Tax-Exempt Ministries Avoid New Regulation

A three-year investigation into financial improprieties at six Christian ministries whose television preaching bankrolled leaders’ lavish lifestyles has concluded with the formation of an independent commission to look into the lack of accountability by tax-exempt religious groups.

Senator Charles E. Grassley, an Iowa Republican and the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, issued a report saying that “self-correction” by churches and religious groups is preferable to legislative or regulatory solutions.

Money, Money, Money…
If anyone teaches false doctrines and does not agree to the sound instruction of our Lord Jesus Christ and to godly teaching, {4} he is conceited and understands nothing. He has an unhealthy interest in controversies and quarrels about words that result in envy, strife, malicious talk, evil suspicions {5} and constant friction between men of corrupt mind, who have been robbed of the truth and who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. {6} But godliness with contentment is great gain. {7} For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. {8} But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. {9} People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. {10} For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.
– The Bible, 1 Timothy 6:3-10 NIV

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But his report found that only two of the six ministries cooperated with his investigation and volunteered to institute reforms. The others continued to hide behind tax laws that allow religious organizations to operate tax-free with little transparency or public accountability — a status that sets them apart from other nonprofit groups and charities that must file detailed annual reports of expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service.

“The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices,” Senator Grassley said in a statement, “and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective.”
[…]

The inquiry began at the request of evangelical Christians who shared their alarm with Senator Grassley about how the six ministries appeared to be using donations from the faithful to buy airplanes, lavish homes and jewelry, and to run profit-making businesses for leaders and their family members.

All six are “prosperity gospel” ministries, which teach that believers will themselves become prosperous by donating generously to the ministry. The preachers flaunt their opulent lifestyles as evidence that their teaching is true.

The two ministries that responded fully to Mr. Grassley’s investigation and indicated they had reformed their practices were Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn Ministries.

The four ministries that provided incomplete or no information, according to the Finance Committee investigators, were Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries; Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church; Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International; and Bishop Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. (Bishop Long was recently sued by four young men who accuse him of luring them into sexual relationships. Bishop Long has denied the allegations.)
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Tax-Exempt Ministries Avoid New Regulation, Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, Jan. 7, 2011 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

New panel formed to examine issues around church finances

A new commission has been formed to address issues raised in an investigation into the financial operations of six media-based mega-ministries, including two in Georgia.
[…]

The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations will be led by Michael Batts, an expert in board governance, financial reporting and tax compliance for nonprofits.

In an interview Friday, Batts said he hopes solutions can be identified that don’’t involve “burdensome legislation.” I would not say categorically that legislation would be bad, but certainly harsh, adverse or burdensome legislation would not be welcome.” He said solutions could include self-regulation for churches and faith-based nonprofits or improved enforcement.
[…]

Three ministries provided incomplete information. They were Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church; Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries; and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.

World Changers was called the “least cooperative.” To date, the review said, the committee staff has been unable to determine the names of the ministry’s board members or any information regarding compensation. A spokeswoman for Dollar could not be reached for comment.

As a result, information about those churches was gleaned from public sources and current or former officers, directors, key employees, watchdog groups and current and former members. The staff, for a variety of reasons, decided against issuing supoenas. In some cases, informants said they were warned by churches that they would be sued if they violated confidentiality agreements. Some informants would only speak anonymously and some were too frightened to do even that, according to a staff memo to Grassley.

The investigation report issued this week details the ministries’ luxury homes and cars, trips on private jets and expensive gifts, including two Rolls Royces that a third party reported was given to the Dollars as a gift from the church.
[…]

The fact that some of the targeted ministries failed to provide complete or any information to the committee was particularly troublesome, said Riggins Earl, a professor of ethics at Interdenominational Theological Center.

“Something in the culture has obviously gone out of control in terms of a church’s corporate accountability and transparency,” he said.

“I’m all gung ho for church and state separation but I don’t think the church should have the power that Mr. Dollar and Mr. Long want to give themselves.”
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: New panel formed to examine issues around church finances, Sheila M. Poole, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Jan. 7, 2011 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

See Also

Grassley Releases Review of Tax Issues Raised by Media-based Ministries
Research resources on Prosperity Teaching

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland continue to peddle Prosperity Gospel

The New York Times covered the Southwest Believers’ Convention, but probably not the way its organizers, Ken and Gloria Copeland, would have liked.

The Copelands are proponents of so-called Word-Faith theology, a collection of teachings ranging from aberrant to heretical — with a particular emphasis of the so-called Prosperity Gospel, a get-rich-quick scam they try to justify with twisted interpretations of the Bible.

It is this teaching that the New York Times article rightly focuses on:

Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich

FORT WORTH — Onstage before thousands of believers weighed down by debt and economic insecurity, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland and their all-star lineup of “prosperity gospel” preachers delighted the crowd with anecdotes about the luxurious lives they had attained by following the Word of God.
[…]

Even in an economic downturn, preachers in the “prosperity gospel” movement are drawing sizable, adoring audiences. Their message — that if you have sufficient faith in God and the Bible and donate generously, God will multiply your offerings a hundredfold — is reassuring to many in hard times.

The preachers barely acknowledged the recession, though they did say it was no excuse to curtail giving. “Fear will make you stingy,” Mr. Copeland said.
[…]

Many in this flock do not trust banks, the news media or Washington, where the Senate Finance Committee is investigating whether the Copelands and other prosperity evangelists used donations to enrich themselves and abused their tax-exempt status. But they trust the Copelands, the movement’s current patriarch and matriarch, who seem to embody prosperity with their robust health and abundance of children and grandchildren who have followed them into the ministry.
[…]

– Source / Full Story: Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich, Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Small wonder. The Prosperity Gospel, in a nutshell, works as follows: God wants you to be rich, but He can not bless you unless you first send money (also known as a “seed-faith offering”) to whichever televangelist or teacher tells you about this scheme.

You reap what you sow, the preachers — many of them ‘televangelists’ — claim, with some promising a ‘hundred-fold return.”

Many of their followers don’t realize that if this scam worked as advertised, televangelists would be sending them money.

Meanwhile these same followers tend to defend the oppulent lifestyles of their heroes. To them it shows what they themselves may one day reach, if only they get good at Positive Confession and have enough faith that God will bless their offerings with a windfall.

The New York Times article quote Jonathan L. Walton, a professor of religion at the University of California, Riversie, who has written about the movement. [See Walton’s articles on the subject at Religion Dispatches. See also his recent book, Watch This!: The Ethics and Aesthetics of Black Televangelism, which also discusses the gospel of greed.]

He refers to prosperity preachers as “spiritual pickpockets.”

The Copelands refused an interview request, but one of their daughters, Kellie Copeland Swisher, and her husband, Steve Swisher, who both work in the ministry, spoke for them.
[…]

The ministry has resisted providing the Senate investigation with all the documents requested, she said, because the Copelands did not want to publicly reveal the names of the “partners.” The investigation, which could result in new laws, is continuing, a committee spokeswoman said. Among those being investigated is Creflo Dollar, one of the ministers at the Copelands’ convention.
[…]

At the convention, the preachers — who also included Jesse Duplantis and Jerry Savelle — sprinkled their sermons with put-downs of the government, an overhaul of health care, public schools, the news media and other churches, many of which condemn prosperity preaching.
[…more…]

– Source / Full Story: Believers Invest in the Gospel of Getting Rich, Laurie Goodstein, New York Times, Aug. 15, 2009 — Summarized by Religion News Blog

Televangelist’s $3.6 million jet not tax-exempt, appraiser says

Kenneth Copeland A Kenneth Copeland Ministry jet worth $3.6 million has been denied tax-exempt status by the Tarrant Appraisal District, setting the stage for a battle that could require the minister to reveal his salary if he wants the jet to be tax-free.

Compensation paid Copeland and other members of his family has been the source of a U.S. senator’s inquiry, but the televangelist has been unwilling to disclose the information publicly.

If the ministry gives the compensation information to the appraisal district, it would be open to public disclosure, Law said. [Read more...]

Kenneth Copeland challenges probe into televangelist finances

Ken and Gloria Copeland Popular televangelist Kenneth Copeland is considered by many Christians to be a heretic. A key promoter of the so-called Word-Faith movement, which teaches that you can speak things into existence, and if you are sick it is because you don’t have enough faith.

Such faith is preferably expressed by sending money to teachers like Copeland. But Copeland does not have enough faith to allow a full investigation of his financial dealings. [Read more...]