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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. kennny

    I WORK AT OUR CHURCH AS CUSTODIAN. I'VE BEEN CALLED ALL KINDS OF THINGS. I'VE HEARD THINGS FROM OUR LEADERS AND SEEN THINGS THAT I'VE CRIED ABOUT. I'VE CRIED BECAUSE SOMEONE NEEDS TO BE ASHAMED FOR WHAT THEY DO ,IF THEY SHOW NO FEELINGS OR REMORSE OF WHAT THEY SAY AND DO ,SOMEONE HAS TO. SO MANY PEOPLE HAS ASKED ME THINGS AND I CAN'T SAY ANYTHING BECAUSE I NEED THE WORK. JUST LIKE SO MANY PEOPLE OUT THERE, WE SEE THINGS BUT WE CAN'T SAY ANYTHING. I DO KNOW THIS. WE HAVE TO PRAY AND LOVE ALL PEOPLE.EVEN THE ONES THAT HATES US THE MOST. IF WE DO THAT, WE WILL WIN.

    January 7, 2011 at 8:37 pm |
  2. camperman1

    All Tele-evangelists should be reviewed by the IRS to ensure the parishiners' funds are being directed to the correct charity, and not to their own coffers. As a quote by someone recently: "I spent two years as a missionary for my church. At about the time I started this service, Jimmy Swaggart was exposed as an adulterer, Jim Bakker was sent to prison for over selling time shares at a religious resort he was trying to build, and Oral Robert was trying to shake down his followers by saying that God was going to "call him home" if they didn't send him enough money for a project on which he was working. (They didn't send in the required amount of money, but Oral is still with us.) Needless to say, I have a very low opinion of such people. There really do come across to me as being more interested in the glories of the world than they are with glorifying God and saving souls."

    Jesus was a humble preacher who has attracted over 2 billion people into his "flock". Let's all try to keep to His example.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:57 pm |
  3. marconi darwin

    nice cover up Grassley. Instead of investigating them, all you did was find the places you need to cover up, and threw opaque blankets over them.

    If there was a hell, you'd rot in it.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
  4. joe

    all you liberal democrats need to start your own country where you can all be gay and you can all tax each other and do yoga together. then this country will finally be a better place

    January 7, 2011 at 7:14 pm |
    • Kenneth

      schmuck

      January 7, 2011 at 7:26 pm |
    • Andrew

      A) What's so bad about being gay?
      B) What is so bad about yoga?

      How on earth would eliminating either make the country a "better place"? Better for who? Certainly not better for me, I've got a lot of gay friends who I'd really not like to see kicked out of the country.

      And about taxes... you know, I kinda like living in a country where there are safety nets for the most vulnerable of its citizens, and the government is responsible for ensuring national security, or providing free schooling to its citizens, or providing the possibility of health care to all of its citizens. I don't mind paying taxes for that... so in a country without any taxes, why would it be a better place? What nation can you point to with virtually no taxes that has a higher happiness rating for the general public and a strong vibrant economy than nations with taxes?

      You can claim it'd be a better place all you like, but I sincerely doubt you can support that much.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:39 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Whoa! Andrew!
      What are you doing being reasonable here? How dare you put forth the idea that a variety of different people makes the world a better place?
      Shame on you.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:44 pm |
    • RightSaidFred

      Here, here!

      Right on Andrew...

      A) What's so bad about being gay?
      B) What is so bad about yoga?'

      It's a free country If you can't abide gays or yoga (JOE) perhaps you need to find another country to spread your sick rhetoric. WAKE UP DUDE, IT'S THE 21ST CENTURY and unlike you, mankind is evolving.

      January 7, 2011 at 9:47 pm |
  5. Anglican

    Logic. I assure you, the last thing I will ever need in this universe is your pity. I am very happy. You are a sad soul hanging out on a "belief blog" taking shots on those of faith, something you swear should not exist. No, I pity you.

    January 7, 2011 at 7:07 pm |
  6. Crone

    I believe I am correct that Billy Graham was one of the few who always had public accounting of his television and travel ministery. He had his problems when he was helping Richard Nixon and overlooked what he did, but said he learned his lesson. I do not watch any televangelists these days as I do not trust them. I believe those who are on the up and up should encourage others to have their finances publicly accounted. I do not believe any church should encourage their members or TV/radio audience to vote for a certain person in politics or a certain political party. Their business is helping people and spreading the word of God. If they are doing their job, they would not have time to stick their noses into people's personal belief regarding how they vote or what political party they support.
    Besides, I believe you should support your local church and help your local people as much as you can and then help others who cannot help themselves. Not everything has to be done in a mega way.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:56 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Yes, Billy Graham is the standard that all should aspire to. He actually practices what he preaches and is truly a good man.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:29 pm |
  7. jt

    Simply put, Jesus ministry was not some broke down outfit of rag tags. They traveled, ate, lodged and gave to the poor. You cant be broke and help the poor. JESUS HAD A TREASURER, REMEMBER! You don't need a treasurer to keep a buck and some change to work with. Today's pastors pay taxes on their income and property, just like we do. Churches are exempt from taxes on church related property and items only.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:31 pm |
  8. Kenneth

    Let's try this again.
    Man, I step out to turn the steaks and it gets double rowdy.
    Logic- you asked if my religion of choice had a worthy way out. Sadly, we choose not to get out of helping the homeless or sheltering battered women. I know, we are so terrible. And our protests against anti-gay practices, blast us!
    And I would challenge you to point to any place I even insinuated I feel victimized by atheists. If you read all of my posts, you will see I have no problem with atheists, only militant ones. Just like I have problems with militant evangelicals.
    SA- You obviously didn't read or understand my posts, so I am done with you. You neither impress me nor move me with your "witticisms".

    January 7, 2011 at 6:27 pm |
    • Logic

      Well Kenneth I'm not asking that you stop in helping the poor. It is one of those common sense most humanly ideals that are in mankind. Those with a heart.

      Religion likes to think that it owns. Like they are the superior force driving the mandate. If you love stating the facts I'm sure you have your statistics you would like to throw around. Saying "here we are the major helpers in this world. Please recognize us." Well I really won't recognize you. I will recognize the effort. That is the human-ness of the effort.

      It isn't what being in charity is about. But once in a while it's good to receive recognition.

      This issue isn't about those efforts. This issue is about the greediness of those who have crossed the line.
      You want to fight in an argument about you being a victim. Sure, I'll strip it from you. You and your religion are not victims.

      The victims are in the majority that have been swindled by those in your minority of religious profiteers. I'm was asking for your take in how should you propose to solve and equalize the absurdity of their actions. Surely you have your own answers. I would like to hear it. I'm sure others have figured out too that this is about the tax law. What possibly are you complaining about?

      January 7, 2011 at 6:52 pm |
    • Let Us Prey

      @ Logic

      I tried to read you post – let me offer this bit of advice.

      ESL classes.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:23 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Logic-
      I think we have crossed words unnecessarily. I misunderstood, I think, your question. While there are some who hold to the belief that churches do more good than anyone else, that is not the case with us. We do what we can with our limited resources and take help where we can get it. A local college's Freethinkers group joined us and several other groups for a food and clothing drive over the holidays, for example. Yes, I know it is blasphemy that we accept help from non-believers, blast us!
      We don't hold to the old dogma of our way or the hiway. My personal belief works for me, I don't begrudge yours or apologize for mine.
      Our pastor has a regular job and our books are open. We do what we can to influence the local dialogue for good, but the global dialogue will have to take care of itself.
      I personally will not argue religion with anyone because no one I know has proof positive that they have the "truth". While I am happy to discuss religion or politics with anyone, I will call any person who says they have the absolute truth a fool to their face.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:25 pm |
  9. Kenneth

    I must have hurt someone's feelings. I am being moderated.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      There is no/are no moderators, just a lousy piece of so-ft-ware that scans for naught word fragments. You can find a list posted in another article or wait for someone to "copy and paste" it into here. In the meantime, common gotchas are s3x, t!t, c-um.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:30 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Ace, thanks for the heads up. I will scan my moderated posts for words that we aren't adult enuff to understand. Jeez.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:32 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      No problem! Be aware that your post will not get accepted if a word even contains a "bad" fragment. For example, doc-ument and const-itution will fail.

      The biggest reason I've replied at all is to show one or two believers that I can be nice to a believer – a cheap stunt by one of those that on occasion say "There are no gods!" when I really mean "I don't believe there are any gods!" :^))

      January 7, 2011 at 6:39 pm |
  10. Rosemary Davis

    Did Eddie Long read this article? Apparently not the committe that investigated the paying of taxes by the Churchis said he along with others did not respond completly to this investigation so how is he cleared of anything just another way he continues to mislead his followers.Also Bible Prophecy is being fulfilled false religion is reprensent the Harlot the policitial elements represent the Wild Beast mention in Revelation which shows eventually this Beast will eat the Harlot I think it has began to chew.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  11. Anglican

    Logic. Well Logic, we all must go our own way. I have no doubt about my faith. You have no doubt about logic. Why does it frustrate you so? I have my life, and you yours. What is the problem with that?

    January 7, 2011 at 6:21 pm |
    • Anglican

      PS Logic. I assure you I not stupid or ignorant. If you want to "hate" me, do so. It will surely make you a better person.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:25 pm |
    • Logic

      Frustrate. That's adorable.

      I present questions. The route to life is in asking questions. And finding answers. Do you not agree?
      I see the whole spectrum in asking questions about every topic in life. I was wondering why you religious folks have stopped asking questions. Logic dictates that humans have questions.

      I pity the people who have stopped at asking questions about the world. I pity the fools that just accept answers from a book.

      In life there are questions with specific with a "no" or "yes". Correct and incorrect. And herein I see such ignorance as in
      "I accept it". Blindly. It makes me laugh. Most of you love the given answer so you don't continue on living. It a shame.

      But I digress, we will part ways. But I do pity you.

      ps: It's like what I saw on the news "Bill O'Reilly" wasn't it. His notion about the tides coming in, and flowing out. And he says there's proof that God is there. Ok.

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

      @ Logic

      Well, aren't you an interesting little dweeb...

      "I present questions. The route to life is in asking questions. And finding answers. Do you not agree?" Not necessarily, no.

      "I see the whole spectrum" Clearly not the case, and it's doubtful you ever will.

      "I pity the fools that just accept answers from a book." Any book? Religious? Legal? The service manual for a 1998 Jeep Cherokee? We all look for answers in different places.

      "In life there are questions with specific with a "no" or "yes". Correct and incorrect. And herein I see such ignorance as in
      "I accept it". Blindly. It makes me laugh. Most of you love the given answer so you don't continue on living. It a shame."

      *sigh... Maintaining that there was some semblance of 'logic' in your little diatribe, I might caution you against presupposing all the questions that life has to offer, the way the questions should be answered, and the acceptability of the answers... You really know quite a bit, don't you? You should go on tour... You might also give some thought as to which mountain you're going to plant your ass on and how much you'll charge the folks who climb up to see you for your advice.

      "But I digress, we will part ways. But I do pity you." I occasionally feel the same way...

      "Logic" Funny name for a funny guy.

      January 7, 2011 at 7:11 pm |
  12. Syman Pons

    Anyone who is a televangelist or who uses (wastes) money donated to the Lord's service by paying for television time, at it's multiple thousands of dollars an hour, is simply a religious fraud. Also, our country's corrupt and criminally negligent Elected Officials did not need to waste uncountable millions of dollars on an unproductive, grandstanding, publicity stunt which was surely no real investigation. There are many more important things to spend it on, like real jobs creation in the middle of this present depression.

    The gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ is properly spread (as instructed) through the sharing of the teachings of Jesus and the events that surround his life, death and resurrection. These events are described with words. Pictures have no place in the fulfillment of the command given every Christian to ‘spread the Good News’. Christians of mature understanding would never go on television to do their work for their Lord.

    Rather, they do their best to evidence a life filled with love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, meekness, gentleness, and forgiveness, while endeavoring to live a self controlled life free or wild passions, debauchery, greed, and deceit. Their use of money is limited and modest, for their God is not issued by the Federal reserve banking system. True Christians have no flash or bling and they use very little makeup.

    Televangelists should not be allowed, period! The words they speak, when they are the Lord's words, do the work God the Father intends in those people who hear them. This happens regardless of who speaks them. Jesus said, "My words are truth and life!" He also said' The miracles you see me do, I do not of my own power, but the Father in me (the Holy Spirit that shares my body and also lives in me), it is He that does the miracles you see being done by me."

    The work of God is accomplished through sharing the teachings of Jesus the Christ, given to him by his father, our creator. Television can add nothing to this, that is of any benefit to the Lord or His ongoing work.

    The money given to televangelists should be given to the needed, nor to greedy media corporations!

    Concerning charitable acts done in service to the Lord and tax deductible contributions to 501c3 tax exempt organizations: Jesus also said, "And when you do your charity for others, do not let your right hand know what your left hand is doing. Rather, keep the kindnesses you do secret, and then your Father who is in heaven will see what you do in secret and He will reward you openly. Also, do not do as the heathens and the unbelievers do, giving to the needy so everyone will see what they do. They desire the admiration of their fellow men, rather then the appreciation of a loving God, who wishes also to preserve the self respect of the person receiving the charity.”

    If you receive a tax deduction for your charitable contributions, God, your creator will be satisfied that you will have received all the reward you deserve for your kind act of giving.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. Joshua Ludd

    No surprise that they don't want a review... they are mostly crooks.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:18 pm |
    • cag

      You have a typo in your post. Please remove the "mostly".

      January 7, 2011 at 9:36 pm |
  14. Brian

    Sometimes I watch the religion channel for fun. A few day ago one of these holy rollers was having a sale on spirituality. For only $2.98 they will sell you $5.00 worth of spirituality.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:15 pm |
    • Logic

      Really? Geez!

      Did the buyers get a insurance ticket to heaven as a bonus? What will they think of next.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:17 pm |
  15. Mateo

    Wait a minute. If we start taxing churches they'll have less money to meddle in out of state politics.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:14 pm |
  16. Logic

    No one is blessed by your blessing.

    Some people have crossed the limit – in religion. They knowingly ran across the deep end to profit themselves. You can defend the ones that you say are honest. It's good that you do. But there remains the issue of what to do to punish (in tax law) of those that have crossed the line.

    Do you now understand your ignorance, thomas?

    January 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  17. Gerard Michael

    With the exception of the Catholic Church.. all other religions(protestant) are complete ripoff con artists. All so called born again..fundamentalists....evangelical....are complete ass@@##s..ripping off people who think they will go to hell, especially Seniors. all these jerks including...benny hinn, bob davis, richard roberts etc I pray will be judged for their wrong doing by Christ.... they are the lowest of the low.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:06 pm |
    • Bob

      Sorry, but you need to start with the Catholic Church, the church that shelters pedophiles to protect against lawsuits, the church that teaches against birth control even when the people can't feed the children they might have, the church that has the world's largest real estate holdings and art collection, the church that won't renounce mafia and other criminals if they are contributors in good standing. They even get kids to cough up lunch money to "buy" "pagan babies". Crooked is as crooked does.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:23 pm |
    • Steve (the real one)

      Gerard,

      Can sweet and bitter water come from the same fountain? You are claiming Christ BUT cursing other Christians!! I AM a Christian, Gerard and NOT Catholic! You can do better than that!

      January 8, 2011 at 10:01 am |
  18. thomas

    Some of you on this board have no idea how a church operates or what being tax exempt is all about. Pastors pay taxes in fact pastors are considered self employed by social security and pay 15 percent of their income just in ss tax on top of regular income tax. Just because you work at a church does not mean your earnings are tax exempt. Tax exempt means the church does not pay property tax where the church is located and on items used for ministry. Pastors are required to pay for their own cell phones, cars or pay personal use tax on a car the ministry own, dry cleaning, clothes, home, etc... If you work a secular job you are actually allowed many more tax breaks than pastors. Just some fyi – many people ARE in ministry because they care about people and want to help. The Lord bless you all.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:02 pm |
  19. N. Peterson

    I don't believe in God, but if the money's so good, maybe it's time I pretend I do and become wealthy.

    January 7, 2011 at 6:00 pm |
  20. CL

    To John and others who have become dissillusioned by mega-church Christianity: Please read the Scriptures for yourself in a modern version and find a small congregation where obeying God and living a life of service to others is believed and taught and lived. For the past 12 years I've been blessed to pastor such a group of 25 or so genuine people who would give you their own shirt if you needed it, even if it was the only one they owned. I get a small amount for expenses and have to work another job as a nurse for living expenses. I drive about 90 miles one way to the church. So there are still folks out there who believe Christ's way and do their best to serve others from a heart which believes in seeing its own sins first before the sins of others'. Courage! I'm praying for you.

    January 7, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
    • RightSaidFred

      My, my, my CL...Aren't you a good little christian! Yes you are!!!

      January 7, 2011 at 6:10 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.