SBC Exec Committee delays decision on requiring more transparency from entities

A decision regarding two requests from Southern Baptist messengers that would require SBC entities to release financial information similar to what is found on the IRS Form 990 was postponed until June.

During the Feb. 19 meeting in Nashville, the Committee on Convention Finances and Stewardship Development of the SBC Executive Committee board of trustees voted to delay addressing the two motions that came from the floor of the 2023 SBC Annual Meeting. The EC is required to report back to messengers during the 2024 SBC Annual Meeting, and if it is decided to request requiring any additional reporting from entities, then that request would go to the messengers for a vote.

Trustees serving on the finances and stewardship development committee said they want to ensure they have carefully thought through the requests before finalizing a decision on how to proceed.

Two motions on the topic

• One motion was made by Rhett Burns, pastor of First Baptist Church in Travelers Rest, S.C., to require entities to submit the information found in IRS Form 990 to the convention.

• A second motion was made by David Norman of University Baptist Church in San Antonio, Texas, to amend the Business and Financial Plan for printing of financial reports in the Book of Reports and to include information required by Form 990.

Both were referred to the EC’s finances and stewardship development committee and have been under discussion since last fall. The meeting today was held under background rules and could not be reported.

Concerns about the motions

Entity leaders have stated opposition to the motions because of the enhanced level of reporting it would require, which would also incur additional costs, as well as concerns related to unintended consequences (potential of being required to release donor information and potential of IRS scrutiny).

Burns confirmed he understands some items should not be included in what is released such as donor information. He also feels confident no IRS scrutiny would result in the voluntary release of the extra financial details.

Some have noted the information being asked for is already released in the entities’ audits that are published in each year’s SBC annual, but Burns disagrees.

Reasoning behind motion

After the committee went into executive session, Burns met with editors of Tennessee’s Baptist and Reflector, The Alabama Baptist and The Baptist Paper. Burns provided the two editors a copy of his remarks to the committee.

Norman was unable to be present to speak to the committee on behalf of his motion.

Burns said, “I believe our Great Commission cooperation runs on trust. But sadly, as you all know, these days trust is in short supply in our convention. We must restore trust. But that can only be done in the daylight.”

He added that “it is the bare minimum level of information donors need to evaluate the financial health and trustworthiness of a nonprofit organization.”

‘Minimum standard’

“Currently, our entities do not meet this minimum standard. We fail to clear the lowest bar. Instead of leading, we lag behind worldly institutions, operating in financial obscurity where Jesus tells us to walk in the light,” he said.

Burns told the Baptist papers that there’s been a move for greater financial transparency over the last five or six annual meetings without success.

He noted that recently entities have been asked for information but only three responded, and they didn’t really respond with what was asked for.

‘Move forward with trust’

“I would like for us to move forward with trust. I would like for us to rebuild and restore trust because we don’t have it right now. As long as we operate with less than minimum transparency, I don’t think we’re going to have trust,” Burns said.

Burns predicted that if trust is not restored, more and more churches may disengage with the SBC.

Burns noted his church has given 10 percent through the Cooperative Program for decades, but a group recently has been formed to “evaluate the church’s partnership with the convention.”

Looking ahead

In response to a question about what will happen if the EC does not recommend that messengers vote on his motion in June in Indianapolis, he said the issue will not be over. It won’t go away, he predicted. Messengers will continue calling for more transparency from the entities they support.

Burns was complimentary of Adam Wyatt, chair of the finance committee, for allowing him to address the committee and noted he had been fair to him throughout the process. And while Burns understood the committee’s desire for an executive session, he said it was “odd to talk about transparency behind closed doors.”

Burns is hopeful messengers ultimately will have the opportunity to vote on his motion. “I think that’s the fair thing to do. Let the messengers decide rather than finding ways to not let the messengers speak to this.”

— Jennifer Rash is editor of The Baptist Paper (Alabama), and Lonnie Wilkey is editor of the Baptist and Reflector (Tennessee).