The truth about World Relief and Human Care’s stewardship

Earlier today, Jesus First (the political arm that supports President Kieschnick) sent its ninth letter (yes, ninth!) to delegates to the LCMS convention. First off, let’s take a moment to sympathize with these poor delegates who probably can’t begin to read through all the material they’ve been sent from any number of different organizations.

Well, the letter was a doozie. It basically accused the World Relief and Human Care board and its executive director Rev. Matthew C. Harrison of gross financial mismanagement. It used a flurry of numbers and charts and graphs and it looked like the staff of World Relief and Human Care — one of the boards about which all Lutherans had been so proud — had been throwing a financial mismanagement party for years. It looked horrible.

Thankfully, it turns out that JesusFirst in general and the bylined author of the piece in question (the Rev. Jon Coyne) were woefully misinformed. A few hours after the Jesus First letter had been sent out, the board had issued a very calm, reasoned response. Board Chairman Bernie Seter said, “For the sake of our work of mercy and those in need around the world, and to provide reassurance to our donors, it is necessary to respond to the Jesus First Delegate Letter No. 9. As chairman of the Board for Human Care, I have requested our board Vice Chair, John Edson (a Certified Public Accountant), to prepare a response.”

CPA Edson gently explains how people who are unfamiliar with accounting can make mistakes and he charitably corrects the errors in the Jesus First letter. If I had been on the board that had just been attacked, I would not have responded so kindly. It is to their credit that they didn’t question JesusFirst’s motivations — simply rebutting the errors with facts. You can read the whole letter here (warning: .pdf) — and I encourage you to do so.

The main point of the JesusFirst letter was to accuse the Board for World Relief and Human Care of spending the bulk of every dollar earned on overhead. CPA Edson explains that this accusation is incorrect:

Over the past 8 years (2003 through 2010), WR-HC has been responsible for expenditures totaling $108,458,610 (through May 2010). Of this, $14,200,077 has been given to support ministry areas within the Synod, and $67,164,394 has been granted to others. This total of $81,364,471 has funded the programs and mission of WR-HC. During this same 8-year period, administrative, fundraising, and communications costs have totaled $27,094,140.

In each of WR-HC’s monthly financial statements prepared by the Synod’s accounting department, a comparison is made to the benchmarks established by the Charities Review Council and the Better Business Bureau. Each of these agencies has established a maximum benchmark as to the amount of administrative, fundraising, and communications costs that a good charitable organization should maintain. The Charities Review Council benchmark is 30% of total expenditures, and the Better Business Bureau is 35% of total expenditures. The 8-year history for WR-HC is 24.9% for overhead expenditures. 75% of donor dollars go to the mission and programs of WR-HC. To our knowledge, WR-HC is the only department in Synod that compares itself to these nationally established benchmarks.

As Barbie says, “Math is hard.” Actually, CPA Edson proved that accountants can be funny with this line in the letter:

I will make a promise to the author of that article: I won’t try to preach if he doesn’t try to do accounting!

Anyway, JesusFirst had also compared WR-HC to Lutheran World Relief, saying that LWR was a more efficient organization. I don’t know why they did that, but their comparison was also based on faulty information. For instance, some 30 percent of LWR income is through “in-kind” contributions. These are things like quilts or other material goods that individuals might donate to an organization. World Relief and Human Care follows accounting rules that do not permit it to count such “in-kind” contributions. So JesusFirst accidentally compared two totally different financial statements.

There are other important facts — JesusFirst tried to blame World Relief and Human Care for some of the notorious problems another board has had managing its budget. CPA Edson points out that World Relief and Human Care lends money interest-free to other synod entities and has also seen its own subsidy from unrestricted synod funds go from $800,000 in 2001 to nothing by 2006.

There’s much more in the letter — but it’s important to read.

I know that Kieschnick supporters are worried about Harrison’s momentum and his nomination totals. It’s totally understandable. But it’s important that we do our best to speak well of our neighbor and get our facts right. This isn’t just about a presidential election — this could seriously harm donor confidence in one of the shining programs of our church body. People around the world rely on our mercy arm. That’s vastly more important than politics and it’s something that we should all support as brothers in Christ.


The truth about World Relief and Human Care’s stewardship — 19 Comments

  1. Mollie–you are spot-on–Jesus First (“PoliticsFirst”)–is a political arm. I think it’s accurate to describe PF as PAC, as someone else here has already done: Political style and political substance.

    I’m holding my breath, waiting for PF”s apology for this misinformation campaign.


  2. I also am waiting for a response. Maybe Rev. Coyne’s associate will once again weigh in with his wisdom as to how his senior pastor made such a huge mistake. Course, I can be corrected if Coyne’s associate is not the one who has already commented on this site.

    I also liked the line from the accountant about his not trying to preach.

  3. One has to wonder why they would bring this up, even if a rational case could be made, thus inviting scrutiny of accounting practices and propriety in other areas that are controlled by JF members and supporters. Perhaps they are not so politically astute after all.

  4. In reading the JF “newsletters”, I’m reminded of Mr Welch’s comment to Senator McCarthy: “Have you no sense of decency sir,”

  5. I agree with Dr. Noland (commenting elsewhere) that this isn’t the Jesus First of 2001, 2004 or even 2007. They never would have miscalculated (literally and figuratively) so seriously back in the day.

    We know that Jesus First’s misrepresentation about Pastor Harrison and his agency can’t be the result of anger, animosity or political ambition. That’s us, not them.

    Perhaps it’s just complacency. I mean, 9 years in the cat-bird seat can make you inattentive and maybe even a little sloppy.

    Who knows?


  6. @Todd Wilken #5

    “I mean, 9 years in the cat-bird seat can make you inattentive and maybe even a little sloppy.”

    Rev. Wilken, I think you could call it “Chutzpah.”


  7. About PF, a Texas Pastor observed dispassionately some years ago, “They lie.”

    The lies have gotten more complicated!
    One hopes they underestimate the intelligence of the laity.

    I find it inexpressibly sad that a man should think he has to destroy the historic worship of his church in order to “save” its bureaucracy.

    From all error, from all evil, from the large ambitions of little men,
    good Lord, deliver us.

  8. Pastor Jon Coyne is, apparently, the designated “hatchet man” who has, in the past, written these kinds of grossly inaccurate articles for JesusFirst. He did it to Robert Kuhn, who had to bring him up on formal charges, and he finally “apologized.” He did it to Raymond Hartwig at the last convention, who put out a letter to all delegates correcting all of Coyne’s slanders, lies and inaccuracies, and thoroughly trounced, the JesusFirst candidate for secretary, by the way.

    Coyne is at it again in this article. More lies. More deception. More distortion.

    It’s just business as usual for JesusFirst as they head into a convention.

    One must begin to wonder about the company that Kieschnick keeps, no?

  9. Helen,

    You are correct in pointing out the main problem with PF. Rather than spending time speculating, or claiming not to speculate, about PF’s motivations and inner thoughts, it is simply enough to describe what PF publicly says in their articles, newsletters, and web site: “They lie.”

  10. Edson seems to be responsible for overseeing big bucks, I’m not surprised he could handle a little Coyne.

  11. That makes (at least) two letters that are blatant and deliberate violations of the Eighth Commandment. Rev. John Kleinig reminds us that the enemy is not other people, but the enemy ouf our souls, the evil one, the liar, the accuser of the brethren. Those who (un)wittingly become his mouthpiece require our love and prayers.

  12. It might be helpful, for purposes of comparison, to peruse the report on page 34 of the Convention Workbook, where Fan into Flame (fund-raising arm of Ablaze!) figures are, in part, reported:
    ca. $55 million total raised (cash and pledges);
    ca. $27 million raised in cash;
    ca. $7 million distributed for projects

    No data are provided for administrative or fund-raising costs.

  13. Dear Mollie,

    Thank you very much for sharing with us a copy of Mr. Edson’s letter. It puts all the numbers in proper perspective, and demonstrates that the author of the Jesus First article just didn’t know what he was talking about.

    PASTOR Jon Coyne, the author of the article, illustrates precisely what is wrong with the Jesus First leadership, and many of our synodical leaders today. These clergymen think that because they are the “leader” of a congregation, or some agency, they can “do it all” and are experts in every field. This is the “CEO model of pastor” that has been advocated by some organizations in our midst.

    Pastors are not trained to be CEOs, accountants, investors, or finance men. A very few are second career finance men, who had training and experience in finance prior to being a pastor. Only one or two have had training and experience after becoming a pastor (Rev. Tom Ries, a very competent pastor AND finance man, and Director at LCMS Foundation, is one of these).

    Finance at the corporate level is a very complex subject, which is why I agree with some of the resolutions before the synod this July that give a board the opportunity to appoint members with these talents. We have been unusually blessed to have a Treasurer of the highest intelligence and caliber of talents in Mr. Tom Kuchta for the last ten years or so.

    I will never forget the first couple of times I met with Mr. Kuchta, many years ago, before he became Treasurer. We were discussing something about synodical finances, and he politely (and privately) told me I was wrong, pulled out reams of printouts, went right to the pertinent pages, and explained everything in the clearest language possible. I mentally dropped my jaw. I had never seen anyone with such a complete mastery of financials AND the ability to explain them to a layman (ME!). Ever since that time, if I have to speak to some finance issue, I have always had some competent finance man check my data and interpretation before making it public.

    I can’t explain why Jesus First’s editor didn’t do this with the Coyne article. Maybe they don’t have a finance person in their group anymore. Maybe they never have had a finance person at Jesus First. That would explain a lot of things.

    In any event, this article is very embarrassing for the Jesus First organization and associated members. It is an insult to all layman with financial expertise to have a clergyman pontificating on a topic for which he is ill-equipped. It is also an insult to all the members of the Board of Human Care, even if it was intended to vilify only their Executive Director. I appreciated that the Chairman and Vice-Chairman of the board rose to the occasion. Pastor Seter and Mr. Edson are to be commended for their defense of the work of their agency. We need more leaders like that!

    Yours in Christ, Martin R. Noland

  14. The odd thing about this attack is that Kieschnick is the president who has knowingly allowed this to take place. For surely Rev. Coyne requested information from the Synod, and the Board of Directors and President Kieschnick know about this and have acted in the best interest of Synod, because had they not, they are guilty of gross mismanagement and have shown an inability to manage.

    Thank the Lord, the Human care board corrected this, misleading report from Jesus First. I believe that Jesus First owes an apology to President Kieschnick and the Board of Directors for calling them incompetent as well as apologies to Rev. Matthew Harrison and the WR-HC Board for their error in reporting.

  15. There are civil penalties against malicious slander (yes even in a blog) and accusing an organization and individuals of mismanagement of funds seemingly falls in this category. The accusors should be formally warned to be sure of their facts and consequences of accusations

    Further it would seem that now (post election ) it is time for all to work together and I do not personally believe that Rev Keischnick would be behind this,but rather that he would support the newly elected to further the growth that he tried to achieve while in office as he noted in his Perspectives this week

    Or we can just see continued Blog vs Blog embitterment ,while the membership of the LCMS continues to decline and World Mission efforts and other causes go unattended..

    Lets Be Constructive Wasnt there something about turning the other cheek in The Bible ?
    These blogs arent enemies as the passage related to,but maybe just a bit overzellous in their positions
    Do we need Pres elect Harrison to have these folks come to his White House for a beer ?

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