Rusty Leonard may be the only evangelical figure loved by the secular press and scorned by his Christian peers. When MinistryWatch, the nonprofit he started, reported on financial problems at Joyce Meyer Ministries, The Wall Street Journal and the St. Louis Post Dispatch used Leonard’s findings in their articles on the Bible teacher. The pressure eventually compelled Meyer to adjust her financial arrangements, though she has claimed that MinistryWatch had nothing to do with it.
When Senator Charles Grassley investigated six churches for possibly misspending donor money, the national press repeatedly quoted Leonard, who was elated that someone, finally, was standing up for donors’ interests.
When he founded MinistryWatch, Leonard says, he expected the flak from leaders of the ministries his organization rates for financial accountability. “But I thought the donors would love it. Particularly I thought the larger donors would say, ‘Where have you been all my life?’
“I did not get that reaction,” Leonard says. “I got a stiff arm.” A few groups of large donors were upset, Leonard says, because he didn’t get permission to launch his ministry. “But it was good data, and therefore it was dangerous data.” These large donors were also upset because MinistryWatch gave negative ratings to ministries that were popular among larger donors. They were embarrassed. “This data could make them look dumb,” Leonard says. “It shows that something they’ve been giving money to doesn’t look all that good.”
But Leonard doesn’t just want to change how evangelicals give. He also wants to change how evangelicals—including their ministries and organizations—invest. He started Stewardship Partners, a money management firm that now has more than $300 million invested in companies that do not profit from tobacco, gambling, alcohol, abortion, or other issues traditionally opposed by conservative evangelicals. In addition, he owns the Biblically Responsible Investing Institute, which rates companies on more than a dozen issues.
Leonard has found that major Christian organizations don’t like to be bothered by his entreaties to invest morally. Many Christian investment companies, Leonard says, “don’t put money where their mouths are.” They don’t screen for homosexual issues or life-ethics issues, Leonard says, even though they often say they do. “All too often, the Christian-managed funds seem more interested in not screening thoroughly and instead holding up a veneer of screening so that their clients will be convinced that all is well.”
Without screening for these things, Leonard believes, evangelicals are funding organizations that are out of sync with their interests. He declines to say which ministries have refused his efforts to help change the way they invest, because he still hopes to change their minds. Yet so far, he says, no one has listened.
Still, Leonard has a popular appeal, and his financial ideas strike a chord with an increasing number of people.
Read the rest at Christianity Today.