report questioning his leadership while describing the ineffectiveness at the agency.
At his leave, many pastors and Southern Baptist leaders expressed support towards Reccord's "uncompromising integrity" throughout his nine-year tenure as NAMB president and during the weeks of investigation following the critical report. Reccord was said to have freely acknowledged his misjudgments and assumed responsibility.
Dr. Michael Hamlet, senior pastor at First Baptist Church in North Spartanburg, S.C., had commented, "We felt he put the agency ahead of himself," explaining Reccord's decision to resign.
But Branson paints a different picture of Reccord in her book.
"Bob Reccord wanted to brand himself, and in a sense he has," she says. "His name is now right up there with Bakker and Swaggart, synonymous with extravagance and self-indulgence. Unfortunately, he's taken NAMB down that branding road with him."
Branson went on to say that Reccord branched out into writing and speaking for profit and the focus of the agency shifted from telling stories of missionaries to promoting Reccord.
Examples she gave of extravagance or misused funds is money spent on flying Reccord and his wife to London for the premiere of "The Chronicles of Narnia" and expensive vacations guised as executive retreats, Branson noted. And Reccord funneled $3.3 million to business friends, while NAMB staff was downsized.
"If we pay for it, we have a right to know what it cost. Salaries, severance packages, buildings and anything else paid with contributor dollars should be public record or at least available on request, with no hoops to jump through to obtain it," Branson said.
The basic formula Branson gave to scrutinizing both large and small agencies is that "the extent of misuse is directly proportionate to the distance between the giver and the spender."
When Branson left NAMB in 2004 on good terms, she says she didn't sign a severance agreement promising not to talk or write about her experience.
Despite mission money being misspent, Branson says NAMB may be one of the safest large organizations to support because once-burned leaders there won't likely allow the same things to happen twice.