Five years after the adoption of the highly touted Ethics and Financial Integrity Commission (EFICOM), members of the National Religious Broadcasters (NRB) have voted to disband the program. According to bylaws adopted during the organization’s annual meeting in February, all nonprofit ministries with annual broadcast-related incomes of $500,000 or more will instead be required to be members in good standing in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA). NRB officials said the change will affect 40 to 50 EFICOM organizations not already members of ECFA. Smaller nonprofit groups will come under the oversight of the NRB ethics committee.

The change marks the official end of a long—and sometimes rocky—road in the religious broadcasting industry’s efforts to police itself on financial matters, “It will mean that NRB is getting out of the accrediting business, essentially,” acknowledged organization president E. Brandt Gustavson. Although the NRB had been discussing the establishment of some sort of financial-accountability mechanism prior to 1987, the televangelism scandals precipitated the advent of EFICOM. However, after official approval of EFICOM, the NRB realized implementation would be more complicated than they had originally envisioned (CT, Mar. 9, 1992, p. 59).

The net effect of the new policy will be negligible, since ECFA already has been administering EFICOM. According to NRB chairman David Clark, that was part of the reasoning that led to the decision: “With ECFA doing most of the work, we said, ‘It doesn’t make a lot of sense to have a separate organization, so let’s move together.’ ”

Vulnerability warning

Jeffrey Hadden, sociology professor at the University of Virginia, said that while he agrees that EFICOM in many ways was a duplication of ECFA, he still has concerns that the majority of NRB’s 800 members will not have an accountability structure. “To the extent that all ministries—including for-profit ministries—don’t really fall under the regulation of ECFA, the religious broadcasting industry remains vulnerable,” he said. Hadden encouraged the NRB to maintain strong pressure for high ethical standards. “It’s a very tough job to be responsible for your brother, but when your brother is giving your master a bad image, then I think inevitably it becomes your responsibility.”

Clark said the NRB has appointed a committee to begin work on a set of guidelines for the for-profit members of NRB. He also emphasized that the dissolving of EFICOM in no way indicates a backing away from ethics. He said all members will be required to follow a new code of ethics, also voted into bylaws this year. The five-point code calls on broadcasters to conduct personal and corporate lives in a way that will not bring shame to the name of the Lord; to “speak the truth in love without being unnecessarily offensive”; to refrain from unnecessary criticism or conformity to other organizations; to honor all obligations to “vendors, neighbors, community, and government”; and in matters of dispute with other Christians, to attempt to submit grievances to Christian arbitration rather than the courts.

Other highlights of the NRB’s fiftieth annual convention:

• Taking advantage of the Los Angeles locale, the NRB sponsored a “Hollyood Night,” hosted by Hollywood First Presbyterian Church pastor Lloyd Ogilvie, and Church on the Way pastor Jack Hayford. Hundreds of Christians who work in the entertainment industry attended, including Pat and Debbie Boone, Dean Jones, Carol Lawrence, and Clint Holmes.

• The NRB presented actress Angela Lansbury with its Centurion Award for exemplifying “the highest ideals of traditional family, moral, and spiritual values” in her profession and in her personal life.

In her acceptance speech, Lansbury quoted from Maya Angelou’s inaugural poem. She acknowledged the “collaboration of our Lord” in her career, saying she has had “such a sense of oneness with God.”

• A minor abortion-related flap erupted after the NRB executive committee declined a request that the convention show the prolife Hard Truth video, which shows footage of abortions. Several prominent NRB members had petitioned the convention planners to show the film. Gustavson said after reviewing the video that NRB representatives “felt it was not appropriate to show to a captive audience.”

By Kim A. Lawton in Los Angeles.

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