Monday, August 04, 2008

Issues, Etc. and LCMS Finances

Issues, Etc. released a podcast only webcast EXTRA on August 1st that covered in depth the history of the last few years as to how they came to be cancelled, from what they knew. I highly recommend listening to it.

Some things covered:

1. The biggest myth: That KFUO FM's purpose is to fund KFUO AM, and without it, KFUO AM probably would not exist.

truth: KFUO as a whole annually requires a half a million dollar subsidy from Synod to stay on the air. KFUO FM's expenses are far higher than KFUO AM. KFUO FM is not self-supporting, and therefore not able to support KFUO AM

2. Both stations use the same call letters so that funds can be directed from the AM station TO the commercial FM station. No wonder they got an "F" grade from a major charity watchdog association.

3. Budget, staffing, and promotion priority is "Classic 99," the FM station, NOT the station that proclaims the Gospel, despite the fact that KFUO FM is still, as pointed out NOT serving the function to support KFUO AM.

4. KFUO administration is very concerned (Todd and Jeff used the word 'paranoid') about the idea of KFUO FM being sold off by the Synod for revenue or consolidation. This led to increasing conflict between the cause of KFUO -- which was to maintain a clean image, and Issues, Etc. which was to proclaim the Gospel and to instruct its listenership on how to view current events from a confessional Lutheran perspective.

5. Issues, Etc. was not given credit in its ledger for the income it generated independently through its' syndication, advertising, and its own fundraising efforts. In fact, as stated before, donors to the Reformation Club who lived within one hundred miles of St. Louis, did not their monthly donations applied specifically to Issues, Etc. at all. Instead, they went into the General Fund. From the information that was provided in this podcast, one has to assume that also means that it went to benefit KFUO FM, which plays contemporary classical music.

6. Even though Issues, Etc. offered to cover all of its expenses and give KFUO its broadcast for free, so as to break the programming association between KFUO and Issues, Etc., Todd and Jeff were told that after the last convention, that no connection could occur between the two, and that their show probably would not last into September (it lasted another six months).

Having the show independent is a great thing. However, I do think that the powers that be at LCMS, Inc. have benefited from its being off of KFUO. When I have the radio on, there are times that I listen to shows that I don't necessarily agree with but that make me aware of things. Now, in order to listen to Issues, Etc., I have to WANT to listen to it. Listeners in the various markets that they were aired in had people that stumbled across them and learn from them and be made aware of places that confessional Lutheranism differed from other trends in Christianity. Now, that is not the case, at least not until they come to the point where they can again seek national syndication.

We have seen in many different venues now, the liberties that LCMS, Inc. is taking with the financial resources of the Synod. LCMS Foundation, which is its fundraising arm -- charges exhorbitant rates for its fundraising work. Pastor Wilken and Mr. Schwarz both state the amount they were told frequently was 40%, as opposed to the industry standard of 10%. The Synod is taking funds that are supposed to go to World Relief and placing them in LCMS investment accounts "temporarily" so they can earn interest. Missionaries are required to raise $120,000 per year, usually more than twice their costs of support in the mission field, in order to remain in the field each year.

All of this is highly irregular.

All of this makes me wonder what is happening with the money that our congregations are sending in for synod support (and increasingly NOT sending in). It makes me wonder if the whole reason why benefits costs increase so dramatically every year is solely because of the increasing cost of benefits. Our insurance program costs have made every insurance agent I have ever talked to exclaim in horror.

Next year, our Synod is going to be asking the congregations to consider a new constitution. Some theorize that the financial relationships of congregations with the Synod might also be restructured. I really think that it is absolutely necessary that we call for an opening of the books for an independent review to make sure that all is in order before anything is changed. The more I hear about synodical financial practice, the more I am deeply concerned.


Thursday's Child said...

I think that's an excellent idea, RPW. They should absolutely be open and above board with everything. It's shenanigans like these that make headlines and cause Christ's name to be tarnished in the secular world.

Cheryl said...

Thank you for this. I have not had a chance to listen to the webcast, so this was a great summary. Reminds me of something I heard early in this whole mess. Can't remember who said it, but it was someone much better placed and in a position to know a lot more than most of us. He predicted that the Issues cancellation was just the tip of the iceberg. Looks like he was right.

elephantschild said...

I'm honestly starting to feel like there's a black hole in a smoke-filled back room of the International Center. Money just disappears into it and is never seen again.

I think you're right - we need absolute demands for full financial review by independent outside auditors *before* a new constitution or any other sweeping changes.