Financial blessings in return

Mail-order ministry promises spiritual and financial windfalls in return for a donation.

In the world of Saint Matthew’s Churches, Heaven is a bank and God is the bank president.

The organization mails more than 1 million letters across the country each month seeking money from recipients and promising a spiritual and financial windfall in return. The letters list a Tulsa post office box but no telephone number, street address or names of individuals behind the operation.

Gae Widdows, a Tulsa attorney, said one of her clients is a veteran with schizophrenia who receives mailings from Saint Matthew’s. She said the man frequently lives on the streets because he has little to no income.

“They told him if he would send money, he would not need to take his medication. He actually stopped taking his meds and got locked up,” Widdows said.

Before even opening the letters, recipients are urged to be secretive about their contents.

“It is absolutely vital that you read this letter now!” states an envelope mailed Jan. 20.

“Try to take it to a room or somewhere where you can be alone with the Lord,” the envelope says. “Personal and private letter.”

The mailing from Saint Matthew’s includes a $10,000 “faith check” written on the Bank of Heaven. It lists the bank president as God, the Father; vice president as Jesus, the Son, and the secretary and treasurer as The Holy Ghost.

“Place the faith check in your wallet and keep it there until the blessing unfolds,” the letter states.

“Whisper the name of Jesus three times as you write your name on the back of your Faith Check.”

The mailing includes a testimonial from “Mrs. F.L.C.,” who claims that God sent her $28,000 after she gave money to Saint Matthew’s.

The letter ends by instructing recipients to send money back to Saint Matthew’s in order to release God’s financial blessing. It asks for “the largest bill you have or the biggest check you can write.”

Another mailing, also in January, is marked “private and confidential” and states that it has been sent from “a secret place of prayer.” The mailing includes a scrap of fleece, dyed green on one side and silver on the other, presumably to represent the color of money.

Recipients are instructed to place the fleece in their wallets and sleep on it “to break the financial curse that has troubled your money matters.”

Recipients are told to return the fleece with “seed money” for Saint Matthew’s, borrowing it if necessary.

The letter is signed: “A group of praying people, friends of Jesus for 52 glorious years of helping people.”

A mailing in 1998 contained a sealed packet of “five miracle cakes” that resemble communion wafers. Recipients were instructed to eat one each night to trigger five “prophetic events” in their lives, including an “unusual money blessing.”

The letter instructs recipients to return a donation of $7 or $17.

In a press release, Saint Matthew’s Churches states that it does not solicit money.

“The ministers of this 50-year-old church have always had a vision to bring in as much in donations (tithes and free-will offerings) as possible so they can spend those donations on publishing and preaching the gospel of salvation,” the release states.

History of Saint Matthew’s, related organizations

1933: James E. Ewing is born in Texas. Milton R. McElrath is born in Conway, Ark.

1953: Ewing enters basic training at Lackland Air Force Base. Ewing’s magazine would later claim that “many soldiers gave their lives to Christ with Bro. Ewing kneeling by their side in airplanes, in barracks or anyplace.”

1957: Ewing completes service in the Air Force.

1958: Ewing charters Camp Meetings Revivals in Dallas.

1968: Income to Ewing’s organization reportedly tops $2 million. Ewing advises Oral Roberts to ask supporters to write him letters, which the evangelist would take to his prayer tower and pray over for three days.

1971: Ewing renames his organization Church of Compassion. Officers listed are D.R. Luce, O. Duane Snyder, M.R. McElrath and Doris J. Ratliff. Investors purchase a Dallas church and Ewing names it the Cathedral of Compassion.

1974: Ewing moves his Church of Compassion to Los Angeles. An article in the Los Angeles Times describes the Church of Compassion as as mail-order church with half a million “members.” Income reportedly exceeds $3 million.

1979: Ewing and McElrath incorporate Twentieth Century Advertising Agency and Twentieth Century Data Processing Inc. in Oklahoma. The for-profit companies, which have offices in California, are formed to provide printing and mailing services to nonprofit religious groups.

Nine months later, Church by Mail Inc. is incorporated in Tulsa. Incorporators are James E. Ewing, M.R. McElrath, Doris J. Ratliff and O. Duane Snyder. D.R. Luce is named its vice president.

1980: Church by Mail applies to the IRS for tax-exempt status. The company states on its application that “it conducts regular worship services, usually without the congregation physically present.”

Church by Mail’s net mail reve nue is more than $3 million.

1987: Ewing incorporates Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail, which lists the Tulsa law office of Joyce and Pollard as its address.

1990: Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail reports income of $4.16 million and a negative balance of $4.17 million on its IRS forms.

1991: The IRS files a federal tax lien against Twentieth Century Advertising Inc. The lien seeks payment of $346,000 in unpaid taxes from 1982 and 1987. The IRS also files a lien against Ewing, seeking payment of $10,000 in back taxes.

Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail reports income of $4 million and a deficit of more than $900,000 on its IRS forms. Expenses include more than $960,000 in salaries, $160,000 in rent and $600,000 in printing and mailing costs.

1992: IRS commissioner issues a final ruling denying tax-exempt status for Church by Mail Inc. The company appeals the order.

The state of California files a lien against Ewing in Los Angeles for failure to pay more than $7,000 in franchise taxes.

Church and Bible Study in the Home by Mail reports income of more than $6 million from contributions and expenses of $6.3 million.

1993: Ewing is living in a $2.2 million, 6,400-square-foot home above Beverly Hills. The home has a large garage, and photographs depict several exotic and classic cars parked in the driveway.

A memo from McElrath to attorney J.C. Joyce states that Church and Bible Study in the Home By Mail has developed a computer program to target “good growth addresses.” The memo forecasts a monthly return of $600,000 on the letters mailed:

“We are actually picking those geographic areas that we know respond the best to our growth let ters. The size of each special area is about two to four city blocks. And thank God there are 10’s of thousands of them across the nation.”

1994: In a filing with the U.S. Tax Court, the commissioner of the Internal Revenue Service argues that Church by Mail Inc. is “operated for private rather than public interests” and “is not a church” within the meaning of federal tax laws.

1997: St. Matthew Publishing Inc., incorporated at Joyce’s Tulsa law office, files documents with the Internal Revenue Service reporting $15.6 million in revenue. Ewing reports receiving $307,187 in salary and benefits while McElrath reports $277,000 in salary and benefits.

1999: St. Matthew Publishing Inc. reports $26.8 million in revenue. Of that, the organization spent $4 million on salaries, $989,140 on legal fees, $817,000 for housing and rent and $649,000 on travel.

2000: After a lengthy court battle in which St. Matthew Publishing Inc. sued the federal government, the U.S. Court of Federal Claims rules that for tax years 1979 and 1980, St. Matthew Publishing Inc. was not a tax-exempt organization. For tax years 1981 through the present, the court found the organization was tax exempt.

2002: The national Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance, a charity watchdog group, reports that Saint Matthew’s Churches refused to provide current information about its finances, programs or governance.

“The Alliance notes that BBBs from across the country have received public inquiries from individuals who have received direct mail letters from this organization.”

[Keyword: james eugene ewing]

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Tulsa World, USA
Apr. 27,2003
Ziva Branstetter

Religion News Blog posted this on Sunday April 27, 2003.
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