Televangelists Face Intense Federal Probe|
By Michael F. Haverluck
November 8, 2007
CBNNews.com - Not since
the sex and finance scandals of the '80s have so many televangelists come under
The ministries of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Joyce Meyer,
Eddie Long, as well as Randy and Paula White are currently
under investigation by the Senate Finance Committee for lavish expenses and
questionable management of donations.
Watch the video for Creflo Dollar's reaction to
A top Republican senator announced his launch of a federal probe into
some of America's most renown Christian televangelistic
organizations on Tuesday.
"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow
generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and
Rolls Royces," said Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, who is leading the United
States Senate Committee on Finance's investigation into the "possible
misuse of donations."
Held to the Same Standards
Kenneth Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial
Accountability, told CBNNews.com that "None of the six ministries are
members of the ECFA, and if they were, we would have looked into those types of
The Christian organization monitors the monetary practices of
many ministries, asking them whether tax exempt donations are supposed
to finance lavish lifestyles. It also inquires about the independence
of their governing boards.
Behr noted that legitimate concerns have been raised by the government about
the spending of religious organizations claiming to be non-profit.
What's in Store?
Behr brought up some of the possible legal ramifications that could result
from the investigations.
He recalled that nonprofit organizations, including the Red Cross, were
under investigation a couple years ago and "were given a slap on the hands and
kept their tax-exempt status."
Behr said that honest responses from the ministries will allow them to stay
"To the far extreme, tax penalties could be imposed upon the ministries,"
Behr said. "It's not likely, but if the investigation shows that unrelated
business incomes or excess benefits transactions took place within the
organizations, they could lose their tax-exempt status. In this case, they would
be guilty of 'private inurement,' which means that they were working for the
gain of private individuals, not for the community good as non-profits
On Dec. 6, the six ministries must give an account of their expenditures to
the Senate Finance Committee.
Taking a Closer Look
What exactly are the investigations looking to uncover?
Here's what Grassley's inquiry letters want the ministries to divulge:
- Benny Hinn's World Healing Center Church, Inc. and Benny Hinn
Ministries will be required to give account for a home in Dana Point,
Calif., a private jet and "layover trips" made during ministry business
- Kenneth and Gloria Copeland's Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas must
explain church assets transferred to a for-profit company, Gloria Copelands's $1
million loan to that company, and Kenneth Copeland's $2 million gift marking the
40th anniversary of his ministry.
- Creflo and Taffi Dollar's World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar
Ministries are being questioned about private planes, board makeup,
donations and compensation, as well as "love offerings" to visiting
- Randy and Paula White's Without
Walls International Church and Paula White
Ministries will provide more information about the purchase of homes
in Malibu, Calif., New York and San Antonio, Texas, along with credit card
charges made for cosmetic surgery and clothing. Also under inquiry is the
reported purchase of a convertible Bentley given as a gift to fellow
televangelist T.D. Jakes.
- Joyce and David Meyer's Joyce Meyer Ministries will answer to questions about
money and jewelry contributions, as well as the management of funds accumulated
during overseas crusades. A $23,000 "commode with marble top" and a $30,000
conference table will also be brought into question, along with other
expenditures at their ministry headquarters.
- Eddie Long's New
Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries will provide more
information about Long's salary and a $1.4 million real estate transaction.
Questions were also raised about whether he or the board holds exclusive
authority over the organization.
Here are some responses from the ministries:
- A spokeswoman for Copeland said that his ministry follows all laws and best
practices governing churches and religious groups and "will continue to do
- Dollar said his ministry is an "open book" and will fully cooperate. He
also asked if the probe could "affect the privacy of every community church in
- Paula White said "We take our financial responsibilities to our partners
very seriously and to the best of our knowledge, we comply with all tax laws.
Our audited financial statements appear on our Web site. However, we are
concerned about the possible precedent and ramifications of this request. We
will be reviewing the request and its implications in detail over the coming
weeks as we prepare our response."
- Meyer's ministry issued the following statement Wednesday: "JMM is
committed to conducting itself with excellence and integrity, choosing to go
above and beyond the level of accountability required by law and/or that
expected by most donors. Since 1995, JMM has voluntarily undergone an
independent annual financial audit." An attorney for Meyer's ministry also
issued a statement saying the organization was given tax-exempt status by the
IRS in October.
- Long stated that he plans to fully comply and that "Birth Ministries has
several safeguards put in place to ensure all transactions are in compliance
with laws applicable to churches."
Foundation and MinistryWatch are two Christian organizations that
worked to bring about the current investigation.
On its Web site, Trinity is described as "the leading 'watchdog' of religious
media, conducting investigations and providing information used to expose fraud
and abuses committed in the name of God."
Ole Anthony, the head of Trinity, says he has been working with the media for
20 years to expose televangelists, but he was unhappy with the lack of progress
in reforms and decided to turn to Grassley's Senate Finance Committee.
"We've been working with them for two years," said Anthony. "We have
furnished them with enough information to fill a small Volkswagen. What we hope
is that this will lead to reform in religious non-profits."
The other whistleblower, MinistryWatch, says on its Web site that it is
dedicated to "stimulate the adoption of best practices and encourage progress
and innovation within the world of Christian ministries as donors become
interested in the efficiency and effectiveness of an organization."
Rod Pitzer, who directs research for MinistryWatch says that Christian
organizations irresponsibly handling their funds "give a black eye to churches
and Christians who are trying to do things in the right manner."
Sources: CBN News, The Associated Press, CBS News, Forbes, Trinity
Original article: CBN
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