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EDITOR’S NOTEBOOK: Ted Haggard, Amy Grant, and the Family Research Council and Form 990s

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.

Ted Haggard and Restoration.  Ted Haggard is the former president of the National Association of Evangelicals and founder of New Life Church in Colorado Springs, one of the most influential churches in the nation.  Haggard has endured a number of scandals, including a 2006 scandal involving drugs and sex with a gay escort.  

He has now disbanded his second church and founded a third congregation after refusing to address new claims of drug abuse, improprieties with young males, and lack of accountability.  This new information was first made public by a July 24 story by Debbie Kelley for The Colorado Springs Gazette.

I believe in repentance and restoration.  That’s what the Christian story is all about.  But there are consequences to sin.  If someone is convicted of securities fraud, it is not unusual for that person to be banned from trading securities for many years, sometimes for life.  When an alcoholic gets sober, he usually doesn’t get a job in a bar (unless you’re Sam Malone on the sit-com “Cheers”).

That’s why I would like to respectfully suggest that Ted Haggard go get a job outside of ministry.  He’s obviously a great communicator and salesman.  But perhaps he should take a break from ministry – for a long while.

Amy Grant and the Kennedy Center Honors.  Contemporary Christian musician Amy Grant, who has been named one of the Kennedy Center’s five honorees for 2022.  When Amy Grant released her first album, she was a teenager and I was in college doing a Christian radio program for the University of Georgia college radio station.  It’s hard to describe the impact that album had on the Christian music world.  I know a lot of people don’t love her music, or what she did to Christian music, but I’m not among the “haters.”  I’ve had the chance to meet her a few times over the years, and I think she’s a remarkable person in many ways.

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It’s also worth noting that she’s not the only Kennedy Center honoree this year with religious roots.  The rock band U2 will also be honored, and Gladys Knight, whose Baptist upbringing injected a gospel flavor into her music – though she has become a late-in-life convert to Mormonism.

Family Research Council and Form 990s.  The Family Research Council recently had themselves re-classified as an “association of churches,” which means they are not required to release their Form 990s to the public.

However, Tony Perkins, the president of the FRC, reached out to me to clarify that while they did have the FRC re-classified as an association of churches, they will continue to file their Form 990s with the IRS.  Perkins said – and I want to read exactly what he wrote because I think it’s important for his voice to be heard:

“We did file our Form 990 under our status as an association of churches.   We do not have nor did we seek the status of a church.  There is a difference. Our plan at present is to continue filing the 990s.  Pursuing the classification as an association of churches is not about avoiding transparency; this is about being able to operate according to our biblical faith as a Christian organization in a city that has grown increasingly hostile to biblical morality.”

He is right on several fronts.  The cultural environment is hostile toward the Christian worldview now.  And he’s right that a church is not an association of churches.

And I would like to add that I’ve known Tony Perkins for more than 20 years and have found him to be honorable in every way.  So when he says the FRC will continue to file Form 990s, I am comfortable taking him at his word.  

However, I will also add that MinistryWatch’s position continues to be that filing a Form 990 is an essential ingredient for full and complete transparency.  It appears that the FRC has taken an honorable and elegant path to both provide the organization the religious liberty protections of a church while maintaining complete transparency.  Other organizations that have applied for church or association of churches status have not taken this path, and we would encourage them to do so.

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.