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Thursday, November 08, 2007

Baptist Senator's War On Prosperity Preachers

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee and scheduled speaker at the upcoming Celebration of a New Baptist Covenant is investigating six prominent televangelists for possible financial misconduct. The six electronic preachers include Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn. Grassley is trying to determine whether or not these ministers and their ministries are improperly using their tax-exempt status as churches to shield lavish lifestyles.

In an article on Christianity Today Online, Joel Hunter the Florida megachurch pastor had this to say about Grassley's investigation:
"If your house is in order, you have nothing to fear and much to gain from this process,"
Others fear that Grassley's investigation could set a bad precedent.

Mr. Naked Public Square, Richard John Neuhaus commented:
"James Madison would be telling us, 'Take Alarm! Take Alarm!''' Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things, told CT. "This is cause for alarm that a Senate committee would presume to directly exercise financial oversight of religious ministries."
And from Charles Haynes of the First Amendment Center:
"There has kind of been an end-run here," contends Charles Haynes, director of the First Amendment Center. The Senate prying into church money matters could be a slippery slope, he said.

"It's legitimate for government to monitor whether or not the laws are being followed by ministries," said Haynes. "Having said that, this is an unusual approach. The danger here is that it can become a fishing expedition … into areas where the First Amendment protects ministries—for example, their beliefs and view of the gospel. They may be controversial or unorthodox or unpopular, but that is none of the business of government."'

This portion of the CT article was quite interesting:
While Grassley is not proposing any changes to the law or tax code, he's suggesting that he may do so after the investigation. "Based on initial review, the way ministries operate has changed significantly over the last 20 years to 25 years, while the tax laws governing them for the most part have not," his office said.
I'm hesitant to say that Grassley's investigation is a GOOD thing. The principle of separation requires that the government stay out of the business of the church. But a $23,000 commode? Private jets. Expensive toilets. Costly conference tables. Riding in style in Rolls Royces and Bentleys. The lavish lifestyles of these ministers is disturbing.

Nonetheless, perhaps Grassley should have allowed the IRS to investigate these mega-ministers. After all, the IRS is the body that determines if houses of worship are following the law as to their tax exempt status. I tend to agree with Roland Martin of CNN who observed that Grassley's investigation could potentially have a chilling effect on churches "because ANY politician who is ticked off with a church - maybe one where a pastor endorsed his or her rival - could use their influence to demand the records of a church." If you'll take a stroll down memory lane, you might recall that some accused the Bush Administration of using the IRS to go after congregations (All Saints Episcopal) that were quite outspoken in their opposition to the Iraq War

I'm quite sympathetic to this blogger who wrote:
Granted, any fiscal abuse within any church should be stopped. But isn't it the responsibility of those parishioners who give their money to the church to do so? And don't they usually do so? It seems a bit of a reach for the U.S. Senate to be involved in the private faith lives of individual Americans and their places of worship.
What say you?

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9 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

The senator posted the letters to the 6.

Seems to me these are questions any denominational accounting department would have no trouble answering.

It doesn't matter what I say,
Investigative programs from other countries have looked at some of these ministries - the IRS has investigated. And as soon as they are out of sight, it's business as usual.

Bene D

1:01 AM

 
Blogger bowtiebaptist said...

As a strict separationist I think that Grassley has gone much too far in his zeal to clean up abuse. Although we might be rightly upset with the abuse that is occuring with these prosperity gospel types, we cannot invite the government to police or reform them. Those who give their money to these questionable ministries should hold them accountable.

One major problem with inviting governmental oversight is the fact that once you have invited them in there is no way to get them out.

Michael Dain

1:45 AM

 
Anonymous Chuck said...

I agree with you. Congress has become way too "investigative." A non-profit should have the IRS to answer to for keeping or losing its status.

7:32 AM

 
Anonymous Lee said...

The problem with these kinds of investigations is that the end result is a three inch binder full of onerous regulations that local churches must follow. The abusers have the money to hire the lawyers they need to avoid the consequences of an investigation.

I just finished the process of designating my ministerial expense reimbursement account, housing allowance designation, and a whole book of other paperwork for next year's budget, just to make sure that every penny I spend is legitimate to either deduct from my taxes or be reimbursed to me as non-taxable income. I've been burned twice as a result of not being in exact compliance with regulations that a seasoned tax accountant with thirty years of ministerial tax experience couldn't figure out.

I'd like to see Senator Grassley start at the top, with the major corporations that do the biggest rip-offs, the prescription drug companies, insurance companies and oil companies, and work his way down to the televangelists. We don't have a choice with big business, we do with televangelists.

8:38 AM

 
Blogger D.R. said...

I am torn on this one. I very much see your complaint about the lavishness of these ministers' lifestyles and I absolutely hate the prosperity gospel (notice the intentional lower case "g"). And I would be glad to see any one of these serpents exposed for the frauds they are. But, on the other hand, I too am worried about the prescedent set by any such investigation and the comment made by Grassley regarding IRS reform. As much as moderates and liberals bemoan the alarmism by some conservatives over a future IRS (or worse) fight over homosexuality and hate crimes legislation, this has to worry those who see a possible slippery slope in the making, as Charles Haynes points out.

1:07 PM

 
Blogger Big Daddy Weave said...

As a side note: The CBS Article points out that Ole Anthony (owner of The Wittenburg Door who operates the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation) has played a role in lobbying Grassley to investigate. Anthony is quoted as saying - "We've been working with them for two years...We have furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen."

If anyone remembers, Ole Anthony helped bring down televangelist Robert Tilton. Ole exposed Tilton for his lavish lifestyle which included throwing away prayer requests without reading them and racking in an estimated 80 million a year through gifts and love offerings.

3:30 PM

 
Anonymous Greg Tomlin said...

$23,000 toilets? We all know that such lavish seating is normally reserved only for Congress. :-) Perhaps that is why the government is investigating.

3:17 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am Shocked, Shocked! – Of the six prosperity preacher families sent US Senate Finance Committee letters on 11/5/07 requesting information, perhaps some might use the Claude Rains Gambit. This is the famous scene in the movie Casablanca where Rick Blaine (played by Humphrey Bogart) asks why his restaurant is being closed. Captain Louis Renault (played by Claude Rains) replies, “I am shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on here!” Whereupon the croupier hands him a roll of bills and says, “Your winnings, sir.” He pockets the cash and says, “Oh. Thank you very much.”
Robert Winkler Burke www.inthatdayteachings.com

2:09 PM

 
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Prosperous Thoughts – Here is a fine experiment. Write to a prosperity preacher and ask him or her to tithe his or her personal income to you. The multi-millionaire will probably think, who are you to get such an income? You will have made the preacher think, however briefly. -- Robert Winker Burke

10:11 AM

 

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