CHARLOTTE, N.C. —Evangelist Franklin Graham told his staff Friday he wants to give up his pay as head of the Charlotte-based Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, saying his calling to the ministry "was never based on compensation."
Graham's decision to ask the BGEA board of directors to stop paying him came a day after a McClatchy Newspapers report raised questions about the size of his compensation from the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse, the Boone, N.C.-based international relief agency that Graham has led since 1979.
In 2008, his two salaries, two retirement packages and other payments from the ministries totaled $1.2 million. That included $669,000 from BGEA, where, in February, 55 employees were laid off — more than 10 percent of the staff. Revenue at BGEA dropped 18 percent last year; at Samaritan's Purse, it climbed 11 percent.
Graham, 57, will continue to draw his salary and benefits from Samaritan's Purse, which totaled $535,000 in 2008.
After McClatchy Newspapers began asking questions about his compensation, he asked the boards of the two ministries Tuesday to suspend contributions to his retirement plans until the economy bounced back.
In a memo to BGEA employees Friday, sent just before the end of the workday, he announced that he had asked the BGEA board of directors "to consider that I work for no compensation. I feel that God has called me to this ministry, and that calling was never based on compensation."
The memo, which covered several other subjects, made no mention of the concerns raised in the McClatchy Newspapers report. The newspaper reported criticisms from charity watchdogs, who said they doubted anyone could do two full-time jobs leading organizations that, together, employ almost 1,000 people with budgets of more than $200 million.
Graham spokesman Mark DeMoss said the evangelist called him Friday, before he sent the memo and a letter to BGEA board members.
"He said, 'It's not worth it. I'll just do without. The board can do what it wants,' " DeMoss said.
BGEA board member Denton Lotz said it's up to Graham — and not the board — to make such decisions.
"I think that's great if he feels he can do it," said Lotz, the pastor of an inner-city church in Boston. Lotz's brother is married to Graham's sister, Anne Graham Lotz. She's an evangelist based in Raleigh, N.C., and one of five Graham family members on the 20-member BGEA board.