Thursday, January 13, 2011

Religious Fraud Scandal: $34 Billion Stolen, Only $31 Billion Spent on Global Missions

For once, I find myself rooting for the Christians, Jews and Muslims. They've got a real scandal on their hands and are actually taking a hard look at themselves.

The Christian Headlines Blog is courageously breaking the news that financial fraud is rampant in religious institutions worldwide. In 2011, more money will be stolen in the name of Jesus than will be spent on missions worldwide!
The January 2011 issue of the International Bulletin of Missionary Research reported that Christian religious leaders will commit an estimated $34 billion in financial fraud in 2011 while only $31 billion will be spent on global missions. Researchers from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimate that Christian religious leaders will commit $90 million in financial crimes daily and the fraud is growing at a rate of 5.97% each year. If the researchers are correct, religious financial fraud among Christians will almost double in 14 years to $60 billion annually by 2025.

... Barrett and Johnson in the reference book “World Christian Trends” reported, “Probably 80% of all cases are kept private or swept under the carpet, but each year a rash of megathefts (over $1 million each) is uncovered and publicized in the secular media.”
The Christian Headlines Blog is pulling the covers off this scandal with a series of insightful blogs that starts today.

When someone embezzles from a bank, it's no big deal. Willie Sutton, the depression-era bank robber, was asked why he kept robbing banks and famously replied, "Because that's where the money is." We expect thieves to be attracted to banks.

But thieves are attracted to money and don't much care where it is. Anywhere money flows thieves and other financial parasites will gather to siphon some of it off for their own purposes. It doesn't matter if it's military contracts, public assistance and welfare, real estate, or the halls of Congress. Anywhere there is money, there will be thieves scheming to get some of it.

And churches are not exempt. But Christians, Jews and Muslims have a big problem because they claim to be all about morality and charity. They'd like to show that religious people, both the leaders and the laity, keep to a higher moral standard. So when they find a thief in their midst, they have a double problem. First, the church leaders are embarrassed because they hired a criminal. They were suckered by their own faith. And second, the laity are embarrassed because they trusted in God, prayers and the general goodness of Christians, Jews or Muslims and were fooled.

The result is that most of these crimes are quietly hidden. The losses are written off or never even acknowledged, and the criminals are rarely prosecuted. To a thief, it's the perfect combination: money and safety.

Any student of evolution will tell you that parasitism is an inevitable feature of any thriving ecology. If there's a resource that's abundant, some species will inevitably evolve to make use of it. And so it is with the social ecology. A student of cultural evolution and sociology will tell you the same thing about social resources (that is, money). Any time there is an abundant amount of money, the parasites on society, the thieves and financial leeches, will be drawn to it like flies.

The mistake that religious people make is to think they are exempt. They trust that those who profess faith will be honest and trustworthy. But it's naive to think that a person who claims to be religious really is. After all, they're thieves and liars. They can lie about their faith and morality just as quickly as they can snatch your wallet, and they don't feel bad about either one.

And in case anyone thinks atheists are exempt, think again! The Christian Headlines Blog points out that there have been several high-profile cases of thievery by atheists. We atheists like to point out that we're statistically the most law-abiding group of all, but it seems we're in good company when it comes to embezzlement.

So my hat is off to the Christian Headlines Blog and to the researchers whose work they cite. Religious organizations worldwide have a tough job ahead, but maybe this is a good start.


  1. My mother used to work at a church and her assistant was caught stealing from the donation safe. She was never formally charged and the information never became public knowledge within the congregation. When people donate money, it would seem that most organizatiosn would rather cover up inefficiencies and fraud than own up to it and explain how they will do better in the future.

    No apropos quotes today. Glad to see that these organizations recognize and are working to correct these problems.

  2. actually I'm short of a few bob myself... excellent idea... use religion to make money... hmmmm... I wonder if anyones thought of that yet?

  3. You might find this article interesting on the subject of religious fraud.

    The Great Lie, by Park Romney


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