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Controversial compensation

Franklin Graham's pay package is unlikely to lead to suspension from a financial accountability group

Graham in North Korea (AP/Photo by Kyodo News)

Controversial compensation

CHARLOTTE, N.C.-After the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association's hometown newspaper, The Charlotte Observer, on Friday devoted more than 3,000 words to the controversy over the compensation packages of Franklin Graham, the younger Graham announced he will give up his salary with the association (BGEA). As son of evangelist Billy Graham, Franklin Graham heads both the relief organization Samaritan's Purse, which is based in Boone, N.C., and BGEA, where he became CEO in 2000 and president in 2001.

According to Chronicle of Philanthropy figures released late last month, Graham, 57, received in 2008 two salaries, two retirement packages, and other payments from the ministries totaling $1.2 million. The total made him the highest-paid executive at a Christian ministry listed in the survey, and one of the highest paid non-profit executives of any kind. The figures included, as the newspaper pointed out, $669,000 from BGEA, where 55 employees were laid off-more than 10 percent of the staff-in February. Revenue at BGEA dropped 18 percent last year, while at Samaritan's Purse it climbed 11 percent.

With local and other media attention focused on Graham, he sent a memo to BGEA employees just before the end of the workday on Friday, according to the Observer, announcing that he had asked the BGEA board of directors "to consider that I work for no compensation. I feel that God has called me to this ministry and that calling was never based on compensation."

In 1992, the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) investigated Samaritan's Purse. This time, though Graham's finances have received more scrutiny, the controversy is unlikely to lead to suspension. Dan Busby, president of the ECFA, declined to be interviewed by WORLD, but he issued a statement in response to our questions. His statement said, in part, that "ECFA standards are based on the principles of good governance, accountability, integrity, and transparency, and do not place dollar limits on the compensation of its members' leaders."

ECFA members pay dues based on their size. Samaritan's Purse and BGEA pay a combined total of nearly $20,000 a year to the ECFA, making the two organizations combined the ECFA's largest financial supporter.

At $309 million, Samaritan's Purse is one of the largest relief organizations, flying relief to disaster areas around the world and orchestrating the popular Operation Christmas Child program (of which WORLD is a partner this year). Graham went to work for Samaritan's Purse founder Bob Pierce in his 20s, shortly after the fourth of Billy Graham's five children said he committed his life to Christ and went on a six-month mission to Asia with Pierce.

Today, Graham is in Asia again, arriving in North Korea Oct. 13 to deliver aid to the impoverished country more than six months after the isolated regime kicked out all other U.S. humanitarian groups. He said he hoped his visit would "play the role of a bridge for better relations" between the United States and North Korea, Pyongyang's official Korean Central News Agency reported. It is Graham's third trip to North Korea. Later this week, Graham is scheduled to travel on to China, where he will dedicate a clinic built by Samaritan's Purse, speak at several churches, and visit a city that was destroyed in last year's earthquake.

Rusty Leonard Rusty is a former WORLD contributor.

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