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. Mike

    This is how Jesus lived and ministered to His flock. He believed that wealth was the ticket to heaven. This is what He was all about. Making money. There is power in being God's "little helpers" and certainly lots of money to be made. I fully support any preacher who has the ability to separate idiots from their money. This religious greed is a perfect example of God helping those who help themselves. And Lord knows- they do help themselves when the spiritually confused allow them.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:47 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Jesus believed wealth was the ticket to Heaven?
      What part of sell all you own, give it to the poor, and follow me is too complicated for you?

      January 7, 2011 at 4:49 pm |
    • Ringo

      someone drank the kool=aid

      January 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
  2. Frankie

    With all the money they poured into the California Proposition 8, Gay Marriage issue, why isn't the Mormon Church being investigated. Political activism is NOT allowed to remain tax free.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:45 pm |
    • Kenneth

      very well said

      January 7, 2011 at 4:50 pm |
  3. Kenneth

    The only thing worse than the angry, hate-filled atheists mouthing off about this story is the concept that it took Congress 18 months to tell us what most of us have known for years.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:44 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      And how exactly does voicing our opinion that the money machine of religion pay their fair share equate to being hate filled atheists. Believers are the hateful bigots. Atheists are not the ones threatening eternal punishment and damnation for failing to believe that a magic sky daddy sent himself as a sacrifice to himself to pay for the sins he himself supposedly instilled into mankind. You have a highly evolved brain. Start using it.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:55 pm |
    • Observer

      "angry, hate-filled atheists (are) mouthing off" about the angry, hate-filled churches mouthing off to deny equal rights to fellow human beings who have caused them no harm. Those denied rights that are actually paying more taxes to cover what the ho-mo-phobes in churches aren't paying.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:56 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Well, SA, I would say that all of the blanket "ban religion, it's all a bunch of hogwash and criminal pedophiles" BS and all of the "there is no God" declarative statements fits the bill.
      And yes, sonny, my brain is highly evolved and very well educated.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:58 pm |
    • Kenneth

      Observer, I will totally agree with you there. When churches get out of the realm of saving souls and feeding the poor and into the realm of politics, they are no longer a church but a PAC, and should be treated as such.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Observer

      Hopefully, a "highly evolved and well-educated" brain realizes that atheists and agnostics are helping foot the bill that churches don't pay, but churches aren't footing the bill for atheists and agnostics. Such a brain should recognize the unfairness of it all.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:03 pm |
    • Nonimus

      The only thing even worse than that is the people attempting to defend the TV evangelists.

      Oh, and Christians bad-mouthing atheists.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:04 pm |
    • SeanNJ

      Awesome. So the statement "There is no god" qualifies as hate-filled and angry?



      January 7, 2011 at 5:05 pm |
    • Kenneth

      My my my. I stirred something up this time!
      Two things –
      1) I believe the two worst people in the world, equally, are sanctimonious, self-righteous religious people AND smug, self-satisfied atheists. Both want to announce to the world that they KNOW the truth. Neither can actually prove their point, but they don't care about that.
      2)So no one was offended that Congress took 18 months to, what?, figure out that these some of these "ministries" are not on the up and up?

      January 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      Well then my boy, put that educated brain to use. Your lack of education with regard to the god claims of the world is where you should obviosly focus your efforts. I would be happy to flood your inbox with information about the contradictions surrounding the religion of your choice, but It seems that you are not yet mature enough to deal with the truth...

      January 7, 2011 at 5:12 pm |
    • Kenneth

      would that make you feel better? Would it make you feel like you made a difference in the world?
      I've heard it all before, sonny, but this big brain of mine knows how to filter out all of the crap and find the kernals of truth. If you are not too lazy to read my other posts, you will find I am quite progressive where my faith is concerned.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:23 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      Well then, Mr. Progressive, I will start by educating you on how atheism is defined. Atheists simply lack a belief in a god. It is not a claim that no gods exist. However, when any theist or deist defines a god that is not logically possible or fails to provide any actual evidence of said god, we are not being hateful when we say, "I don't believe your god exists." If I claim to have a dragon in my garage who created the universe and gives me moral guidance and then I fail to provide you with any evidence of this dragon and told you instead that you needed to believe in the dragon before you would be able to see the dragon, would you expect me to be offended when you told me that you didn't think my dragon existed and you don't believe he created you? You need to refine your skills in logic and then you might just find some truth. I will admit that I'm at least proud of you for saying you drink your own Kool-Aid instead of that of the establishment.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Logic

      Kenneth here believes he is a victim of being persecuted by atheists.

      Yes you christians certainly love to claim that you are now victims. Must be really feeling the pain of your sins.
      So are you lashing out now that there are louder voices tearing you apart? I'm glad.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:49 pm |
  4. Paul

    Ever since I left the Protestant church when I was 18 years old, I have always been FOR taxing churches because I myself see what they do with the money that they beg for.

    A church is a business. They provide services and make a profit, since they are able to pay themselves salaries. I still do not know why they are not taxes because this is a clear violation of separation between church and state.

    The church has no argument against this. They will not say that they worked for the money, because their god obviously want the word to be spread at a price; that is hypocrisy. So if the money is given to you out of generosity and you did not work for it, it should be taxed, because all you are doing is TAKING ADVANTAGE OF THE PEOPLE WHO GAVE IT TO YOU THAT ALREADY PAID TAXES ON IT AND HANDLED THEIR DUES.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  5. linda

    The conservatives in this country whine about all the taxes they pay, and that the government is responsible. If churchs were to pay taxes on the land they sit on – at least that – then we all would benefit from the shared tax burden. They get all the services but pay none of the costs. If religion has any ethics, fairness and shared responsibility should be right at the top.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
  6. M Kelley

    I say tax the churches, allow them to take a political stand then. But on the flip side, tax the people living off the government. Make them start paying some of their own way. I think it's time to end all hand-outs and start providing hand-ups. People don't mind helping other people as long as they work to help themselves!

    January 7, 2011 at 4:36 pm |
  7. smokinmike

    I FOUND Jesus!

    . . . he was behind the couch the WHOLE time!

    January 7, 2011 at 4:35 pm |
  8. chrisb

    Josh McAlister wrote: "They do pay taxes on their individual income ... "

    wrong, there are a million loopholes, they get housing allowances which pay for not only mortgage but any housing expense, and it's ALL deducted, things the rest of us cannot put on a HELOC but they can.
    A minister who makes over $100k a year will have about $7k worth of taxable income.
    here you go : http://outerbrightness.com/?p=197

    January 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  9. Michael

    I can't believe that churches get away without paying taxes! Every church I've been to spends half the time talking about raising money for this mission trip or that addition to the building. They are tax exempt because they talk about stuff that kinda happened but, not really thousands of years ago. It's a business plain and simple. All of my business is taxed and they should pull their weight.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:34 pm |
  10. max

    Tax the churches they've had a free ride for too long.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:31 pm |
    • Paul

      I'm right there with you.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:39 pm |
  11. ChollyGee

    If the Catholic Church were taxed we could balance the budget. Organized religion is a straight SCAM, plain and simple-like. " Matthew 19:24 And again I say unto you, It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God."

    "Prosperity Christianity" is a rip-off and should be taxed IMMEDIATELY.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:30 pm |
  12. Ardie Allen

    If their is money associated with it...most likely that something is not associated with God.

    You need to read, it is all good and God is at the end!

    January 7, 2011 at 4:29 pm |
  13. daveinla

    Tax these people if they are on television. Anyone who sends these crooks a dime needs their head examined.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
  14. LouAz

    My god is richer than your god. You betcha !

    January 7, 2011 at 4:26 pm |
  15. H Meyer

    Where in the bible does it say that churches and sanctimonious TV evangelists are not supposed to 'render unto Caesar'? There's not one word about tax exemption....people who give money to charlatans like Benny Hinn have IQs lower than beach sand. None of these 'faith healers' could heal a hang nail. None of these pompous clowns do an ounce of real charity work...most of their videos are staged. I say make 'em walk across the Potomac River to get their broadcasting license.....without using the bridges, in their socks, with one tiny rule....they can't get wet.....let's see how far their faith will carry them before they start treading water.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:25 pm |
  16. victim of democrat hypocrisy

    It should be as simple as this: If you advertise, then you're a business and not a religion. At which point, you lose your right to hide your "non-profit" books from the government.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
  17. Pat

    A lot of hate toward the Lord Jesus Christ....I would be careful what I said about someone who can strike you dead..Read your
    Bible before you comment....There are a lot of evangelists out there who are crooks but that doesn't include your Maker...

    January 7, 2011 at 4:17 pm |
    • Skeptical Analysis

      Don't threaten non-believers with B.S. What kind of nonsense is "Jebus loves you" but he'll strike you dead if you're not careful. Total baloney... Prove it! And I can bet I know more about your bible myths than you do...

      January 7, 2011 at 4:24 pm |
    • Nonimus

      Strike someone dead for speaking ill of someone; how unChristian of Christ.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:27 pm |
    • Kenneth

      @Skeptical Analysis-
      The difference between science and religion is the difference between the statements "I know..." and "I believe..." You can't prove or disprove faith, that is the whole point.
      You no more KNOW his faith is baloney than he KNOWS Christ will strike you down for being a big ol' sassy mouth.
      It's a pretty good system overall.

      January 7, 2011 at 4:54 pm |
    • Smite Me

      Careful, Pat, there might be an occultist reading here who will make a voodoo doll of you... and, well... I hate to think of the consequences.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:02 pm |
    • Logic

      Ahh death threats. Scare tactics to convert the masses. Or to shut them up.

      Go on now, give us more quotes from the bible now. You know you want to. Adding those few well interpreted phrases for more effect.

      Come on, we're waiting.

      January 7, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • RightSaidFred

      That sound you hear, Pat...that's me laughing... at you post.

      January 7, 2011 at 6:07 pm |
  18. Gerry Daley

    These crooks are nothing more than snake oil salesmen. They should not only be investigated, they should be put out of business. They largely spread ignorance and hate, they live high on the hog while gullible idiots send them money, and then they pay no taxes. What's wrong with this picture? Everything.

    January 7, 2011 at 4:11 pm |
  19. J.

    As a Christian am totally disgusted by how these people abuse their tax except status, they should be ashamed!

    January 7, 2011 at 4:10 pm |
  20. nwsblog


    January 7, 2011 at 4:05 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.