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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Following RZIM’s Money, What’s Going On At American Bible Society?

Editor’s Note:  Most Saturdays we will feature this “Editor’s Notebook” column. MinistryWatch President Warren Smith will comment on one or more stories in the week’s news, adding an additional perspective or, sometimes, a behind-the-scenes look at how the story came to be.

Following RZIM’s Money.  Last week, Lighten Group, announced it was shutting down. 

Lighten Group is a new ministry started by Sarah Davis, former CEO of Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM) and daughter of late Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias.

Lighten Group, whose team is comprised of former RZIM employees, was founded in the fall of 2021 and was supported by RZIM funding.  It is not clear what has happened to the millions of dollars in assets owned by RZIM when the organization imploded in the aftermath of a sex abuse scandal.  The law says that when a tax-exempt organization dissolves, the assets must be transferred to another tax-exempt organization.   That apparently is what happened in the case of RZIM assets:  They were transferred to Lighten.  And since Lighten Group has done little or no fundraising (that we can tell), it appears that Lighten has been living off these assets for the past year.

However, many important questions remain unanswered.  First, how much money went from RZIM to Lighten Group?  How was that money spent?  How much remains?  Because RZIM did not file Form 990s for the past eight years of its existence, we have very little way of answering these questions.  However, the last year for which we do have a Form 990 (2015) shows an organization that took in $25-million in revenue and had more than $12-million in assets.  It is likely that it both those numbers grew significantly between 2015 and 2020, but we currently have no way of knowing.  

What’s Going On At American Bible Society?  After just two years in the role, Robert Briggs “has concluded his time as President and CEO of American Bible Society,” according to a statement obtained this week by MinistryWatch.

According to the statement, released in late June from board chair Karen McDonald and former board chair Jeff Brown, Brown will serve as interim president and CEO “until a search committee is formed and a successor can be named.”

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But here’s where the story gets a bit strange.  We learned this week that now Jeff Brown is out as CEO, after just two months on the job.  We reached out to ABS for additional information, and the statement the organization provided clarified that Briggs was “removed” by the board of directors “to improve the organizational culture and to implement its strategic plan.”

One of the reasons these moves are significant is simply because of the size and status of ABS.  American Bible Society is one of the nation’s oldest nonprofit organizations, founded 206 years ago.  It was founded by many of the same leaders who founded the United States, including Elias Boudinot, president of the Continental Congress, and John Jay, first chief justice of the United States. 

In 2020, American Bible Society had revenue of about $65-million, though its expenses topped $100-million.  That meant it had a $35-million loss for the year.  

Though that’s not as bad as it sounds, since the organization has more than $750-million in assets.  In fact, MinistryWatch has in the past been critical of ABS for sitting on such a huge pile of assets, and in recent years the organization has been actively spending down its assets on kingdom work, including the creation of a new Faith and Liberty Discovery Center in Philadelphia, where it’s headquartered.

American Bible Society has been plagued with turmoil for years – some would say decades.  The quick departures of Briggs and Brown mean that the organization has had five presidents in the past 10 years.  Here’s an article I did on ABS for WORLD back in 2013.  Since then, the organization has made many changes, including the move of its headquarters from New York to Philadelphia.  But, clearly, many more are in its future.

Warren Cole Smith

Warren previously served as Vice President of WORLD News Group, publisher of WORLD Magazine, and Vice President of The Colson Center for Christian Worldview. He has more than 30 years of experience as a writer, editor, marketing professional, and entrepreneur. Before launching a career in Christian journalism 25 years ago, Smith spent more than seven years as the Marketing Director at PricewaterhouseCoopers.


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