Nasty Fight Over Control of a Megachurch

The widow of megachurch pastor Zachery Tims Jr. sued the church she co-founded with her late ex-husband, in a nasty spat to try to keep control of the New Destiny Christian Center Church, Inc.

Courthouse News Service reports

Riva Tims sued the church, its board members Sam Anderson, Marguerite and Fred Esannason and the church’s new pastor, Paula White, who took the pulpit on New Year’s Eve.

Tims claims White ran her previous church into the ground, accumulating $26 million in debt, and that despite this proof of White’s “incompetence,” the board, in a “wide-ranging conspiracy,” hired her anyway, “as president of a megachurch with assets in excess of $4 million dollars.”

Tims sued on Dec. 29, seeking an injunction to keep White out. But White presided over a New Year’s Eve service, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

In her complaint in Orange County Court, Tims says: “The defendant White was the spiritual mother of the deceased Pastor Zachery Tims Jr., and by virtue of this position or intimate relationship” she became, with the board, “an active co-conspirator in a conspiracy or perhaps multiple conspiracies, acting separately or in concert at the same time, to control, monopolize and manipulate the tool and function business to the detriment of plaintiff and others qualified to be the succeeding pastor of New Destiny, by virtue of single handily [sic] and without the consensus of the congregation, appointing a new pastor.”

Tims claims she should be the pastor, and the congregation should have had a vote on it.

According to her complaint, she and her husband founded New Destiny Christian Center in Apopka, Fla., in 1996 after leaving their church in Baltimore. The church grew from six members to more than 8,000, according to its website.

The Timses went through a public divorce in 2008, amid gossip about Zachery’s infidelity. Riva then began Majestic Life Ministries, while Zachery stayed on at New Destiny. They have four children.

Zachery Tims was found dead in a New York hotel room in August 2011. Investigators promised to release results of a toxicology report, but Tims’ mother filed an injunction to prevent release of the cause of death.

As the church board pondered whom to hire to replace Zachery Tims, the public eye turned upon his ex-wife and White, who co-founded Without Walls International Church in Tampa.

The church hired White and Riva Tims sued on Dec. 29.

Tims calls White’s appointment unlawful and “part of a wide-ranging conspiracy.”

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

Comments & resources by ReligionNewsBlog.com

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

Without Walls pastor vows to fight foreclosure threat; may sue newspaper

Randy-White In a service notable for its unusual content, the Rev. Randy White, pastor of Without Walls International Church, laid bare the church’s financial situation Sunday and its bid to stave off foreclosure of its two campuses.

In his 90-minute sermon, White devoted 30 minutes to talk of the foreclosure proceedings. He spent an hour rebutting a series of articles written by the Tampa Tribune about the church over an 18-month period. White said the coverage had cost the church and its affiliates, which include Paula White Ministries, millions of dollars. [Read more...]

Financial Walls Closing In On Without Walls International Church

Paula and Randy White The future of Without Walls International Church is in question now that a credit union wants to foreclose on the megaministry.

The church defaulted on a $1 million loan due in August, prompting the California-based Evangelical Christian Credit Union to file foreclosure proceedings Tuesday.

For months there have been signs of financial struggles at Without Walls.

In August, the church’s financial controller resigned resigned after Randy White ordered him to pay White’s $24,000 American Express bill, even though it would mean the ministry couldn’t make payroll for the week. [Read more...]