Financial intrigue on the religion beat

moneyofferingCompared to the Womb story, this next Presbyterian Assembly story may not seem terribly exciting. But it is spicy in its own way. The Denver Post's Eric Gorski is one of my favorite religion reporters. He takes the time to understand and accurately convey the theology of complex stories' various players. Well, Gorski had a different kind of story worth noting in Wednesday morning's Post. Here's the background. On June 15, businessman Stanley Anderson promised a $150 million donation to the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to help reverse some of its declining budget and membership trends. Everybody at the Presbyterian gathering was ecstatic and gave him a standing ovation. Well, here's Gorski's story from yesterday morning (which he wrote with J.P. Eichmiller):

A Denver businessman who promised a record $150 million donation to the Presbyterian Church (USA) failed to pay his homeowners association fees, dental bills and mortgage payments, and he owes hundreds of thousands of dollars to jilted creditors he persuaded to help keep his business afloat, according to public records.

Yowza! Way to run with the local angle there. And in trademark Gorski style, he goes right to the man and asks him what the deal is:

Anderson, 62, said Tuesday that he is working to pay off his debts and is confident he will be able to deliver on his pledge. An official with the 2.3 million member denomination in Louisville, Ky., also expressed confidence in Anderson, a member of Central Presbyterian Church in Denver and active in the local and national church.

"Going through the trials and tribulations that I have today is just part of life," Anderson said. "You have challenges, and you find ways to meet those challenges, and the greatest comfort is your faith."

The story has much more research and is very interesting. Well, as you can imagine, this religion reporter caused quite the stir. The Presbyterian news service responded, AP's Richard Ostling noted it in his daily report, and many others also published accounts. Peter Smith of Louisville's Courier-Journal, who regularly covers the PC(USA), added this interesting color in the story's aftermath:

Portions of the Post article were reprinted in Wednesday's Birmingham News and The Courier-Journal. Word of the article spread among delegates, many of whom sighed or groaned when [PC(USA) Executive Director John] Detterick spoke about it at the start of the morning's deliberations.

Detterick defended his decision not to check Anderson's ability to pay the money before announcing the pledge with great fanfare.

He said the church is "unlike a business that oftentimes requires verification of capability" to pay.

I'll be interested to see how this story plays out. Let's look for coverage in the coming months.

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