Lifestyles of the Rich and Religious
The Senate investigates "possible misuse of donations" by television preachers.

I come from a diverse family where few are Christians and even fewer venture into the curious sub-culture of evangelicalism. For this reason a number of my relatives have an impression of Christianity based largely upon what they see while surfing the television - an impression that I do not fit and work hard to deconstruct. Televangelists are loud and energetic; I'm rarely the life of the party. Televangelists have big hair; I have no hair. Televangelists fly around in private jets; I ride a bike to work to save on gas.

My work to deconstruct the image of gold-gilded Christianity appears to be getting some help from the United States Senate. Senator Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating possible financial shenanigans on the part of six widely known TV preachers. From Ted Olsen's article at ChristianityToday.com:

"Recent articles and news reports regarding possible misuse of donations made to religious organizations have caused some concern for the Finance Committee," Grassley wrote to the ministries in letters asking for detailed financial records.
None of the ministries targeted - those led by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula White - are required to file the financial disclosure Form 990 with the IRS because they are designated as churches.
The ministries have until December 6 to submit audited financial statements, compensation reports, records for ministry jet travel, and other documents.

Read Ted Olsen's full article here.

The Tampa Tribune has also published the letters sent by Sen. Grassley to each of the ministries concerning his investigation.

If your perspective and temperament is anything like mine, when you first heard about the Senate investigation you may have thought, It's about time! After all, the ministries listed are not exactly the Salvation Army. Most are identified as "prosperity preachers" who flamboyantly practice what they preach. Sen. Grassley cited $10 million private jets and $23,000 toilets as part of his investigation.

If there has been a violation of the law, and not merely stewardship, then we should not mourn to see these ministries held accountable. But there's another benefit to the truth being brought into the light. How many struggling people are suckered into sacrificially giving to these ministries in the hope of receiving God's blessing? How many people are led astray? And how many non-Christians are given a false impression of Christ, the Bible, and his Church?

November 09, 2007

Displaying 1–10 of 28 comments

Robert

December 09, 2007  1:17am

Some of these guys, if not all, may be lovers of money and be taking advantage of the poor. But as long as their message is Biblical and sincere, and their financial dealings are all legal and transparent then I got no beef with them. While I can agree wih the guy who says, "sell the jet and support 1,000 Indian Pastor's for 10 years . . ." I will also be the first to say that if you are being invited to teach all over the world, year after year . . . buy a jet. You and I have 2 cars per family while many African Pastors cannot afford even a bicycle. I don't know, guess I am not ready to burn these guys down just yet, and I sure dig Joyce's teaching sometimes :0)

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Bob Hunter

November 17, 2007  4:41pm

Before Chuck Grassely opened the investigation, I actually wrote about this in my blog found at www.plungefaith.blogspot.com Honestly, I think what is happening among these rich evangelical elites is representative of a deeper problem in Christendom. We are more materialistic than we care to admit. We have allowed the world to squeeze us into it's mold. God have mercy

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Mordecai

November 16, 2007  1:21pm

Jim Cross wrote: "Your paranoia is not as unfounded as you may think. Gregg referred to nonprofit status as "a privilege provided by the federal government". Not quite. It is a constitutional right. One that we may end up fighting to keep before long." The First Amendment states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof . . ." Jim, are you arguing that the First Amendment guarantees the right of churches to be run as non-profit organizations?? Are you equating the amendment's term "free" with non-profit?? I'm sorry, Jim, but I think that is an unspannable chasm. As Gregg mentions, non-profit status is a privelege not a right. I agree with others on this blog that church finances should be transparent, because suspicion hurts us all . . . in the eyes of believers and non-believers.

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Andrea Useem

November 16, 2007  11:11am

You might be interested in D. Michael Lindsay's criticism that evangelical executives are too silent on the issue of CEO pay: http://www.religionwriter.com/evangelicals/evangelical-executives-qa-with-d-michael-lindsay/

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Steve Oroszi

November 15, 2007  7:46pm

George Morris wrote... "Lets be smart about this, no matter if you agree or disagree with theology, doctrine or what there favirate color is....." As far as I'm concerned, I'd rather be biblically correct than "smart" anytime. When we as Christians begin to thinks it's more important to be pragmatic in our decisions within the body of Christ than being faithful to what the Holy Scriptures say is correct teaching & what we should believe and do out of the love that our Lord has poured into our hearts, then what Jesus said will happen to those poor souls who lead others into the ditch is surely not far away.

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Andrew

November 13, 2007  2:51pm

While I agree with the first half of your blog, I have a serious problem with your concluding paragraphs. These televangelists are a scourge on our faith. They deserve to be held legally accountable for their actions, whether that "indicts" our whole faith or not. It is like saying we should not charge a president or member of congress for a crime because it would "indict" us in the eyes of the rest of the world. I don't care what people think of our faith as a whole. Any logical person will understand that there are so many of us, no one person can speak for the whole group. Thank you for your article. I agree that "we should not mourn to see these ministries held accountable."

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John Carothers

November 13, 2007  8:03am

Sometimes the seeds we plant grow up to haunt us. Churches and ministries merit non-profit status, but the freedom from financial transparency we secured for ourselves legislatively was maybe not so good. If we insist on freedom from financial transparency that other non-profits are subject to then perhaps we need to be more rigorous in requiring it of ourselves.

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George Morris

November 12, 2007  11:49pm

First of all I think we all that want to throw our opinion out there need to have a few more facts before we put any of these religious leaders in the gallows. Lets be smart about this, no matter if you agree or disagree with theology, doctrine or what there favirate color is doesnt change the fact that if these guys start getting heat from the gvornment than you can count on every church in America to get the heat also. You may say that you are in good standing and have nothing to wory about but I would rather not have to deal with the government breathing down my neck more than I have to. The only ones that will get hurt from this investigation are the churches like mine that are trying to get our legs underneath us and are walking out our calling to bring people to Christ and have a passion to see lives transformed. So please, just because you see things differently than someone else, dont blow it for all of us.

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John

November 12, 2007  11:49am

While we may not look forward to it, engaging these difficult issues grants us an opportunity to point people to Jesus through our own stories of faith and repentance.

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Dana

November 12, 2007  9:44am

i'm not opposed to these ministries being investigated per se, but i'd like to know what others think about this state interference in the church, since the government is notoriously, paranoidally (is that a word? i doubt it) vigilant about the separation of church and state. this, not our image as believers (which, someone noted, has suffered before yet here we still stand), is what concerns me the most.

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