Baptist Press reports that in 2010, the Morristown church learned that $147,000 presumably sent to the Lottie Moon Christmas Offering for International Missions had not been received by the International Mission Board.
Further investigation revealed that five payments (approximately $120,000) budgeted by the church to the Tennessee Baptist Convention for the Cooperative Program missions and ministry had not been received there.
First Baptist also discovered checks stashed away in a drawer that had been written to pay bills.
The issue revolved around the trust placed in former financial secretary Barbara Whitt. “Our people had grown up with her. She was like an institution here,” pastor Dean Haun said.
The church employed a forensic auditor to examine how long the embezzlement had been occurring.
The audit discovered that more than $1.5 million had been diverted from the church over a period of several years.
Whitt later confessed that she had written more than 1,600 checks to herself, totaling $1,514,593, in what is considered the largest theft ever in Hamblen County.
In addition to Whitt’s arrest, her son Michael was charged as a co-conspirator.
Both Whitt and her son were sentenced in October to roughly four years in prison.
With all that behind them, Haun believes First Baptist has grown from the financial adversity.
Looking back, Haun believes the church was able to overcome what happened because its leaders were open and honest from the outset about what happened.
When Haun and church leaders learned what the Whitts had done and the story was about to break in the local paper, a special meeting of the church was held on Tuesday night prior to the release of the story.
“We needed to be up front and honest with the church. We shared with the church everything we knew that night,” Haun said.
Church members could have decided to find another church or quit giving, Haun said, or they could band together “and see God do a miracle in our midst.”
One member stood up and said, “I am not going to let the enemy have the victory. I am going to give twice as much.” The church applauded, Haun recounted.
The special meeting “ended up being more of a revival”; it was evident the church would rally, Haun said, and it did.
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