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Government review of televangelists' finances released
January 7th, 2011
01:02 PM ET

Government review of televangelists' finances released

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

The result of a Senate committee's long-awaited review of media-based ministries has finally been released.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, began the investigation into six televangelists in November 2007, when he was head of the Senate Committee on Finance. His office released the review Thursday.

At issue was compensation for the pastors and ministry leaders who openly led lavish lifestyles while their ministries received tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

The review by the committee did not impose new rules on the religious organizations or suggest they be stripped of their tax-exempt status. But it did bring to light compensation practices that may raise eyebrows in the non-profit community and lead to a discussion of new tax policies for religious organizations.

"The staff review sets the stage for a comprehensive discussion among churches and religious organizations," Grassley said in a prepared statement. "I look forward to helping facilitate this dialogue and fostering an environment for self-reform within the community."

Of the six organizations targeted by Grassley's review, only Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church participated fully. The review states both groups were working to reform their ministries' financial practices.

Committee staff members Theresa Pattara and Sean Barnett wrote in the staff review, "The reforms undertaken by Pastor Hinn and Joyce Meyer are extensive and are to be commended." Joyce Meyer Ministries, based in St. Louis, went so far as to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.

The other ministries in the review did not participate fully or at all, the senator's office said.

The review and correspondence released by Grassley's office shows Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries submitted incomplete responses to the senator's questions.

Atlanta-based Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries did not participate at all, declining the senator's requests, according to released correspondence between Grassley and Dollar's attorneys.

Long responded in a statement Thursday night, "I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing. Our ministry at New Birth has always and will continue to operate with accountability and integrity. I am thankful to God that the public now knows the truth."

Where churches would not participate, the review says, the investigators declined to issue subpoenas, instead relying on public records, court testimony, and even confidential informants.

According to the review, many of the ministries operate multiple non-profits, with the leaders drawing some form of compensation from each of them.

"The number and types of entities, including private airports and aircraft leasing companies, raises concerns about the use of the church's tax-exempt status to avoid taxation. However, given the four churches' refusal to provide tax information, we are unable to determine whether and the extent to which they are reporting and paying taxes on income earned in those entities," the review states.

The review praised the broader religious community in the United States and noted there are a few bad apples that may lead to a discussion of a new tax law for religious entities.

"While the majority of churches and religious organizations operate with policies and procedures that make them accountable to their members, it is the small minority that don't that are subject to scrutiny by the members and the public, including the press. These outliers present tax policy issues for consideration," the review said.

Churches have long had a strange dance with the IRS. The government has to balance the constitutional rights of the churches under the Establishment Clause and the groups' rights to free speech. The review notes tax laws relating to churches have not been updated in decades. Because the ministries are incorporated as houses of worship, they are exempt from filing the financial disclosures the federal government requires of other non-profits.

"The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective," Grassley said.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church • Church and state • Politics • United States

soundoff (339 Responses)
  1. payback

    ....A religious-FOOL, and his money.....Is soon-parted.......................

    January 7, 2011 at 2:24 pm |
  2. Ramesh Shrestha

    Tax churches. That's all.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
  3. Olaf Big

    Ok, folks. You did not know that priests of any stripe don't live exactly like apostle Paul? I just feel it is sad that naive believers meekly foot the bill for the lavish lifestyles of cynical hypocrites in the church hierarchy.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
  4. Descarado

    Would CNN finally go bankrupt without its daily Palin headline to feed its illiterate school of bream. CNN's business model of catering to blacks, gays, Muslims and 24/7 Palin haters will be pretty slim pickings after Sarah leaves the stage.

    January 7, 2011 at 2:08 pm |
    • johnnyleen

      What does your post have to do with the topic at hand?

      January 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  5. Dave3000

    Right... Like any Republican is going to after the Bible-Thumpers... Frauds supporting frauds

    January 7, 2011 at 1:59 pm |
  6. james miller, seymour,TX

    God will weed out those who are in it for the $$$$$$

    January 7, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
    • Scot

      I do not want to wait for God I will not be around that long !

      January 7, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
    • Jake

      Scot – nobody will be around that long, because God doesn't exist.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • saganhill

      Since you have no proof there is a god, how do you come to this conclusion? Do you throw bones on the ground and sacrifice chickens?

      January 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
  7. madmatt

    Tax each religious organization 20% of allmoney that comes in....stop letting the freeloading christ righteous/jews/muslims and their thieving pastors from getting a free ride.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:54 pm |
    • Solano

      If we read in the Bible it talks about paying OUR taxes clearly as we see In Matthew 17:24-27 we learn that Jesus did indeed pay taxes: After Jesus and his disciples arrived in Capernaum, the collectors of the two-drachma tax came to Peter and asked, "Doesn't your teacher pay the temple tax?" "Yes, he does," he replied. When Peter came into the house, Jesus was the first to speak. "What do you think, Simon?" he asked. "From whom do the kings of the earth collect duty and taxes—from their own sons or from others?" "From others," Peter answered. "Then the sons are exempt," Jesus said to him. "But so that we may not offend them, go to the lake and throw out your line. Take the first fish you catch; open its mouth and you will find a four-drachma coin. Take it and give it to them for my tax and yours." Also Paul confirmed it in Romans 13:5-7:
      Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honor, then honor. (NIV)... should Pastors have a privilege? Let the Government decide, but let us put a limit to it. Also read the Levi's (priests) of the Old Testament. I hope this helps!!!

      January 7, 2011 at 4:05 pm |
  8. Not so much

    Religious organizations routinely violate the agreement they made in order to be tax exempt. They do so with impunity knowing that all they have to do is howl that their religion is under attack from the government and the pols will back off. Apparrently, Jesus wants us all to vote for Republicans.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
  9. LadyFromIowa

    Good for Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn! These people have a sincere mission, and make a difference, which does not go unnoticed! Regarding those that did not fully participate, perhaps they need to reacquaint themselves with Ephesians 5:1-7.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:52 pm |
    • Mike Miller

      Hi Lady. Have you checked out Joyce Meyers? From what I have found, only 10% of the millions garnered each week go to helping the community while they (the leaders, aka family) all live in magnificent homes and have no money worries like many of their contributores.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:31 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Lady From Iowa: I am minclined to agree with you. At least they stepped up and gave all the information that was requested of them. What shady organizations the others must have!

      January 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • saganhill

      Hey Lady from Iowa, you are so brainwashed. These evangelicals are in business to make money. They dont give a crap about you or your cats.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Joe

      Benny Hinn is a what? He should have a circus tent on TV when he lays hands on the homeless people he pays money to to fake ilnesses... and suddenly like Eddie Murphy in the movie Trading Places,,, I can See,,,,, I can hear,,,,, wow!

      January 7, 2011 at 3:03 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      Sure... let's take a few minutes to review Pastor Hinn's "contributions" to society.
      So pull up a chair, sit a spell. Let me tell ya' why he's goin' to hell...

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LvCTC4KU6SQ&w=640&h=360]

      January 7, 2011 at 6:42 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      From a 2009 Dateline NBC expose.

      [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxqFE_hmcE&w=640&h=360]

      January 7, 2011 at 6:45 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      @Let Us Prey

      Thanks for the link – I tried to watch the whole thing but tears of laughter got in my eyes! That's some powerful coat he's got, but it's not one-tenth as pretty as what pope-a-dope wears.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
  10. Andy

    Benny Hinn probably baffled them with so much bs it'll take years to figure out how much he bilked from the system.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • pete

      He is no servent of the Lord. He spreads lies and deceit.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:03 pm |
    • Jake

      Pete – that can be said – truthfully – about all of them....

      January 7, 2011 at 2:48 pm |
    • Todd

      All televangalists, to a fault spread lies and deceit for the sole purpose of getting rich. They care little for the harm they cause with their rhetoric, or the harm they cause with their financial scams.

      They are about as godly as sports figures.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:35 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Jake,

      ALL of them? Can you get any more WRONGER (new word) than that? NOT all of them but enough to keep you talking about them!! If your focus is ONLY on the knuckleheads and you will surely miss those who are really about God's work!

      January 7, 2011 at 5:15 pm |
    • Nichole

      How r u gonna judge people of God? U cannot judge all evangelists the same because the fake ones will always fall which means they are not of God!!! Unless u have never committed a sin u really have no room to be judging God's people and should worry about urself... Because whether u believe it or not u will face judgment before God!!!!! Try reading the Bible before u start talking about anyone......thank you!!!

      January 23, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  11. M

    All these church leaders should be living middle class lifestyles at most. None of them should be wealthy since they are do'in the lord's work. Tax exemption should ONLY be placed on specific monies intended for charity that the churches sponsor. Everything else should be taxed like a normal business and personal income.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:51 pm |
    • Seraphim0

      So much for vows of poverty.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:22 pm |
    • Solano

      it should be a limit of income for the ministers, also for the items they right off, I will say and agree with you M the should have a 'middle class income" no more than ? amount ... I believe they are here to help people and preach the Gospel NOT to make money. AMEN!

      January 7, 2011 at 3:16 pm |
  12. JAVA

    Government review of televangelists' finances released? WOW three years of investigation and this is all the information they came up with? I could gather that much info in two weeks. How much did this cost the Government?

    January 7, 2011 at 1:50 pm |
    • taylor

      Exactly. This report says nothing. Not only do these crooks live like royalty without paying any taxes, but our foolish politicians spent millions of our tax dollars on an imcomplete study. Washtington at it's finest.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:54 pm |
    • Ed

      The report was run by a Republican, probably receiving huge donations from the religious right. What do you expect?

      January 7, 2011 at 2:58 pm |
    • duB

      More like what it cost in your tax dollars.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:07 pm |
  13. pflatman

    Does this fine country have any interest in plugging the debt leak a little bit? Tax churches, especially the criminal televangelists.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Could we please include the Jews and Catholics in that? Why should they get a pass? Don't they spout political rhetoric with the best of 'em?

      January 7, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • Denizen Kate

      Oh, and Islam too, please. As long as I have to pay income taxes, they should too. Misery loves company.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
  14. John

    They should come under some kind of consideration for taxation. If they have the right to influence their flock on how to vote and send contrbutions to their causes like, abortion protest, (and I wouldn't be surprised if they fund some of the terror acts at abortion clinics), massive political contributions to the pandering right wing politicians and activists. I speak with knowledge of this, I just left a born-again church a few months ago. The things I saw and heard would make the average american shake in fear!

    January 7, 2011 at 1:39 pm |
    • Scot

      Right on. How do you think that GW got elected. Every red state has a church population and the church leaders are preaching the republican mantra in their worship centers.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:42 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      Scot,

      Let's be fair. Let's deal with the dems and how often you see them politicking in black churches! The DEMS do it too! How do YOU think Obama got elected? It wasn't just unions! Think about that!

      January 7, 2011 at 5:11 pm |
    • mauiflis

      I sure hope you're including Mormons, Scientologists, Atheist organizations, Hindus, Muslims, Jewish Synagogues, Billy Graham's life-saving missions work, all of the ministries that are doing the vast majority of feeding, clothing, doctoring the poor of the world, in your witch hunt. You clearly don't understand this issue. Freedom is freedom. No one has to contribute to any of these organizations. NO WRONGDOING was found (did you READ the article?). Your thinking is the uninformed enemy of the freedoms our founding fathers worked so hard to ensure for us all. This was an attack on Christianity and nothing else. And YOU paid for it. Shame on Mr. Grassly. He used his taxpayer-paid incredibly high salary to go on a useless and failed witch hunt. What a twist on the Founders' intentions.

      January 9, 2011 at 3:29 pm |
  15. heart

    Time for the churches to start paying taxes....no more special rights

    January 7, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
    • Matt

      The United Way, Salvation Army, Volunteer Fire Depts. and Goodwill should also be hit with a large corporate tax using that argument. I have no doubt that these pastors are crooks but it is difficult to make exceptions for some non profits and not for others.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:40 pm |
    • Ed

      The difference is, all of those other non profits you mentioned have to file detailed expense reports in order to keep their non profit status. Religious organizations do not. There is where the problem lies.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • John

      Yep. Tax them right out of business. Taxing property used for religious purpose's should occur immediately with the goal of taxing the income they make too if it has not being used to help those in need and in a significant way.
      It's always amazed me that when you look about the banks and the churches have the nicest business sites.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:01 pm |
  16. Joker

    Turn on your TV on Sunday and you will see God Inc. operating on a number of channels.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:36 pm |
  17. Yoi2hot4ya

    Jesus was a carpenter and preached for free

    January 7, 2011 at 1:33 pm |
    • saganhill

      Says the story in a book full of made up stories.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • Todd

      He also knew how to fish. What limo would Jesus ride in?

      January 7, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
    • t

      So true!!

      January 7, 2011 at 3:53 pm |
    • Liz

      Did you forget that even Jesus had a treasurer? ...his name is Judas. Look it up.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Frogist

      @Yoi2hot4ya: It seems as if these folks have forgotten that. And instead the trend these days is not towards a humble life and att!tude, but a wealthy, showy one by many religious proponents.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Steve the real one

      True, Yoi2hot4ya, true BUT somehow Jesus had a treasurer (Judas, the betrayer). Poor folk DO NOT require a treasurer. Look it up! It is clearly in the bible!

      January 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
  18. David Johnson

    Here is a fine televangelist for you!

    [youtube=https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xPBKOqsGBfg&w=640&h=360]

    January 7, 2011 at 1:32 pm |
    • Robert

      Thanks for the citation. It pretty much sums up the whole issue. I recommend watching the clip.

      January 8, 2011 at 12:18 pm |
  19. David Johnson

    Evangelicals make me want to puke.

    January 7, 2011 at 1:23 pm |
    • Mike, not me

      I will agree with you on that point... I didn't see in the article what exactly the investigation found?

      January 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm |
    • mauiflis

      To Mike, comment below David's: you don't know what they found? Then you didn't read the article and are responding mindlessly. Here's the answer: "Long responded in a statement Thursday night, 'I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing."
      These people pay taxes on their incomes – the bigger the income, the more the Fed and State take from them in taxes, same as with Muslim clerics, Scientology leaders, Mormon presidents, etc. The rest goes to the causes of ministry. People have free choice in whether to participate & donate, or not. That what our "freedom from govt intrusion into religion" is all about. We are free to believe and follow whatever religion we want to, including aetheism, the religious belief that there is no God.
      The BIG QUESTION is "why no investigation of NON-Christian religious organizations?" HUH? This was a focused attack on CHRISTIANS and nothing more. And it came up with NO wrongdoing. Grassley should be ashamed of himself. And guess who paid for this farce? YOU DID!

      January 9, 2011 at 3:21 pm |
    • mauiflis

      Mike answers, below, he doesn't know what they found. You don't know what they found? Then you didn't read the article and are responding mindlessly. Here's the answer: "Long responded in a statement Thursday night, 'I am relieved that after more than three years of intense investigation and countless untrue allegations, that Senator Chuck Grassley's review has found no evidence of wrongdoing."
      These people pay taxes on their incomes – the bigger the income, the more the Fed and State take from them in taxes, same as with Muslim clerics, Scientology leaders, Mormon presidents, etc. The rest goes to the causes of whatever ministry it is. People have free choice in whether to participate & donate, or not. That's what our "freedom from govt intrusion into religion" is all about. We are free to believe and follow whatever religion we want to, including aetheism, the religious belief that there is no God (tho they're having an awful tough time proving it! sad...)
      The BIG QUESTION is "why no investigation of NON-Christian religious organizations?" HUH? This was a focused attack on CHRISTIANS and nothing more. And it came up with NO wrongdoing. Grassley should be ashamed of himself. And guess who paid for this farce? YOU DID!

      January 9, 2011 at 3:23 pm |
    • Mike, not me

      mauiflis, that was the point I was driving out but thanks for flushing it out.

      January 10, 2011 at 3:17 pm |
  20. HotAirAce

    You have to laugh at, or at least wonder about, a country that will subpoena baseball players to testify about drug use but not use the same power to investigate potentially corrupt churches. Yet another example of misplaced priorities and religion getting a free pass...

    January 7, 2011 at 1:19 pm |
    • JT

      Right on. Last I checked baseball players payed taxes. These jokers pay no taxes and are basically running a multimillion dollar buisiness. It is time to end tax exemption for religious groups except for their charity work.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:14 pm |
    • Joe from CT, not Lieberman

      JT – given the records of some of these major league players, I would say that the team owners are practicing charity based on how much they are being paid for a lack of performance!

      January 7, 2011 at 2:29 pm |
    • TexAnne

      You should see the flippin' lakeside palace that Kenneth Copeland lives in in Texas... and his private runways & private airplanes & his luxury cars. What a farce! People that follow this guy are being HAD.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:30 pm |
    • saganhill

      I agree 100% JT. I think we should tax religion. After all they use their churches as political clout during elections. If they do not pay taxes, keep organized religion out of politics.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:37 pm |
    • Scot

      It is about time that this is being addressed. There is a televanglist here in the Seattle area that I banked about 10 years ago that bragged about how he took his sociology degree to show that he could manipulate people into joining his "flock" because he could not make a living as a socioligist. He now is one of the richest man in the Seattle area and has a multimiliion dollar temple. These guys need to pay !!!!!!!! We do !

      January 7, 2011 at 2:39 pm |
    • Jack

      You're right on this one. If religions play politics they should pay to play. There should be a hearing before congress on the role, influence, and profits of religious groups in America. If churches are doing legitimate work, fine–but if the leaders of these groups are living the high-life–tax 'em. We need the tax revenue away. And this is not infringement on religion or against the practice of religion. Practice any which way you want but pay your share.

      January 7, 2011 at 2:45 pm |
    • Josh McAlister

      They do pay taxes on their individual income, but their organizations are not taxed. And churches can not endorse specific candidates or parties, but can only comment on positions. It is sad that evangelicals are simply known for what they are against as opposed to what they are doing. I'm praying that will change.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:05 pm |
    • NITA PIKE

      FALSE PROPHETS AND THEIR WORK
      GETTING AWAY WITH THEIR FALSE GOSPEL!!!

      January 7, 2011 at 3:18 pm |
    • Pat in IL

      The most obvious abusers are the Osteens. They should be investigated first.

      January 7, 2011 at 3:58 pm |
    • Steve

      You are so right pgp:

      "Immediately after the tribulation of those days shall the sun be darkened, and the moon shall not give her light, and the stars shall fall from heaven, and the powers of the heavens shall be shaken:
      And then shall appear the sign of the Son of man in heaven: and then shall all the tribes of the earth mourn, and they shall see the Son of man coming in the clouds of heaven with power and great glory."
      "Verily I say unto you, This generation shall not pass, till all these things be fulfilled."

      Oh wait, that was 2000 years ago. I guess he is not coming back after all. Let's move on and find another stupid religion. What about scientology?

      January 7, 2011 at 4:12 pm |
    • Nonimus

      pgp,

      Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have, and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me."

      January 7, 2011 at 4:23 pm |
    • Rick.

      PGP: Hideously ignorant of God? Perhaps you are hideously presumptuous in claiming that the bible is the word of God

      January 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
    • Dave

      I too think we need to tax religious organizations. We treat small business with contempt at least in my state, but then give these folks free reign to just rake in the money and live large? Tax em!

      January 7, 2011 at 5:17 pm |
    • C

      All of those named in this article are a bumch of gold digging charletons.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:21 pm |
    • Cedar Rapids

      'There is nothing in the Bible that says you have to live in a shack and rummage through garbage dumps to scavenge food, furniture and rags for your back. In America we are free to be whatever we want to be and live however we want. It is painfully obvious most respondents are hideously ignorant of God.'

      'Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'

      January 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
    • Andrew

      pgp, I'm an atheist, and even I'm not so ignorant on the "word of god".

      Matthew 19:21, Luke 18:22, Matthew 6:19-20, if you're a priest getting rich off people's faith in the bible, you are going pretty against what Jesus supposedly thought mattered in the world.

      Honestly, I'm suprised, just what kind of a messiah do you follow, one who has no problem with materialism or greed as long as it's pius, or one who wishes to help the unfortunate, even at their own expense? If priests are supposed to be promoting the teachings of jesus, they might want to set a better example. At least they wouldn't be hypocrites.

      And you call us ignorant.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:31 pm |
    • Andrew

      "Pious", caught that after I pressed post and it'd bug me if I didn't correct it.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:33 pm |
    • Frank

      I don't know what Bible pgb is reading, but it's not the same one that this Christian reads.

      January 7, 2011 at 10:55 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.