The ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee is looking into six television evangelists, including Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar and other “prosperity theology” adherents who preach that wealth is a sign of God’s favor.
Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa wants to know whether the ministers have avoided taxes on for-profit activities or used their ministries for personal benefit. Religious organizations are generally exempt from federal taxes, but they must pay taxes if they engage in for-profit businesses. Employees can’t use church property primarily for personal gain.
Mr. Grassley said his investigation was prompted by complaints from watchdog groups and others that the ministers live in multimillion-dollar homes, travel on private jets and engage in profit-making ventures from their ministries. He said the complaints raised suspicions, “but I would not make a final judgment until I get the story from the ministries.”
In letters to the six evangelists, the senator’s committee asks that they disclose their assets, spending practices, compensation plans and business arrangements. The letters aren’t formal subpoenas, and the six aren’t required to reply.
A spokeswoman for Sen. Max Baucus, the Montana Democrat who is chairman of the Finance Committee, said he has been kept abreast of Mr. Grassley’s inquiry. Committee investigations can be started by either the chairman or the ranking minority member.
Mass-media evangelists have received little scrutiny from the federal government since 1980s scandals involving the Rev. Jim Bakker and others. But on a local level, tax assessors have challenged some big churches and other nonprofits. In 2005, the Joyce Meyer Ministries began paying more than $2 million in back property taxes on its headquarters after the Jefferson County, Mo., assessor’s office alleged it wasn’t exclusively used for religious purposes. The ministry is one of those sent a letter by Mr. Grassley’s committee.
The others who were sent letters are Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Newark, Texas; Mr. Dollar and his wife, Taffi, of College Park, Ga.; Mr. Hinn, of Grapevine, Texas; Randy and Paula White, of Tampa, Fla.; and Eddie Long of Lithonia, Ga. Most of the ministers appear on television and lead large churches that attract several thousand people each weekend.
Ministers who espouse prosperity theology promote themselves as conduits for God’s blessings, saying that believers will reap benefits as long as they give generously to the ministries. Most evangelical ministers urge believers to donate, but don’t link donations to earthly wealth.
I’ve got to say that I hope these folks get penalized to the full extent of the law for any violations. It is hard to square this perversion of the Gospel with true Christianity, or with the essential loathing of corruption and greed most of us associate with historical Protestantism.
It is disturbing that so many who love Christ get fleeced by men living in such luxury. I know a number of folks who used to belong to PTL; they were deeply wounded by what Jim and Tammy Faye Baker did in the 80s.
Moreover, it is not enough to simply build a Ponzi scheme and bilk people out of money to support your own lavish lifestyle; to pervert the word of the Lord in the process is surely the height of blasphemy.
For those unaware, “prosperity gospel” essentially revolves around the notion that God wants us to be wealthy and returns faithfulness to these communities with material rewards. In some, like the Word of Faith movement, there is a vaguely shamanistic view of miracles; they hold that we can “speak blessings into existence” for example.
This is a particularly revolting development for Catholics, as Catholicism so emphasizes concern for the poor and charitable works. There are no greater opposites in my opinion than Kenneth Copeland and Blessed Mother Theresa.