Charity Cases

Remember a few years ago when broadcaster Pat Robertson couldn't stop making headlines? He had called for the assassination of Hugo Chavez, praised Liberian dictator Charles Taylor, proclaimed some bad theology about God's wrath, supported China's one-child policy, broke his promise about selling his racehorses, and used his ministry's planes for his own diamond-mining operation. Frankly, he didn't make a lot of good news.

Amid all of this, donations to Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) climbed dramatically, doubling from $84 million in 1997 to $166 million in 2006. When we asked Robertson's donors why they were still writing checks, many cited CBN's humanitarian efforts. Others said they found Robertson authentic: "He is real," said one. "He says what he thinks." Another said he gave just to stick it to the liberals. Several people said they gave to Robertson because he's a Christian, and they told us we had no business pointing out his problems.

We hear similar rebukes whenever we report bad news about Christian ministries' finances. Many donors aren't interested in accountability. Others just aren't that interested in oversight of religious nonprofits. But it's a good time to pay attention. The Senate Finance Committee is investigating six media ministries, asking them to justify tax exemptions for lavish gifts, purchases, and salaries.

Meanwhile, changes are afoot among the leaders of the two main internal accountability organizations. After a two-year tenure, Ken Behr has left the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. And as Rob Moll notes in this issue, MinistryWatch head Rusty Leonard is no longer solely focused on accountability on behalf of donors. He now has a money management firm for investors, ...

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Christianity Today
Charity Cases
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July 2008

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