Bilking the Brethren

It may be one of the biggest untold stories on the religion beat.
| 12/17/2004 9:00 a.m.

As Christianity Today online assistant editor Rob Moll was putting the final touches on this month's cover story ("The Fraudbuster"), word came of yet another church-based scam.

Rejoice Ministries, a tiny church in Willmar, Minnesota, lost its pastor. He just disappeared—with $3,344 of the church's money.

"James Poole" had recently accepted the job, then asked for a salary advance to help with rent, a down payment, a new bathtub, and other expenses. He got the money, preached one Sunday, then skipped town.

The story gets even worse, but we'll save that for another day. The point is, every few days, Moll reads a story like this. "It's a heartbreaker," he says. "People who have their money stolen generally can't afford to have their money stolen."

It's not always the little old lady in the pew. In 2003, major charismatic evangelists Benny Hinn, Marilyn Hickey, and Reinhard Bonnke were taken in by a Ponzi scheme called IPIC International. Greg Setser has been charged with defrauding them and other Christians of more than $160 million.

Even Christianity Today has been suckered by such groups. That's how Moll first became acquainted with Barry Minkow and his unique ministry with the Fraud Discovery Institute. Moll interviewed Minkow while reporting how a gold coin reseller who had advertised in our magazine and other Christian publications scammed investors out of $5 million (see "Fools' Gold," July 2004). "How come you're not doing more on this?" Minkow asked. "This is a major problem."

It may be one of the biggest untold stories on the religion beat. Minkow says he has personally uncovered more than $1 billion in church-based scams and other fraud targeting Christians. In a year. His research has convinced ...

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