A United States Senate committee is demanding a detailed look into the alleged lavish lifestyles of six prosperity gospel ministries, stirring both kudos and cries of concern from religious and First Amendment experts.
"If your house is in order, you have nothing to fear and much to gain from this process," megapastor Joel Hunter told Christianity Today. Hunter is senior pastor of the 12,000-member Northland, A Church Distributed, outside Orlando, Florida.
Some, however, worry that the Senate could be setting bad precedent.
"James Madison would be telling us, 'Take Alarm! Take Alarm!''' Richard John Neuhaus, editor of the journal First Things, told CT. "This is cause for alarm that a Senate committee would presume to directly exercise financial oversight of religious ministries."
Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley, head of the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters yesterday to six ministriesthose led by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula Whitedemanding detailed accounts of spending practices. None of the ministries must file the IRS financial disclosure Form 990 because they are designated as churches.
"Recent television reports and news articles regarding the possible misuse of donations made to religious organizations have caused some concern for the Finance Committee," Grassley wrote yesterday to the ministries.
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, for example, must provide "a detailed explanation of personal use of assets" of their tax-exempt organizations, including land ownership, "jets, employees, facilities," all monthly expenses used to "purchase, furnish, and maintain all residences," expense accounts, all car expenses, cash payments, "domestic and overseas bank accounts," ...