Former Members: Faith Christian Church (Tucson, AZ) Coerced Donations

Earlier today, Arizona Daily Star writers Carol Ann Alaimo and Emily Bregel reported that the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability is now investigating the Faith Christian Church to determine whether or not ECFA guidelines are being met by the church.  From the article:

Dan Busby, president of the Virginia-based Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, expressed support for Faith Christian’s financial practices last week. In an email Tuesday, Busby said, “Since the issues were raised last week, we have had a senior ECFA executive on the ground in Arizona to confirm the Church’s compliance with our standards.”

I wrote Busby and ECFA counsel Michael Martin to find out if the “senior ECFA executive” would meet with former members of FCC. I have received no answer. Thus far, no former members I have interviewed have spoken with the ECFA about their experiences. In addition to the allegations about bizarre teachings on spanking infants, former members have described feeling forced to give money to the church. The level of coercion described by members would certainly violate one tenet of the ECFA’s Donor’s Bill of Rights:

Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.

The ECFA lists the following rights:

Donor’s Bill of Rights

You have the right to:

Know how the funds of an organization are being spent.

Know what the programs you support are accomplishing.

Know that the organization complies with federal, state, and municipal laws.

Restrict or designate your gifts to a particular project within the organization’s mission objectives.

A timely and courteous response to your inquiries about finances and programs.

Visit office and program sites of an organization to talk personally with the staff.

Give cheerfully without being pressured by the organization.

Obtain a copy of the organization’s most recent audited financial statements

Know that there is a responsible governing board providing oversight to the organization’s mission.

Know that all appeals for funds are truthful and accurate.

The former members of FCC and sister churches describe coercive tactics by church pastors and elders to gain contributions. Aaron Marley was a bookkeeper at sister church Hope Christian Church in Tempe, AZ. He told me that the giving history of members is reviewed by the ministers. Marley said a minister, who was not part of the church administration, interrogated him about his giving because it didn’t meet expectations. Marley assumed a church would keep giving records for tax purposes but not for the purpose of coercing donations.

Former staff minister Jeff Phillips told me that “tithing is strictly enforced. We were taught that if we did not tithe, we were cursed.” Phillips said he remembered FCC pastor Steve Hall say, “‘I WILL NOT pastor cursed people.'”

Phillips related the following account:

There was one occasion when some of the staff, including me, were caught not tithing soon enough. We were waiting until we had deposited our checks into the bank to tithe to the church. Steve found a verse in the OT about paying late fees for late tithes, so we were forced to pay extra for our lateness. So, essentially the ministers raised their own salaries and gave 13% of that and beyond to the church, which went to pay Steve’s salary along with the other members’ tithes.

A thorough investigation by the ECFA should take into account testimony from former members.

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