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More on the Problem of the “Evangelical Industrial Complex” and MinistryWatch.com’s Experience With It

“… let the wise listen and add to their learning, and let the discerning get guidance” Proverbs 1:5

Ingrid Schlueter, who resigned her job at Salem Radio Network in protest over the Mark Driscoll plagiarism controversy, has done a great service for her fellow Christians by warning of the need to be aware of the “evangelical industrial complex”, a term used to resemble President Eisenhower’s warning in his final speech as president of the risks of the “military industrial complex”. This “evangelical celebrity machine” can and sometimes does distort reality in order to protect its interests as Schlueter sadly discovered. In this case, it seems reasonable to assume Schlueter was suggesting Driscoll and his publisher, Tyndale, were confronting the need to pull Driscoll’s books from the shelves due to the plagiarism, thereby facing both reputational and monetary loss. Rather than admit an obvious fault, Driscoll and the publisher appear to have instead economically pressured Mefferd’s employer, Salem Radio Network, to eliminate the truth about Driscoll’s “citation errors”, as Christianity Today Editor Andy Crouch chose to describe them. Salem is the largest Christian radio network in the US and almost certainly regularly receives advertising dollars from Tyndale. It is a publicly traded (symbol: SALM) for-profit enterprise which needs to produce earnings for its investors. It is sad to see such worldly behavior in the Christian world. It is equally unfortunate Schlueter felt she needed to sacrificially leave her job in order to bring our attention to these important distortions evidently meant to cover the sins of a megachurch pastor and protect the profits of a Christian publisher and Christian radio network.

MinistryWatch.com has long been aware of and impacted by the same “evangelical industrial complex” which Schlueter identified. From the very outset when we formed our ministry in 1998 MinstryWatch.com was targeted by the “complex”. The Christian-run law firm assisting us with our IRS application for non-profit status, which was well connected in Christian circles, abruptly resigned from our account shortly after we engaged them with no stated reason. It was apparent to us, however, they had been pressured by the “evangelical industrial complex” to not help us achieve our mission of helping donors give wisely and effectively. Had they continued to help us get our non-profit status, they risked losing much more lucrative business from their other Christian clients.

Our job of protecting Christian donors often means calling out parts of that “complex” for bad behavior (of course, we try to highlight good works as well). Given the media’s penchant, some might say obsession, with reporting bad news, it would be reasonable to expect MinistryWatch.com would be a favorite source for Christian radio, TV and print media. We found that, oddly, secular media outlets were normally first to highlight our activities rather than Christian media. Some Christian media outlets, notably every Christian TV network available, have never even acknowledged MinistryWatch.com’s existence. We have not even gained support from many of the Christian organizations one might reasonably and logically expect to back our work as this is viewed as too risky to their relationships with other Christian organizations which are key components of the complex. Because of the existence of this complex, apart from MinistryWatch.com, donors have little protection against ministry misdeeds which often go unreported. Most donors are not even aware of the risks this poses to them. For example, the ECFA provides excellent standards of conduct for its member ministries and MinistryWatch.com encourages ministries to join the ECFA. Donors, however, generally do not realize the ECFA receives its funding from ministries rather than donors and therefore primarily looks to protect the interests of ministries. It is more a ministry self-regulatory organization than a donor advocate. The ECFA has inadequate resources to fully oversee the proper implementation of its standards and does not widely disseminate public press releases to donors of the ministries it does identify as having transgressed its standards. Even when a ministry has its ECFA membership revoked for bad behavior, the ECFA makes little effort to notify donors of this important action as its primary goal is to keep donors from feeling uneasy about Christian ministries generally so that giving will not be discouraged. As donors come to a greater understanding of how underrepresented their voice is in what we call the Christian Ministry Marketplace, the possibility of favorable changes occurring is good. But the “complex” seeks to keep donors in the dark as long as possible as it serves their interests. At MinistryWatch.com, we too will keep working to help and protect donors as best we can as long as our resources and the Lord allows. Let us know how we can help you become wiser, more effective stewards of your giving.

To learn more about these important issues read “The Christian Ministry Marketplace, Wall Watchers and the ECFA” by MinistryWatch.com.