| Senate committee investigating Benny Hinn and five others...|
[b]Megachurches creating false profits?[/b]
Senate inquiry into Christian ministries balances accountability, church-state separation
By ERIC GORSKI
7:30 a.m., November 8, 2007
For some, a Senate committee's investigation into six well-known evangelical ministries is long overdue, a needed check on preachers living lavish lifestyles built with their donors' generosity.
But even among those who welcome the scrutiny, there was concern Wednesday over government intrusion into religion, more red tape in the name of transparency and undue burdens on preachers and churches who play strictly by the rules.
The top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, Chuck Grassley of Iowa, faxed letters Monday to a half-dozen evangelical mega-ministries requesting information about compensation, board oversight and perks from luxury oceanside homes to flights on private jets to opulent spending on office furniture.
The organizations are not legally required to respond. Some have released statements pledging to cooperate, others have hedged and all have emphasized their commitment to following applicable tax laws.
The IRS requires that pastors' compensation be "reasonable," a figure set by collecting comparable salaries and weighing factors such as church size and a pastor's value to the congregation. IRS rules prevent pastors and other insiders from excessive personal gain through their tax-exempt work.
Marvin Olasky, editor of World, an influential conservative Christian magazine, credited Grassley for racheting up the pressure on ministries he believes are far too secretive about how donations are spent.
"These organizations should be pressured to disclose information," Olasky said. "If glasnost worked in the Soviet Union, it can work in relation to these ministries."
Olasky, however, cautioned that "hard cases make bad law." Echoing others, Olasky said governmental action should be a last resort and that the Christian community and media needs to press organizations to be more open.
The six ministries in the inquiry share Pentecostal theology, a strong television presence and a "prosperity gospel" message emphasizing material rewards for the faithful. They are:
- [b]Randy and Paula White[/b] of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.
- [b]Benny Hinn[/b] of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas;
- [b]David and Joyce Meyer[/b] of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.;
- [b]Kenneth and Gloria Copeland[/b] of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas;
- [b]Bishop Eddie Long[/b] of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga.;
- [b]Creflo and Taffi Dollar[/b] of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga.
These kinds of huge, non-denominational operations are like smaller churches in that they aren't required to publicly disclose their finances.
Scott Thumma, a megachurch expert at the Hartford Institute for Religion Research, said they require even greater scrutiny because they lack denominational oversight and have a penchant for unchecked lavish spending.
"If this attention makes these ministries more accountable to donors, it's probably a positive step forward," Thumma said. "At the same time, it does pose challenges about what is the role of government in how a church spends its money and who is accountable. These are probably legitimate concerns by those pastors watching from outside."
Some pastors, Thumma said, might be hesitant to speak out because "they are looking at that slippery slope and don't want to be seen as advocating for the government getting involved in the roles of church."
Dollar released a statement saying questions raised by Grassley's inquiry "could affect the privacy of every community church in America."
Others question whether the halls of Congress are the appropriate setting for the debate.
"I do wonder why a Senate committee would be doing this when the IRS is perfectly capable of enforcing its own rules and does so frequently," said James Bopp, a nonprofit and tax lawyer who represents several large evangelical organizations but none of those under investigation.
Tom Minnery, a senior vice president at the evangelical media ministry Focus on the Family, said he was disappointed that Grassley thinks an investigation is necessary. Minnery called existing tax rules "vigorous."
In an interview Wednesday, Grassley said his committee has jurisdiction over nonprofits and oversight over the IRS. He said it's unclear whether the IRS is doing enough to police Christian nonprofits or whether existing guidelines go far enough questions that are part of the inquiry.
"We're going to let these ministries speak for themselves," he said. "Hopefully, it comes back everything's OK, but the allegations we've heard about raise questions."
Grassley also said the inquiry will not delve into doctrinal issues, and that he understands church-state separation concerns. At the same time, he said religious nonprofit groups should be expected to follow rules governing nonprofits just as secular groups are.
"I'm hoping these organizations clean up their own act if there's something wrong," Grassley said.
An IRS spokeswoman declined comment on the Grassley investigation, which could lead in several directions: public hearings, more ministries being drawn in, and potential penalties ranging from back taxes to loss of tax-exempt status.
The evangelical nonprofit world already polices itself through the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which requires members to annually submit audited financial statements and answer other transparency questions. But membership is voluntary, and none of the groups under investigation belong.
IRS audits and inquiries into nonprofits, meanwhile, are confidential. Even if a Christian ministry is punished, donors don't learn about it unless the organization under scrutiny makes it public.
"I see this as a kind of a tug of war of interests," said Rodney Pitzer, managing director of research with MinistryWatch.org, which grades Christian groups on financial accountability.
"On one side you have a ton of good ministries out there who want to be unshackled from red tape and government bureaucracy. In that midst unfortunately are wolves in sheeps' clothing."
[url=http://www.caller.com/news/2007/nov/08/megachurches-creating-false-profits/]CLICK HERE[/url] and [url=http://hosted.ap.org/dynamic/stories/T/TELEVANGELISTS_PROBE?SITE=AZTUC&SECTION=HOME&TEMPLATE=DEFAULT]HERE[/url] to view full articles.
| 2007/11/8 10:40||Profile|
IN HEAVENLY PLACES WITH JESUS
| Re: Senate committee investigating Benny Hinn and five others...|
Greetings in JEsus' Name by Whose Blood we are Saved bro Christ.AMEN.
i wonder what God is working out here? Perhaps exposing shadiness among those ministers we so well know and love?Where will it end?Lord thou knowest.
Grace and Peace are ours in JEsus.AMEN.
| 2007/11/8 10:50||Profile|
I come to think about that Carter Conlon message, that soon will these false prosperity gospels "crumble" i think was his word....
| 2007/11/8 11:37||Profile|
Bowmansville Penssylvania USA
I come to think about that Carter Conlon message, that [b]soon will these false prosperity gospels "crumble"[/b] i think was his word....
Hoping and praying that this is the case.
| 2007/11/8 12:11||Profile|
The real question here is not just what will the inquiry find out... but how will they deal with it? And how will this effect the legitimate church?
| 2007/11/8 12:24|
North Carolina, US
I agree a lot of these ministries will crumble but let us be mindful of how these investigations are taking place;
If fault is found with a few, I fear that the gov. will try to use legislation to blanket religious freedoms bit by bit.
| 2007/11/8 12:40||Profile|
Yea, thats exactly the point I was making. And ya know, I blame the church should that ever happen. The church at large in America has NOT stood for truth and spoken out against these snake-oil salesmen. At the risk of offending someone, the church has opted for a position of tolerance, and allowed these false prohets... these snakes... into the church when they should have been run off decades ago. And the average Christian in America can hardly find John 3:16 in their Bible's, not to mention knowing scripture enough not to be sucked in by these con-men.
And now... the church may pay the price for it. Let's hope that our Constitution is adhered to by the Senate... but the way things are in America, I doubt it.
| 2007/11/8 13:13|
| Re: Joyce Meyer Ministries response to Senate inquiry letter|
Joyce Meyer Ministries, Inc. ("JMM") has received an inquiry letter regarding the ministry's financial integrity from the Republican staff of the Senate Finance Committee.
JMM continues in its desire to be transparent, and has posted its 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2006 audited financial reports on the ministry website. Also available for viewing are the 2004, 2005 and 2006 annual reports.
Following a recent Internal Revenue Service tax inquiry, during which the IRS requested extensive financial information for the years 2004 to 2006, the IRS found that JMM continues to qualify for tax exemption. The October 10, 2007 letter from the IRS to JMM stated:
"Thank you for providing information about your organization's activities during the period January 1, 2004 through December 31, 2006, in response to our recent church tax inquiry concerning your continuing exempt status under section 501(c)(3) and non-private foundation classification under 509(a)(1) and 170(b)(1)(A)(i) of the Internal Revenue Code.
We used the information you provided to determine whether you meet the requirements for exemption from Federal income tax. We determined that you [Joyce Meyer Ministries] continue to qualify as an organization exempt from Federal income tax under IRC section 501(c)(3)."
JMM is committed to conducting itself with excellence and integrity, choosing to go above and beyond the level of accountability required by law and/or that expected by most donors. Since 1995, JMM has voluntarily undergone an independent annual financial audit.
JMM has been committed to helping hurting people for more than 20 years, and is proud to point out that in 2006, 82% of its total expenses were used for outreach and program services directed toward reaching people with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, as attested by independent accounting firm Stanfield & O'Dell, LLP.
JMM provided more than 11 million meals in 2006, and built nearly 200 freshwater wells and churches in underdeveloped countries. The ministry fully funds and operates more than 50 orphanages around the world, and presents the Gospel to a potential audience of 3 billion people every day via its television program.
JMM is honored to be a small part of spreading God's love and His Word to millions of people around the world. The ministry strives to conduct all activities with excellence and integrity, just as it has for more than 20 years.
Thomas J. Winters
Attorney at Law
Note: this is not a promotion of JMM, just thought it was interesting that they took the time to posts a statement for their financial supporters.(I am not one)
| 2007/11/13 11:51||Profile|
| Benny Hinn response|
Senator's Inquiry of Ministries
Benny Hinn Ministries has been identified as one of six ministries that are the subject of an inquiry conducted by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who is the ranking member of the U.S. Senate Finance Committee. He has identified six ministries that are organized as churches for the apparent purpose of searching for what he perceives to be improper financial practices among these churches. As it pertains to Benny Hinn Ministries, his questions are based on biased and prejudicial information that has been fabricated, distorted, and obtained from suspicious sources.
Although the Church is in the process of determining its most effective course of action, we question whether or not this is an appropriate use of the resources of the U.S. Senate and are examining the issue of what protections are available to churches (as recognized by the IRS and the U.S. Constitution) from an apparent form of increasing government-sanctioned prejudice against churches. Benny Hinn Ministries complies with the letter and the spirit of the law of all government agencies who superintend church organizations. The Church files all required IRS documentation and is voluntarily audited by an independent auditing firm each year, and it will continue to do so without fail.
Benny Hinn Ministries Board of Directors has instructed the various members of our legal counsel to explore the constitutional issue of church and state relations as it pertains to this matter, and we are extremely confident that we will emerge with a strategy that will protect our beloved Pastor Benny, the staff of faithful people who serve in this ministry, as well as every other church organization in America.
We seek your prayers for Pastor Benny, his family, and his Board of Directors as they prayerfully navigate these challenging circumstances.
Note: again, just for informational purposes, no promotion or support.
| 2007/11/13 11:59||Profile|