(World Magazine – Paul Butler & Marvin Olasky) Financial errors, insider dealings, and theological concerns force a change at an evangelical powerhouse
The story sounds like something out of a movie.
In 2017, a talk show host on the Moody Radio Network blows the whistle on the leadership of one of American evangelicalism’s flagship institutions, the Moody Bible Institute (MBI). On Jan. 9, 2018, she escalates the pressure with a hard-hitting headline on her blog: “A Luxury Suite, Questionable Loan to Officer, & Gambling: The Disturbing Truth About Leadership at MBI.” Moody within hours fires her and sends a man to her house to seize her laptop—but she is on her way to Mexico, with the computer.
The next day, though, Moody’s board of trustees meets and decides it’s time for “a new season of leadership.” President Paul Nyquist and COO Steve Mogck resign. Provost Junias Venugopal retires. And whistleblower Julie Roys reports the board’s action. She tells WORLD she’s “grieved over what’s happened” to MBI, glad about the resignations and retirement, but convinced that “unless there are changes at the board level, the Institute will be in the exact same place 5-10 years from now.”
So, even though the saga is not over, the Moody board’s action is still a man-bites-dog story within the usually slow-moving world of higher education. As the news spread, Christian leaders asked questions: What are MBI’s problems? What forced the hand of the board, and where does Moody go from here? Is the drama likely to be repeated at other institutions as financial and theological pressures grow? WORLD had been investigating MBI during the weeks before the board decision, and we have some findings to report.
COLLEGES LIVE OR DIE ON STUDENT ENROLLMENT. From 2012 to 2017, the number of students applying to MBI fell from 1,316 to 947—a 28 percent drop. MBI for more than a century has emphasized theological education for students who desire to enter full-time vocational ministry: “Those are the students we still give priority to,” said James Spencer, vice president and dean of Moody’s undergraduate school. Today, though, many young Christians look to secular careers and speak of ministering informally within their professions.
Professors are a college’s front line. Facing the enrollment downturn, President Nyquist last December announced a layoff of “about 10 percent of Moody Global Ministries personnel.” But the faculty was disproportionately hard-hit: 34 of MBI’s 112 full-time faculty members, almost one-third, learned their contracts would not be renewed. (MBI does not give professors tenure.) “Education is certainly about the faculty,” Spencer acknowledged, so Nyquist’s attempt to minimize the extent of the body count by saying “10 percent” did not go over well.