Whistleblower Asks: Is Moody Bible Institute Downplaying Its Own Middle Name?
Leaders of the renowned seminary stepped down just weeks ago. Now fired Moody Radio host Julie Roys and others are raising questions about theology and finances.
New information continues to surface regarding the recent leadership shake-up at Moody Bible Institute (MBI). On January 10, three top leaders at MBI stepped down from their positions.
This followed public disclosure of faculty concerns by longtime Moody Radio host Julie Roys. She was fired shortly after releasing initial findings from a months-long investigation. “When I went to the trustees, I said, ‘You need to address this,’” she says to The Stream. “They refused to address it. That’s when I went public with it, which was not my first impulse. It wasn’t something I wanted to do.”
Founded in 1886, Moody Global Ministries has been a hub of the global evangelical movement for over a century. The seminary has grown over the decades to encompass publishing, broadcasting, conferences and online learning.
Prominent MBI graduates include The Five Love Languages author Dr. Gary Chapman and Compassion International president emeritus Wess Stafford. On the current Board of Trustees, many Christians would recognize Left Behind author Jerry Jenkins and longtime Focus on the Family radio host Juli Slattery.
Last week, interim leaders at MBI posted a lengthy statement. “Let us be clear that there is no corruption, or any illegal and unethical activity taking place at Moody,” they stated. “We pray that all will work together in love to further build trust and unity for the sake of the gospel.”
Days later, a new post from Roys questions whether recent changes have dealt with the core issues — notably about theological drift. Other concerns center on accusations of financial impropriety even as the ministry faces leaner revenue.
“I believe in the principle of innocent until proven guilty,” says Robert Snitko. The Chicago pastor graduated from MBI in 2015. “It seems like Julie Roys has evidence [of wrongdoing] from what we see on her blog. But the school needs to go deeper.”
Uncertainty Clouds Future of Higher Education
Student applications to Moody have declined 28 percent over the past five years. MBI leaders note their financial woes reflect larger trends in higher education. One Harvard University professor recently forecast that half of all colleges will be bankrupt within the next decade.
In an email, a Moody spokesperson noted MBI intends to continue its legacy of innovation in education. “We were among the very first schools in the country to begin correspondence courses and ultimately online education,” he stated. “Though the expressions of the church and culture have changed many times over our history, [their] fundamental needs have not changed.”
Julie Roys, who began hosting the Moody Radio show Up for Debate in 2012, praises the ministry’s global influence. “Moody has trained tens of thousands of people to work in ministry,” she says. “They have changed the world and fulfilled the vision that D.L. Moody had, which was to equip people to be disciplers of disciples.”
“I’m as grieved as everybody else that this is playing out publicly,” continues Roys. “But there comes a point at which we have to face the truth about a situation. If the only way to disinfect something is to shine a light on it, that’s what you need to do.”
In November, MBI announced their Spokane, Washington campus would close in May 2018 due to budgetary constraints. Of 112 total MBI faculty members, 34 are slated to lose their jobs. Some claim the staff cuts disproportionately affect faculty rather than upper management.
“There is more research and evidence that needs to come forward,” says Snitko. He pastors at The Branch Community Church just 10 miles from the Moody campus. “We wrestle with these things, the drama around the theology and finances. Moody has influence throughout the U.S. and beyond, so I think the way they conduct themselves is important.”
Roys raises larger questions. “How did they choose the ones that they cut?” she asks. “A number of the ones on the dock are the ones that challenged the administration. When you talk to the professors, a number of them suspect it is not a coincidence.”
The concerns they brought were not merely about finances and process. It’s also been shifting views on sexual ethics and biblical inerrancy. Churches and ministries nationwide have grappled with these issues.
“What we’ve seen in the past several years shows that Moody is not immune to the same pressures and weaknesses as the rest of the evangelical church,” says Roys.
Surveying the Firm Foundation
Moody stands by its doctrinal statements, unchanged for decades. “Contrary to what some have said, the biblical foundation and mission laid down by D. L. Moody … remains firmly established,” stated Moody leaders this past week. “We have not, are not, and will not move away from the truth of God’s Word.”
Both privately, and now in public, some faculty dispute this claim. In December, theology professor Richard Weber, Ph.D. sent a 65-page document to MBI trustees. Among other concerns, he stated that two Moody colleagues “professed a postmodern view of truth.”
Weber references the Chicago Statement, a 1978 consensus document. The 1,000+ word statement was signed by over 300 evangelical leaders at the time. Weber and other faculty believe MBI’s tacit support of the statement has eroded. But why should the average believer care about what sounds like an arcane issue?
“When it comes to inerrancy, if you don’t define it, and you don’t define all your terms, it’s just not going to be meaningful,” says Roys. “In this current climate of postmodern understandings of truth, it’s so hard to pin them down on anything. It’s like trying to nail Jell-O to a wall.”
In contrast to the rigorous Chicago Statement, the doctrinal statement signed annually by Moody faculty contains a short 25-word article on biblical inerrancy. “The Bible, including both the Old and the New Testaments, is a divine revelation, the original autographs of which were verbally inspired by the Holy Spirit,” it reads. An MBI spokesperson further stresses their “commitment to a high view of Scripture.”
Recent Moody alumnus Snitko said the Chicago Statement came up in his classes. “When students asked questions in Bible classes, it was very clear that inerrancy grounded the professors’ view of Scripture,” he says. “These accusations really caught me off guard. It’s certainly abnormal to Moody’s culture.”
Roys has recently interviewed over a dozen MBI faculty members as well as staff, trustees and graduates. She has only disclosed a few names on her blog, with their permission. (Weber is among the 34 faculty slated to lose their jobs.) Many link a shift in Moody’s theology to this issue of biblical inerrancy, according to Roys.
“If Moody is going to broaden its definition of inerrancy to embrace those who don’t affirm the Chicago Statement — and to postmodern understandings of what truth is — that is going to be problematic to a lot of the Moody community,” she says. “They’re essentially redefining inerrancy, though in a deceptive way. Nobody admits they’re redefining it. They’re just doing it.”
Navigating Difficult Divides
The U.S. has been hit by a precipitous decline in the number of college-age students. MBI faces these same challenges of changing demographics.
The school provides reduced and even free tuition to many students, according to Snitko. “Moody has a lot of history,” he says. “They are in the heart of downtown Chicago where they can do ministry outside those walls. If you’re wanting to go into pastoral ministry, you can hardly go wrong there.”
Yet students are often not the primary decision maker on where they attend school. “I have children who are college-aged,” says Roys. “As I talk to other parents who are in the same boat, we see the drift to the left in so many of these evangelical schools.”
The mother of three says they’re looking for schools that “take a stand” against cultural trends. “We want a school to teach biblical truth and uphold sexual ethics as the Christian church has historically understood it,” says Roys. “That’s what everybody thought Moody represented.”
She points to Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky as an example. Conservative theologian Al Mohler has served as their president since 1993.
“Look at the year after he was installed as president,” says Roys. “One of the first moves he made was to adopt the Chicago Statement as the official definition of biblical inerrancy. They did that because it’s necessary in this current climate. They had record enrollment in 2015. You see this in a number of schools.”
Robert Snitko diverges somewhat from this viewpoint. “Southern is in the Bible Belt, whereas Chicago is very urban and liberal politically,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s the hot spot for staunchly conservative ideology. These up-and-coming students view things differently than the generation prior.”
The author of God Is Not Black-and-White: Seeking Unity in a Theologically Diverse Church explains what he means. “The gospel is about unity, loving God and loving others,” says Snitko. “It’s not about conservative or liberal. It’s about seeing things the way Jesus would see things, whether that’s politics or theology.”
Finding Common Ground
Both Roys and Snitko call for greater openness on the part of MBI. “I would love it if some of the top leaders would speak out in an open forum,” he says. “Some should probably come forward and confess.”
The former radio host believes she paid a price for becoming a whistleblower. “There was no reason for me to be fired,” says Roys. “— Other than the fact that I had sent these emails asking for clarification on some things that Moody ended up not wanting to talk to me about. If you want to have a healthy institution, it needs to be one that welcomes these kind of challenges.”
A Moody spokesperson noted that personnel decisions cannot be discussed for legal reasons. Roys hints she is “looking forward to what God has next.” The former radio host is also an author and public speaker.
“The outpouring of love and concern has been really touching,” she says. “I have gotten so many emails and Facebook comments from people. They say they feel badly about what happened. They ask what they can do for me and how they can pray for me and my family.”
Snitko laments that coverage of his alma mater tends to be sensational rather than circumspect. “Often when Moody comes up in the press, it’s with a negative connotation,” he says. “No one ever focuses on how Moody students go out onto the streets and feed the homeless. They do great things for the city of Chicago. They train leaders and send them to the mission field and beyond.”
No one denies recent events at the venerable ministry are remarkable. “Look, something is happening here,” he says. “The three top dogs at Moody resigned or retired in one day. But time will tell what it means.”
Starting February 5, Moody Bible Institute will host its annual Founder’s Week conference. It will mark 181 years since the birth of their namesake, evangelist D.L. Moody. Faith leaders from across the nation are slated to speak including Ed Stetzer, Anne Graham Lotz, Matt Chandler and former Illinois State Senator James Meeks.
The future of MBI will doubtless be discussed by many. One longtime Moody backer believes the school’s past points the way forward.
“I think if D.L. Moody were here, he would say that we need to return to our historic foundations,” says Julie Roys. “Moody needs to stand on the Word of God as firmly as it ever has.”