At the World Changers Church International, members of the congregation speak in tongues but also know that money talks.
They worship the “God of increase”, believe their debts will be cleared by divine intervention, and serve Jesus by parting with their cash.
During his sermon yesterday, Pastor Creflo A Dollar, the Church’s founder and owner of at least one Rolls-Royce, a Gulfstream-3 jet and a £1.3 million Manhattan apartment – praised the fact that “I am extremely debt free”.
So free of debt is he that his activities have now come to the attention of the US Senate finance committee, which has demanded that Dr Dollar – his real name – and five other heads of so-called megachurches answer questions about their lavish spending.
Senator Charles Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, is leading the initiative. He said his committee had received many allegations that ministers’ lifestyles violated their non-profit, tax-exempt status.
“It appears that some ministers are operating more like corporate CEOs, and acting with very little accountability,” he said. “I have an obligation to donors and taxpayers to find out more.”
Megachurches – which have weekly congregations of more than 2,000 – are becoming global. Dr Dollar’s sermons are transmitted to dozens of countries, spreading his brand of “prosperity theology“, which teaches that religious faith is rewarded by material wealth.
The revenues of his ministry, which he runs with his wife Taffi, are ?32-?34 million a year and come from donations and DVD and book sales. He preaches at a state-of-the-art, 8,500-capacity auditorium in his home town of Atlanta, Georgia.
After a week of negative publicity, Dr Dollar implored his congregation “not to let what we hear stop us believing in God”.
He invited members to drop in to the accountancy office to “view the audits and use of gifts. We will continue to ensure that monies are used as they should be”.
He has however refused to comply with the senator’s demands – only one of the six ministries being investigated has – arguing that the Inland Revenue Service and not a Senate committee is the appropriate authority.
Campaigners against tele-evangelists and megachurches say a full IRS investigation is likely.
Critics have labelled the sharp-suited pastor “Pass the Dollar” and his philosophy the “gospel of bling”. But to his mainly African-American congregation, he is an inspiration.
“He helps me find the word of God and helps me in my work,” said one man. “We, his congregation, gave him that Rolls-Royce as a mark of appreciation, and as a symbol of prosperity.”
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