If Jesus were our pastor, would he have accepted a $300,000 land gift just weeks after he showed up? Would he have played a commercial for a business of the person who gave him that land gift in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount?
I know that this topic has been discussed here on this blog many times, but it bears another examination in light of the Times Union article. If there was ONE, indisputable, verifiable, PROMINENT claim made on this blog about Mac Brunson that bears examination by a Times Union reporter, it is this - if you are one of the many new readers of this blog since the Times Union story ran, please read this next paragraph very slowly:
Mac and Debbie Brunson, just three weeks after arriving in Jacksonville as pastors of the FBC Jacksonville, accepted a land gift in Deerwood Country Club valued currently at $307,000. This gift was given to the Brunsons for "love and affection" as stated on the deed, and the giver of the gift is a member of and donor to the church.
The deed for this gift is publicly available on the City of Jacksonville property appraisor's website here. Despite this being perhaps the most prominent issue of this blog, and despite this being one irrefutable fact on this blog, the writer of the Times Union story did NOT ask Brunson about this allegation. Instead he characterized the blog as being about salary and the church's desire to start a school. Why ignore this issue?
Now, before you reject the rest of this article as irrelevant because you are thinking: "So what? The man accepted a gift, what is wrong with that?" or before you say "That's his own business, who are YOU, some anonymous blogger to be judging what the man does in his private life?", I implore you to read the rest of this article. Don't let the fact that this is written by an anonymous author cause you to reject the truth that is written here. I am a member of FBC Jacksonville, a person you've likely seen around the church or maybe know me personally. If my facts are wrong, or disagree with my arguments, reject this article and don't give it a second thought.
The desires to dismiss this issue out of hand as irrelevant are normal. When we first hear news that might shed a negative light on a man we respect, we don't want to think he did something unethical. But you and I as members of FBC Jacksonville must think more deeply. You owe it to your Lord and to your CHURCH to think more deeply than just "what's wrong with a man accepting a gift?" This has the potential to reflect very poorly on our church. It needs to have the light of truth shone on it, and if there is nothing wrong with this gift because of things behind the scenes, let it be said so.
I would first like to make this case...everyone at our church needs to understand:
For other non-profit 501(c)3 organizations such as the Red Cross or Compassion International: if a man is hired to lead the organization, then accepts a very large gift from ONE OF THE DONORS OF THE ORGANIZATION WITHIN DAYS OF ACCEPTING HIS POSITION...this would be universally seen as UNETHICAL.
You know it in your gut as you read this. Most of you reading this work for companies that have told you under what conditions you may or may not accept gifts from customers or vendors for obvious reasons - and $300,000 land gifts are definitely off limits! If you can't grasp that concept, then don't bother reading the rest of this article, as it won't make any sense.
What bearing does what the Red Cross or Compassion International's views on gifts have on us, a Christian church? Well, Mac himself has written in his "Guidebook for Pastors" that pastors should hold themselves to HIGHER ethical standards than the world - not only THAT, but he also believes pastors should behave more ethically than other CHRISTIANS!! Here's what he says in his book, "The New Guidebook for Pastors", page 180:
So if you can accept the fact that no other 501(c)3 organizations would see this as ethical, and that Mac should at least be as ethical as secular organizations, then read on. If you believe that perhaps Mac behaved in a less than fully ethical manner in accepting this gift - if you believe at least that this gift GIVES THE APPEARANCE of impropriety, then read on.
Let's be generous. Let's assume that if all the facts were known about this gift, that we would conclude there was nothing unethical. Its all on the "up and up". Fine, I'm open to that possibility. But on the surface this act looks to have greed and privilege written all over it. Thus, the pastor immediately needs to answer the following questions about this gift to clear any of this up. If he made a mistake somewhere, he can admit it and ask forgiveness. He needs to provide answers to his congregation that he himself has declared he is fully accountable to. I would propose the following subjects to be addressed with the church:
a. He needs to explain the circumstances behind the gift: when did he and/or his wife become aware of this gift? Was it before or after they had accepted the call to pastor FBC Jax?
b. He needs to explain why he thought it was ethical to accept the gift. If he is earning a salary from our church, and our church is presumably paying his relocation expenses, how then can he take a $300,000 gift for "love and affection" from one of our wealthy donors? Did he consider other options, like encouraging the man to liquidate it and give it to the church as a seed gift for a school or satellite church?
c. He needs to explain what the rules are for accepting gifts that apply to the staff of our church. Does his accepting this gift mean that other staff members can accept large gifts? Is it open season for wealthy members to donate large gifts to staff members that they personally like? If its not acceptable say for John Blount to accept a six-figure gift from one of our donors, then why would it be OK for Mac Brunson to accept one? Or is there one set of rules for the "senior pastor", and another for everyone else? Can just the "executive pastors" accept large gifts from donors?
d. Mac needs to explain how his accepting of this gift is not inconsistent with his advice given in his book "The New Guidebook for Pastor's" that is read by future pastors in seminaries. How can he caution pastors against accepting gifts in this book, but yet he accepts a $307,000 gift just says after accepting the call to pastor FBC Jacksonville?
e. If Mac and/or his wife were made aware of this gift at some point prior to them accepting the call to be pastors at our church, was the relocation package adjusted accordingly? If Mac and/or his wife were made aware of this gift by certain members of the search committee during the negotiations, were ALL pastor search committee members and members of the personnel and finance committess made aware also so that a fair relocation package could be negotiated to take into consideration this extremely large gift given by one of our members?
f. Mac needs to also explain why he decided to air a testimony (click here to listen) in the middle of his sermon earlier this year, for the sons of the man who gave him this gift. The testimony was a professionally produced commercial highlighting the residential construction business, owned by two sons of the gift giver, that has decided to close their sales offices on Sundays. Was this quid pro-quo for his land gift? If not, did we charge the business for this free publicity, especially since it aired on our broadcast on TV-12? If we are charging $12,500 to ministries to highlight their themselves during the pastor's conference with a 60 second video, wouldn't we certainly then charge a for-profit business for that same privilege that will end up airing on local TV-12 since it was in the middle of the sermon? Why or why not?
These questions deserve to be addressed by the pastor. As I said, Mac himself has stated he views us as his "bosses" and that he is fulling accountable to each of us. Really? Put your money where your mouth is, so to speak, Mac. Explain the gift.
You might say, "this is almost 3 years in passing, let's just let it go." I say we CANNOT. Firstly, what does this gift say to other wealthy church members? What if a wealthy church member in the future decides to buy influence or favors with the pastor? Secondly, we've already crossed the line where we sell advertising at our Pastor's Conference! How far are we away from selling references to businesses in the sermons? Thirdly, shouldn't our church say to all staff members to not accept any gifts above a certain amount from church members so as to not burden them with having to determine the motives of the gift giver? Its what the "world" does, shouldn't we at least have ethics that are at that level? How can our ethical standard be lower than the world's?
Mac himself points to pastors' ethical failures in his book on page 180 and says: "You are either honest or you are not. Many pastors have ruined their ministries by compromosing personal ethics....One cannot help but wonder if such pators are even saved, let alone called to preach." So it was Mac who accepted the land gift and has given the appearance of impropriety. He comes close to the line he said pastors should never get close to. Thus we ask: was what you did unethical? If so, are you saved? Are you called to be a preacher?
Mac has felt pressure in the past to address this issue. If you click below you will hear his defiant, arrogant explanation of his housing situation. This is the only time he has gotten vaguely close to explaining the land gift, and he did it to boldy proclaim "I'm paying for THAT house". True, he's paying for the million dollar house, but he did NOT pay for the $300,000 land on which the house sits. So that is deceptive at best. Another potential unethical act - deceiving us about paying for his house/land - deserving of an explanation.
Mac needs to address these issues with the church - fully, openly, honestly, and humbly. Not half of the story. No arrogance. Drop the bulldog approach, Mac. If he can't address this with the congregation to whom he said he is accountable, then perhaps a trespass warning could be issued to Mac....and his wife...until such time he agrees to explain why he has done what he has done.