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February 23, 2007

Overlake underwater

Overlake Christian Church, a stark megachurch located next to a business park in Redmond, WA, hasn’t exactly been a megasuccess in recent years. Its previous pastor, Bob Moorehead, was forced to resign in 1998 after allegedly masturbating in public with another man, and also fondling male church members (so to speak). The scandal left Overlake with a dwindling congregation, a newly built and half-empty $37 million facility, and a boatload of debt. What once was Washington’s biggest church—at its peak, it had 6,000 members—has lost more than $5 million in the past four years.

Perhaps no surprise, then, that Rick Kingham, Moorehead’s replacement and a founder of the Promise Keepers, recently resigned to “seek a ministry somewhere else.” At least, that’s the church’s line. His departure, according to Bob Senatore, chairman of Overlake’s elders, had nothing to do with the misappropriation of cash that church members thought they’d donated to disaster relief almost two years earlier.

Let’s see how many times Senatore manages to bend the truth about what happened in one brief interview with the Seattle Times. Behold the red sea:

Two top leaders at Redmond’s Overlake Christian Church confirmed reports that the church initially used for other purposes money that congregants had donated to disaster-relief efforts.

… Congregation members had collected about $35,000 for relief efforts after the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and about $40,000 after Hurricane Katrina in 2005. The church initially used the money — even though it was in restricted funds — to cover church expenses, said Bob Senatore, chairman of Overlake’s elders.
“Nothing improper was done,” said Senatore, noting that the funds were eventually distributed for relief efforts this past December. “Borrowing money from restricted funds is something the church has done before.”
Senatore said concerns over how the money was used had nothing to do with the departure of Rick Kingham, who announced his resignation as Overlake’s senior pastor earlier this month.
Kingham “is resigning to seek a ministry somewhere else,” Senatore said. “It has nothing to do with any misappropriation of funds.”
… The Seattle Weekly, in a report this week, said church leaders distributed the donated disaster money only after congregants pressured them to do so.
Senatore denied that, saying the relief agencies the church had initially approached indicated at the time that the disaster-stricken areas were receiving ample federal funds, and that Overlake’s contributions would be most needed after those funds had dried up. “We held off until we could find the appropriate agencies to funnel it through,” Senatore said.
Senatore said he wasn’t sure how the $75,000 in relief donations was used by the church, other than to pay salaries. But it would have been for “some worthy cause, since it was just sitting there not being used. Salary would certainly have been one of them.”
Although using the money in such a way was “not wrong from a technical standpoint,” Senatore said, “it’s not a practice we want to follow again. Because obviously when people give for a restricted purpose, they expect it to be distributed.”
Senatore praised Kingham’s skills, saying “he was a great success at ministries that were national in nature. He is gifted by God to perform a national or international ministry.”

That’s an awful lot of red ink.

Dana Erickson, Overlake’s executive pastor, told the Seattle Times that Overlake had “borrow[ed] from itself… off and on for years,” as if that somehow made it OK. And in the Seattle Weekly article, Dan Busby, vice president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, also put a positive spin on Overlake’s money management:

Busby says borrowing from restricted funds “is commonly done in the nonprofit world,” though it’s not considered a “best practice.”
… Others in the nonprofit world express stronger opinions. […] “We would never repurpose the money,” says Eric Block, a spokesperson for the Portland-based Mercy Corps, the international aid organization. “It’s an ethics issue.”

Not if you’re a financially—and morally—bankrupt megachurch.

Posted by Stephen at 5:20 PM in Religion + cults | Permalink | TrackBack (0)

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