Tim Keller, Others Defend Fired American Bible Society President
November 18, 2013
"A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for a time of adversity." Proverbs 17:17
Recently, the American Bible Society (ABS) fired its new president, Doug Birdsall, after he had served just seven months at the ministry. Birdsall had joined ABS following his successful organization of the Lausanne Movement's 2010 Cape Town meeting that drew over 4,000 evangelicals from around the world. In an e-mailed statement Birdsall made the following comments on his dismissal: "... there are times when the vision and style of a new leader does not mesh satisfactorily with the culture of an established organization or with the expectations of a board. Unfortunately, things did not develop as we had hoped."
ABS offered Birdsall a severance package, but for reasons that are unclear at this point, he refused to accept it. His firing also came after Birdsall had undergone two cancer surgeries during the summer. While employers are unable to give all the details of their side of the story in these situations, an e-mail from Birdsall indicated he believed ABS was disappointed he took the job without fully revealing his health problems, even though his doctor said he should have a normal life expectancy. ABS states Birdsall's health had nothing to do with his departure.
Still, evangelical leaders were very disappointed in Birdsall's dismissal. Birdsall is widely regarded as a good man who has served the body of Christ admirably. The action taken by ABS was seen as cruel and leaving a valued fellow servant in a precarious financial bind. Led by well-known Pastor Tim Keller, a group of these leaders took the rather extraordinary action of writing an open letter condemning the poor treatment of Birdsall by ABS and soliciting financial support for his family. The letter and its signatories can be found here: http://www.nycreligion.info/?p=10730#.UnnI3rSV9tM.twitter. Also, for any who desire to donate to Birdsall's financial needs, information on how do that can be found in the letter.
We know many of the signatories to the letter personally and can attest these are upright, sensible Christian men. They are not the sort prone to rash or emotional responses to such situations or who are always looking to pick a fight. The fact they felt such a letter was necessary reflects very poorly on ABS. It also highlights the great respect they have for the sacrificial service Doug Birdsall has provided in various capacities throughout his career.
ABS provided the following response to the Christian leaders' defense of Birdsall: Dearolf Response to Friends of Birdsall 11.5.13.pdf
Unfortunately, this is not the first episode of management turmoil at ABS in recent years. In view of this new development and the past failures, donors to ABS may want to prayerfully consider if this is the best alternative for their gifts. Moreover, ABS has investments totaling $437 million on its balance sheet indicative of its considerable financial strength. It also has a fundraising cost ratio of 30%, an amazing 5 times the average fundraising cost ratio of ministries covered in the MinistryWatch.com database. A ministry with a huge stockpile of funds which also spends exorbitantly to raise additional money is already a questionable option for donors. Not surprisingly, ABS earns only a 1 star rating for Financial Efficiency from MinistryWatch.com. While ABS is pursuing many excellent programs with the funds it receives from donors, it management issues and its low level of financial efficiency do raise important questions informed donors will want to seriously consider before giving.