Texas Baptists Approve Tighter Controls After Misused Funds

The Executive Board of the Baptist General Convention of Texas passed measures early this week creating tighter controls for church starts but stopping short of referring a high-profile case involving misused funds to a government investigatory agency.

A $1.3 million scandal involving three pastors reportedly led board members to call for a full implementation of recommendations put forth by investigators who had discovered the misused funds two weeks ago.

At a closed executive session before the convention's Nov. 13-14 annual meeting, the board approved a motion to consider all avenues deemed "appropriate, practical, cost-effective and in the best interests of the convention” to recover misappropriated church-starting funds, according to the Associated Baptist Press.

A five-month investigation had found that the majority of the reported 258 church starts in the Rio Grande Valley no longer exist or never existed at all. Thousands of dollars had been contributed by Baptists over six years for church starts. Pastors Otto Arango, Aaron De La Torre and Armando Vera were reported to have directed church-starting funds to other areas of ministry and some reportedly made false claims about agreed contracts with several Baptist associations.

The board also decided to elevate church-starting guidelines to "policy" status, giving the board a permanent role in approving and reviewing them. Tighter policies would provide a "consistent, repeatable and accountable process," said Andre Punch, director of the convention's congregational strategists team, the Baptist Press reported.

Another approved motion gave BGCT Executive Director Charles Wade the role of evaluating whether to refer the findings of the report to "any appropriate government investigatory agency." David Montoya, pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Mineral Wells, however, questioned Wade's handling of the scandal and requested that the convention itself ask for a criminal investigation. Montoya further accused Wade of being "a possible accessory to an attempted cover-up" and "a personal friend of the main player in this scandal," namely Arango.

BGCT President Michael Bell ruled the motion out of order saying, "We do not engage in personal attacks."

Bell had come to the annual meeting with a message from pastors in south Texas: "We are not thieves."

Speaking for the pastors, Bell said, "Tell them that our commitment to evangelism, missions and ministry is stronger than ever. Tell them we are content to raise our families and do God’s work here in a wonderful place called the Valley."

After the investigative report uncovered the misused funds scandal, Baptist pastors in the local area had been approached as being "a bunch of thieves," according to Baptist Press.

“There is a message in there somewhere for Texas Baptists. Right now we are experiencing turbulence and we just have to ride it out,” said Bell. “But God will take care of you.”