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. ramtruck2500

    If they preach any politics they are to be taxed olain and simple. They are like any business though more like "K" street operatives.

    January 8, 2011 at 11:01 am |
  2. PasturdMania

    Start taxing the churches and all these televangelist con-artists would disappear overnight. It's long overdue for the religious sector to begin paying their own way in our society.

    Religion – America's only legal tax scam!


    January 8, 2011 at 10:44 am |
  3. Anglican

    The Lord said to render to Caesar what was Caesars. Also, He told the rich lawyer to sell all he had , give the money to the poor, the follow Him. There is no doubt that some Christians skirt their obligations. Peace.

    January 8, 2011 at 10:15 am |
  4. Preacherman

    Even Jesus had to pay the temple tax. To exempt anyone from paying taxes it to confuse the difference between religious and secular. Religious groups are the ones who should pay more taxes because they advocate for more social programs from the government. Shame!

    January 8, 2011 at 10:10 am |
    • Reality

      That would require taxing all non-profit groups to include the Democratic and Republican parties, the Red Cross and the ACLU. Said groups pay no taxes on the donations they receive. Some countries by the way do tax their political parties.

      January 8, 2011 at 11:52 am |
  5. Steve (the real one)

    I will say this, to be fair to the arguments of my atheist buddies. The Bible clearly states that we are to obey those who have authority over us! Unless what we are asked to do is in violation of scripture! Saying that, It is a shame that some did not respond to the Senator's request and some gave incomplete data. That indicates somebody is trying to hide something! It is a disgrace to have a fleet of private jets and limos! Why have a multi million dollar church building or mansion, when there are people in the neighborhood or even attend that church and are impoverished! I as a Christian absolutely HATE that! I can only imagine what God thinks about it! Everything can be and should be balanced! I have read where some think Christians should take a vow of poverty. I am STILL waiting for them to show me book, chapter, and verse!

    January 8, 2011 at 9:52 am |
  6. Anglican

    Reality. Your vigor against the Truth interests me. It is as if you are trying as hard as you can to dismiss and disprove IT. If IT does no exist, why work so hard to disprove something that you believe does not exist.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:36 am |
  7. stevie68a

    Churches were made tax exempt, because they helped the poor, and needed all the help they could get. Not so these so-
    called preachers could live in splendor. Materialism is the complete opposite of spirituality. When they talk of the "prosperity
    gospel", they're saying that jesus ignores the thousands of innocent children who die of starvation everyday, but jesus cares
    about your bank balance. Where are the "loaves and fishes"? It's all just a scam. Most religious people were brainwashed as
    children to believe in nonsense. Remember "prophet" means "profit". Stop being sold an imaginary afterlife. Grow up.

    January 8, 2011 at 9:04 am |
    • sassy_latina

      I am really amazed how ignorant people can be about God's people and u assume all evangelists are the same but they are not because the ones that are not of God will fall.....God will always reveal the fake ones!!!! You assume that God is the one responsible for everything that is negative but u forget that evil roams on this earth.....it is up to u to decide which side ur gonna be on???? Try reading the bible and decide which side u wanna be on before judgment comes!!!! Thank u......

      January 23, 2011 at 10:03 pm |

    This mail is exceptionally interesting. I repossess it in google serp. Can you notation some more there it?

    Oustandingly Up!

    January 8, 2011 at 8:46 am |
  9. Apostle Eric vonAnderseck

    How about accountability in Truth? The church free-wheels in doctrine but feels pressed upon to show integrity about money. Because of no virtue in covenant why not let the world confirm your virtue. Beware when they speak well of you! http://apostlestoday.net/

    January 8, 2011 at 5:52 am |
    • Reality

      The Apostles' Creed 2010: (updated based on the studies of historians and theologians during the past 200 years)

      I might believe in a god whose existence cannot be proven
      and said god if he/she/it exists resides in an unproven,
      human-created state of bliss called heaven.

      I believe there was a 1st century CE, Jewish, simple,
      preacher-man who was conceived by a Jewish carpenter
      named Joseph living in Nazareth and born of a young Jewish
      girl named Mary.

      Jesus was summarily crucified for being a temple rabble-rouser by
      the Roman troops in Jerusalem serving under Pontius Pilate,

      He was buried in an unmarked grave and still lies
      a-mouldering in the ground somewhere outside of

      Said Jesus' story was embellished and "mythicized" by
      many semi-fiction writers. A bodily resurrection and
      ascension stories were promulgated to compete with the
      Caesar myths. Said stories were so popular that they
      grew into a religion known today as Catholicism/Christianity
      and featuring dark-age, daily wine to blood and bread to body rituals
      called the eucharistic sacrifice of the non-atoning Jesus.


      January 8, 2011 at 7:54 am |
  10. just wonderin'

    I'va always wondered why God is running short on money????

    January 8, 2011 at 1:43 am |
    • sassy_latina

      Its more like our government is running out of money just look how they want to take money away from senior citizens who have worked their whole life for it and now our government is pretty much saying u cant get it back!!! So instead of trying to say something negative about God stop and worry about how the government is trying to take God away from the people!!!

      January 23, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
  11. Gary

    televangelists?? Lets see Haggerd,Swaggert,Hinn,Robertson,Bakker,Jakes,Tilman and the list goes on and on. The most amazing thing is the number of weak minded religious idiots who send their hard earned money to these crooks

    January 7, 2011 at 11:51 pm |
  12. porfirio

    I don'T get it. i don't see anywhere in the bible where it say'S GOD no longer exsist that every one comes out judging anybody. The bible say's When jesus returns will he find faith on earth. I believe in my LORD AND SAVIOR JESUS CHRIST not because i was told so. But because i read the bible. The bible says thier is a sun and moon and stars. Do any one deny there exsistance. Then why not belive in his second coming. I'm not the one losing out.

    January 7, 2011 at 11:26 pm |
    • NL

      "I don'T get it. i don't see anywhere in the bible where it say'S GOD no longer exsist"
      And nowhere in any MicroSoft manual will you read that Macs are better computers. It's just a mystery, I suppose.

      January 8, 2011 at 12:47 am |
  13. thomas

    Unfortunately many people on here do not understand pastors pay taxes – this article is about their ministries NOT personal salaries. Our church reports every dollar to the IRS and is required to 1099 anyone who receives compensation of 600 or more. Churches DO report to the irs what the pastors make – to boot pastors pay all of their own social security 15 percent! I know many will want to argue – that's not why I am writing this. – am just hoping more people have a better understanding that pastors do not receive a free ride.

    January 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  14. Will in San Francisco

    To "Reality":

    The ACLU is NOT tax-exempt organization.

    January 7, 2011 at 9:51 pm |
    • Reality

      "The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) consists of two separate non-profit organizations: the ACLU Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization which focuses on litigation and communication efforts, and the American Civil Liberties Union, a 501(c)(4) organization which focuses on legislative lobbying.[2] The ACLU's stated mission is "to defend and preserve the individual rights and liberties guaranteed to every person in this country by the Consti-tution and laws of the United States."[1][3] It works through litigation, legislation, and community education.[1] Founded in 1920 by Crystal Eastman, Roger Baldwin and Walter Nelles,[4] the ACLU was the successor organization to the earlier National Civil Liberties Bureau founded during World War I.[5] The ACLU reported over 500,000 members in 2010."

      Being a non-profit organization, the ACLU pays no taxes on their investment portfolio i.e. no taxes on dividends, interest or capital gains. As per guidestar.com, the ACLU has a stock and bond portfolio whose value is in excess of $250 million.

      January 8, 2011 at 12:44 am |
  15. JUST BOB

    why don't some god fearing folks do some good and go to the drug area of every city or town in the country and patrol the places where the sins are being commited the the church leaders could lead them that would be fun and everybody knows theareas

    January 7, 2011 at 9:26 pm |
  16. jo an

    These TELEVANGELIST or 'what ever you want to call them' may have started out with a MESSAGE but they are now THE MESSAGE..They rank with WALL STREET in being corrupt. All of them should have to show where they live, what they 'FLY' and their bank receipts...The 'little people' who send in hard earned money would be shocked...or would they???They PREY all right...they PREY on the ignorance of the public...they bilk...

    January 7, 2011 at 9:11 pm |
  17. JUST BOB

    has any body thought about what would happen if people didn't give cash but gave food or non perrishable items for what they think is there obligation that would be fun isn't that the way it was

    January 7, 2011 at 9:10 pm |
    • Smite Me

      Yeah, wouldn't the TV evangelical hucksters just love to get a can of beans in the mail...

      Heh, we could send them some bologna... oh wait, they already have plenty of that 🙂

      Maybe some peanuts in the shells for Benny Hinn and his circus act...

      - smoked tongue
      - raspberries
      - holy mackerel
      - loaves 'n fishes

      Ooh, the possibilities...

      January 7, 2011 at 10:23 pm |
  18. KaLA

    It's liberals that use the black churches as a bully pulpit but you never hear about them losing tax exempt status. Let's be really fair and end all tax exempt Non-Profits!!!!

    January 7, 2011 at 9:05 pm |
  19. Marvin Gardens

    Many people, like pgp, cannot understand the fact that what is happening in religion has absolutely nothing to do with god or jesus.

    The gods of today ARE the churches, and ministers, themselves.

    The only thing worse than them are the politicians who cater to, and lie for, them.

    There's a BIG difference between Democrats (protecting the rights and freedoms, of minority churches -which were BEING BURNED TO THE GROUND, and republicans catering to the likes of Pat Robertson.

    January 7, 2011 at 9:03 pm |
  20. Observer


    Why are you protesting against gays when there are FAR FAR more Christians who commit adultery, according to Jesus and the Bible, by remarrying? Why the "pick and choose" when it comes to sins? Why aren't Christians trashing the MUCH LARGER group of sinners? Have you been out protesting adulterous Christians as much as you protest gays?

    January 7, 2011 at 8:46 pm |
    • sassy_latina

      observer......whoever u are??? its funny how u r quick to throw stones @ Christians but u also forget that Christians are human which mean we are not perfect!!! An as for u to try and say about the adultery or the remarrying issue try reading the bible first then talk bout the remarrying issue....an it is a problem when the government starts changing God laws to man laws!!! Unless u have never committed a sin how can u talk about what a Christian or any person for that matter are talking or doing is wrong???? An what u should understand is that everybody will have to answer to God in the end!!!

      January 23, 2011 at 10:17 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.