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American Bible Society Ousts Head

The American Bible Society announced it will not renew the annual contract for its current president, Dr. Paul Irwin, who had been suspended amid an investigation of possible financial irregularities at the organization.

Dr. Dennis C. Dickerson, chairman of the ABS Board of Trustees, made the announcement Friday, weeks after a New York Times report revealed Irwin hired a web consultant who has ties with online pornography businesses and a gambling enterprise.

More than $5 million was paid to Richard J. Gordon, whom Irwin had previously worked with when serving as president of the Humane Society of the United States. At ABS, Gordon was hired to revamp Web sites, launch a television program online, and boost online marketing over the past two years – all to get the charity up to speed on Internet development.

Both Irwin and an ABS spokesman said they had no knowledge of Gordon's involvement in pornography or financial impropriety. Once it was brought to their attention by the Times' May 18 article, the Bible Society terminated all existing contracts with the Internet contractor.

ABS spokesman Roy Lloyd said the charity is the "innocent victim" and assured that an independent review of the organization's financial stewardship will be done with "integrity." The charity also ensured a neutral investigation by placing Irwin and its Chief Financial Officer, Richard Steward, on paid leave.

Now as Irwin's contract is set to expire on June 30, the Board of Trustees determined not to bring him back to lead the 192-year-old organization. Irwin served as head for two years. ABS Executive Vice Presidents Dr. R. L. Vest and the Rev. Simon Barnes will retain interim responsibility for day-to-day operations, board chairman Dickerson said.

A former ABS executive, who asked not to be named, is saddened by the recent development but added that it was "all just more of the same" for the old employees.

Within the past decade, Forbes Magazine had printed several stories reporting misguided policies and "bad business practices" at the American Bible Society. While the charity has income from its "ample reserves," a past Forbes article stated, "it has been hemorrhaging money." The article further reported higher operating and spending costs than the money that came in through donations, Bible sales and investment income in the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2001. Some employees have also questioned Irwin's expenditures and decision-making, according to Christianity Today magazine.

Irwin had told the New York Times that the organization's tax form will show "next year that we spent a lot less, and the year after that will show we will continue to spend a lot less."

Meanwhile, the ex-executive still has many questions.

"What happened to the previous Web sites/Web site expenses? What has happened to the many 'programs' ABS undertook in the past that are no longer viable? How come some ex-board members, including the ex-chairman and the current CEO, are now paid employees of ABS?" the former employee posed, while commenting that a full investigative report on the charity is needed.

For nearly two centuries now, ABS has distributed billions of complete Bibles and Testaments worldwide. Many employees are shocked by the recent developments at ABS. One of them, who wasn't named, told Christianity Today, "We are all in mourning here over a wonderful institution."

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