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Journal of Business Ethics Education

Volume 9, 2012

Aundrea Kay Guess, Carolyn Conn
Pages 421-430

Heaven Help Us
Embezzlement in a Religious Organization

Larry Barnes, Executive Director of the Southwest Missouri Baptist Association (SMBA), received a telephone call that no executive wants to receive. The pastor at Hilltop Baptist Church reported suspicions of embezzlement by the church bookkeeper. Whatever decision Barnes made in advising the pastor would impact Hilltop, the church members, the SMBA, and a number of stakeholders, including himself. His primary duty as Executive Director was to provide guidance and advice to pastors of SMBA churches, help them expand, and assist in establishing new churches. However, did his professional responsibilities encompass this situation? If not, did he have an ethical obligation to help? What if his involvement caused legal and financial problems for the SMBA? What was the likelihood the bookkeeper and her family might sue the SMBA and Barnes? Many Hilltop Church members were personal friends of Barnes. He worried about jeopardizing his friendship with them, particularly if the accusations were incorrect. An equally important concern was whether Hilltop Church would continue to exist. Financial problems had plagued the church in recent years and the relationship between the pastor and members was already contentious. An embezzlement scandal could cause the 150 year old church to close its doors. Barnes had to decide whether to get involved and, if so, what to recommend as a course of action to Hilltop’s pastor.

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