“A lack of transparency results in distrust and a deep sense of insecurity.” Dalai Lama
The Brooklyn Tabernacle, under the direction of Jim and Carol Cymbala, is in an enviable position. It is a charismatic, evangelical, and non-denominational church with some loose ties to the IAOGO (see part 1) that has achieved what other churches desire and that is to have a successful, multiethnic congregation.
The Brooklyn Tabernacle is still in the heart of downtown Brooklyn and is a multi-ethnic, non-denominational church with about 10,000 people who attend services each week. The church continues to emphasize the importance of prayer as the engine that drives the church, as thousands join together each week to pray for needs around the world. Over the years God has given the church a worldwide platform to proclaim the gospel through the music ministry of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir.
Who hasn’t heard of The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir which is directed by Carol Cymbala which has won six Grammy Awards? Cymbala is a sought-after speaker, especially in the SBC which is dealing with its inability to racially integrate in any meaningful way
Who is running the Tabernacle?
There are a number of concerns outlined on the Brooklyn Tabernacle Forum. I have been reading and rereading this well-documented site and something jumped out at me a few hours ago. Here is a direct quote:
many have confronted Jim Cymbala and The Brooklyn Tabernacle, spanning decades. Since The Brooklyn Tabernacle has not course-corrected through accountability structures such as a Board of Directors, a team of Elders or Deacons, outside leaders, or a denominational entity, the remaining recourse is a public statement.
In fact, the Forum repeats this concern.
Do church leaders really need to be financially transparent and accountable to their members? Shouldn’t we just trust them?”
“Accountability is crucial. The manner in which a church manages its finances should be completely transparent. A church should always be ready to demonstrate that the funds God has provided are being stewarded wisely. Financial scandals have destroyed or damaged countless churches. And, in most of those cases, there has been a lack of accountability and transparency.” (“How Transparent Should A Church’s Finances Be?”)
Stop. Hold the horses. Who is running the show over at TBT??? I went to their website and found nothing about oversight. As best as I can figure out, the running of this massive ministry is in the hands of 78-year-old Jim Cymbala and his wife and quite possibly, some good friends.
If this is true, then TBT is ripe for trouble.
So how are concerns handled?
From the Forum, it appears that concerns are brought directly to Jim Cymbala. How does he deal with these concerns? I think the Forum is giving us some hints on this page. Basically, it appears that those bringing the concerns are treated to a litany of spiritually abusive tactics such as:
- Matthew 18
- Judge not
- Let he who is without sin cast the first stone
- We need to forgive’
- Touch not the Lord’s anointed. ” We need to submit to our God-given, God-ordained authorities. God will punish you for speaking out against the man of God.”
- One of my personal favorites: “Rebellion is like witchcraft.”
- “We need to protect the Church as the emissary of Christ.”
- “People who make accusations like this are just bitter.”
- Gossip is bad
- Protect the Church
Pretty typical spiritual abuse stuff, right? It is also pretty worrisome.
I have a better thought. God calls the church to be the light on the hill. We don’t get to tell people what they see when the light shines on us and sometimes what they see will not be *glorifying to God.* This spiritual language gamesmanship used to be successful in the days before the Internet but times have changed. The Cymbalas are old school. They started in the days before the Internet and continue to do what old pastors usually do. They fall back on decades-old, trite phrases that use Scriptural misinterpretation to get the monkey off their back.
TBT needs to function as the church as opposed to the old-fashioned * This is my church, I started it.” Ummm, no you didn’t. Jesus started it. And just like he called you to start the church, He could just as quickly decide its time for a change.
If what I am reading is true, it is time for TBT to set up the church as one in which the beautiful, multi-ethnic, multi-racial congregation has a say in who is running things. That means bringing on some sort of Board of leaders made up of a diverse group of people in the congregation which will bring transparency and accountability to the church. Those who serve on the Board would be elected from the congregation.
Having such a board would deal with a number of issues that the Forum is presenting…Except
The Bylaws say there are not real members of the church corporation, only spiritual members and they can’t vote.
In regards to the corporation, the regular members are only spiritual members who do not vote on matters dealing with the corporation which is the entity known as The Brooklyn Tabernacle. The question for members(spiritual or otherwise) is this. Who actually owns the buildings, the land, and other physical assets? Given the age of the Cymbalas, this is not a strange question to ask.
However, the State of New York in Article 8 of the 2014 New York Religious Corporations Law states the Members of a religious organization must be able to vote and herein lies the problem.
Financial and membership voting questions
Apparently, the church has gone through a major renovation and has purchased a nearby building. According to Wikipedia:
The current building was completely redone by Kostow Greenwood Architects and Robert Silman Associates by gutting and renovating the old vaudeville theater for modern worship, and with state-of-the-art acoustics and recording equipment. Two adjacent buildings were converted into offices, classrooms, community service areas, and dining facilities
According to the Forum:
According to the Forum, no one knows who gets copies of the financial statements. Also, it appears that no one knows who these “Outstanding Christian business leaders” are who serve on this “Corporate Board of Trustees.” From the Forum:
The Corporate Board of The Brooklyn Tabernacle… who provide independent consultation and oversight” must have been formed within the previous year or so prior to making the public statement on Topix, as the TBT Board of Directors as of November 2006 only had a few members who were all internal salaried staff paid by TBT. When and how did the members at large of TBT vote for each of these “six members, three of whom are outstanding Christian business leaders,” in accordance with the church by-laws?
The Forum asks “When and how did the members at large of TBT vote for each of these “six members, three of whom are outstanding Christian business leaders?” in accordance with the church by-laws?”
The Forum also presents evidence that the church may have claimed to the Kings County Supreme Court that the congregation voted to approve a $56,000,000,in 2014 when records seem to indicate that they did not.
In a June 16, 2014 petition to the Kings County Supreme Court seeking confirmation to refinance 2 mortgages, signed by Jim Cymbala, TBT states “…a copy of a Resolution presented and passed at a meeting of the membership congregation of The Brooklyn Tabernacle held in Kings County, New York on the 15th day of June, 2014. The total membership of the congregation as of June 15, 2014 was approximately 9,900. At the business meeting that the congregation held on June 15, 2014 for approval of the Loan, there were in excess of 8,800 members present who unanimously voted in favor of the borrowing by the Petitioner. The members who voted on and approved the borrowing constituted more than two-thirds (2/3) of the members of the Petitioner. The Resolution approved the Investors Bank $56,000,000 Loan.” (10196/2014, p. 15, paragraph 13)
But, according to the Forum, there were NO business meetings in 2014.
There were no official business meetings called to order for the congregation, pursuant to Article 8 of the 2014 New York Religious Corporations Law (§163-§164). None of these statements by the church are true or were adhered to in any legitimate, transparent way.
So, as the light shines upon TBT, there are certainly legitimate questions that need to be answered, especially in the area of financial accountability. It must be stressed that the members of this church are contributing large sums of money. Don’t they have the moral right to know how the church is using their donations?
There is an interesting story of the sale of a building and a resulting lawsuit is found here. Questions have been raised if the sale of the building was financially warranted. Here are some requests listed by the Forum.
- Requests that financial audits be made public to members.
- Request for a forensic audit.
- Request that salaries for the pastors be made available.
- Request for a trace of all outgoing cash transfers.
- Requests to view the check register.
The Roberta Langella story ended in suicide but her family continues the effort.
Details of Roberta’s story in Jim’s 2008 You Were Made For More book were, reportedly, falsely represented and included without permission.
Among various examples cited by the family, the closing portion in the book says this about Roberta: “…she clings to the Holy Spirit for strength to keep that door closed in her life. She is stamping out the appeal of the flesh through the enabling power of God.”
Her family refuted, “the truth of the matter is that although my sister desires to walk in freedom, her life, at this time, does not reflect what has been written here, which is well known by Pastor Cymbala and other members of the pastoral staff. Once again, it pains our family that the hardships of my sister would be deliberately exploited and the facts twisted for financial gain “in the name of Jesus.””
Roberta’s family fought to have the opportunity to confront Jim, which they did in 2008. Jim agreed to have her story removed from future editions of the book. When the next edition of the book was released, her story was still in there. Roberta and her family pursued various forms of justice until Roberta’s death by suicide in October 2016, at which time her family continued to carry the torch from there.
Here are two comments that her brother, Steve, made on TWW a couple of years ago.
Please refer to this page to read another disturbing story of Cymbala publishing a book that mentions the testimony of Dawn Robinson who says she is not portrayed truthfully.
A suggestion for members of TBT:
There is so much more that I could write but let me finish on this note. As I mentioned earlier, Cymbala and his wife are aging. It would seem that this is the right time to get the church on a proper footing for the future. Questions will continue to be raised until some answers are given.
If the financial questions are not being answered properly, let me make a suggestion. You can stop giving money to the church or only give money directly to a related ministry until you are given answers. For example, if the church supports a Rescue Mission, give directly to that mission as opposed to giving through the church. Always give your hard-earned money to an institution that is transparent. If the church sees the giving decline, you might find that they are more willing to open up the books.
If there is anything I can do to support the quest for transparency, let me know.