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. Walter

    Putting Grassley in charge of this review is like putting the fox in charge of the hen house.

    January 12, 2011 at 7:55 am |
  2. david bidlack

    i am a life long democrat LEFT IN MY VIEWS and i can't understand why we don't seem to have enough of these kind of congressman in washington. bob dole is getting older and i wonder were this country is going to find people like this to run for office. the late great senator ted kennedy was like these men always true to his own values. these are the kind of men that cause good thinking americans to cross party lines to vote. we have great thinking men on both sides of our goverment we just have two few of them. we instead have media made right wingers and left wingers kissing up to the talking heads view of what it takes to get and keep voters.. chuck grassley needs to run for president but he does not have enough hate for liberals in his speach to pass the talking heads idea of their choice for a president. A REAL SHAME THIS COUNTRY HAS BECOME IN ITS KINS OF POLITICS!

    January 9, 2011 at 4:28 pm |
  3. porfirio

    Like i say. I can only speak for myself i cannot even answer for my family. I rather live life with fear and honoring and believing god does exsist and when i die find out there is no god. Then to kive like thier is no god and die and come face to face with GOD. Can anybody live with that. And for those who christians say god hate gays you are wrong god loves all he hates sin and disobedience is one way to fall in sin.

    January 9, 2011 at 4:16 pm |
  4. Avi Shlolo

    I am not sure what her religeon has to do with that and she should keep it to herself. a huamn life is precious whether you're a muslim, Jew or Atheist. This killing is sensless and let us adress the root of the problem. as for this woman I hope regardles sof her faith she understand she is American first, 2nd and third and has no loyalty to others but to America.

    January 9, 2011 at 3:36 pm |
  5. THDog

    The pastors are required to pay taxes. It is only the churches which are exempt, and their money is to be restricted for church activities. Anything else is criminal.

    January 9, 2011 at 6:42 am |
  6. kenyon

    Don.t forget bourbon st. bob in 80.s with his 3×5 cards and ear piece like the cia. when people came to tv studio they filled out personal info and someone they wish to pray for by name and illness. cards were gathered and a person off stage would read card and bob would act like johnny carsons karnak,s act from tonight show. it was exposed in a 20 20 abc show. and he was remove from tv

    January 8, 2011 at 11:25 pm |
  7. Gary

    Also just because I have studied and understand basics of evolution,natural selection,animal fossils,fossil fuels,Pangea puzzle,continental shifts,ice ages,erosion escarpments, and so many other FACTS that were live on a planet billions of years old.....still dose not prove that a God dose NOT exist. ....It just proves to me that all cultures in all area's of earth during all centuries man seems to want to believe in a creator and it seems to me man has created his Creator IE Budda,Ali,rain Gods,Sun Gods, ect...

    January 8, 2011 at 11:07 pm |
  8. porfirio

    All unbelieving persons should not have anything to on somethimg or someone they don'T believe in. Just like non_Voters have no say about any person holding office but only those who put there trust in them.
    And are let down and to nl i say micro soft is man made and man is god made.

    January 8, 2011 at 10:28 pm |
    • Gary

      Porfirio, As an agnostic I realize I can not prove that God dose not exist. I really do not want to either. I have no way to prove it one way or the other. As a religious person you are either a believer and or worshiper of a lord. That is fine by me I do respect your faith and beliefs. Beliefs are by faith and intuition. There is no scientific evidence of a God. Religious texts written by men are no proof of any God. ....Koran Bible and all religious texts are scriptures by men. If they are God inspired than so be it. I have no idea if that is the case. No one on earth has proof any scripture is inspired by any God.

      January 8, 2011 at 11:02 pm |
  9. anonymous


    If your claims were true, then how would you explain what the bible says about the earth being circular in shape thousands of years before scientists proved it.

    Isaiah 40:22-"There is one who is dwelling above the circle of the earth, the dwellers in which are as grasshoppers, the one who is stretching out the heavens just as a fine gauze, who spreads them out like a tent in which to dwell."

    Scientists also proved that it took dynamic energy to create our universe, we can also find this true statement at Isaiah 40:26

    "Raise your eyes high up and see. It is the one who is bringing forth the army of them even by number, all of whom he calls by name.due to the abundance of dynamic energy, he also being vigorous in power, not one of them is missing."

    January 8, 2011 at 9:29 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      Explaining any passage from any book of silliness is easy – they are the uninspired word of man, full or errors, lies and inconsistencies that believers somehow overlook. With respect to the earth being circular, it is not – it is somewhat spherical! If the bible was 100% correct, it would use words like "oblate spheroid" – do such words exist in your book of stupidity?

      January 8, 2011 at 9:50 pm |
    • Anglican

      HotAirAce. To Christians, the Bible is sacred. Some will apply reason in its interpretation, and some will not. The Bible is not silly, but as with any text, it can be misinterpreted. I ask you to respect those with good intentions. Peace.

      January 8, 2011 at 11:09 pm |
  10. anonymous


    If ultimate meaning of life were nonexistant, then you would have no purpose in living other than to try to do some measure of good and perhaps pass on your genetic traits to the next generation.
    At death, you would cease to exist forever. Your brain, with its ability to think, reason and meditate on the meaning of life, would simply be an accident of nature.

    That's not all. Many who believe in evolution assert that god does not exist or that he will not intervene in human affairs.
    In either case, our future would rest in the hands of political, academic, and religious leaders.
    Judging from the past record of such men,the chaos, conflict, and corruption that blight human society would continue. If indeed, evolution were true, there would seem to be ample reason to live by the fatalistic motto: "let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we are to die."-1Corinthians 15:32.
    By contrast, the Bible teaches : "with [God] is the source of life." (Psalm 36:9) those words have profound implications.

    If what the bible says is true, life does have meaning. Our creator has a loving purpose that extends to all who choose to live in accord with his will.(Ecclesiastes 12:13) That purpose includes the promise of life in a world free from chaos, conflict, and corruption-and even free of death.-Psalm 37:10,11; Isaiah 25:6-8

    With good reason, millions of people around the world believe that learning about god and obeying him give meaning to life as nothing else can! (John 17:3)
    Such a belief is not based on mere wishful thinking. Th evidence is clear-life was created.

    -taken from an article from the watchtower magazine.

    January 8, 2011 at 8:55 pm |
    • Reality

      Saving Christians from the Resurrection Con:

      From that famous passage: In 1 Corinthians 15 St. Paul reasoned, "If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith."

      Even now Catholic/Christian professors of theology are questioning the bodily resurrection of the simple, preacher man aka Jesus.

      To wit;

      From a major Catholic university's theology grad school white-board notes:

      "Heaven is a Spirit state or spiritual reality of union with God in love, without earthly – earth bound distractions.
      Jesus and Mary's bodies are therefore not in Heaven.

      Most believe that it to mean that the personal spiritual self that survives death is in continuity with the self we were while living on earth as an embodied person.

      Again, the physical Resurrection (meaning a resuscitated corpse returning to life), Ascension (of Jesus' crucified corpse), and Assumption (Mary's corpse) into heaven did not take place.

      The Ascension symbolizes the end of Jesus' earthly ministry and the beginning of the Church.

      Only Luke's Gospel records it. The Assumption ties Jesus' mission to Pentecost and missionary activity of Jesus' followers The Assumption has multiple layers of symbolism, some are related to Mary's special role as "Christ bearer" (theotokos). It does not seem fitting that Mary, the body of Jesus' Virgin-Mother (another biblically based symbol found in Luke 1) would be derived by worms upon her death. Mary's assumption also shows God's positive regard, not only for Christ's male body, but also for female bodies." "

      "In three controversial Wednesday Audiences, Pope John Paul II pointed out that the essential characteristic of heaven, hell or purgatory is that they are states of being of a spirit (angel/demon) or human soul, rather than places, as commonly perceived and represented in human language. This language of place is, according to the Pope, inadequate to describe the realities involved, since it is tied to the temporal order in which this world and we exist. In this he is applying the philosophical categories used by the Church in her theology and saying what St. Thomas Aquinas said long before him."

      The Vatican quickly embellished this story with a lot CYAP.

      Of course, we all know that angels are really mythical "pretty wingie talking thingies".

      With respect to rising from the dead, we also have this account:

      An added note: As per R.B. Stewart in his introduction to the recent book, The Resurrection of Jesus, Crossan and Wright in Dialogue, ( Professors Crossan and Wright are On Faith panelists).

      "Reimarus (1774-1778) posits that Jesus became sidetracked by embracing a political position, sought to force God's hand and that he died alone deserted by his disciples. What began as a call for repentance ended up as a misguided attempt to usher in the earthly political kingdom of God. After Jesus' failure and death, his disciples stole his body and declared his resurrection in order to maintain their financial security and ensure themselves some standing."

      So where are the bones? As per Professor Crossan's analyses in his many books, the body of Jesus would have ended up in the mass graves of the crucified, eaten by wild dogs, with lime in a shallow grave, or under a pile of stones.

      January 8, 2011 at 11:50 pm |
  11. rj moxley

    There is no god and this jesus you guys all talk about was just some guy fooling the poor that if they followed him there would be wealth in the afterlife. Anyone who is less forunate than others will do anything if they believe that one day they will have wealth. Alls religion does is spread evil everywere no good comes from you religius freaks there's no heaven oh by the way I'm the son of god and if you send me money I'll tell my dad to let you in heaven

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

      All i can say to u is that i will pray 4 u!!! Because whether u believe it or not u will face judgment before God and u won't have any excuse that no one told u about God!!!! For u to talk about God's people is wrong!!! who r u to criticize people unless u have never committed any sins in your life......I honestly hope u find God and realize how lost u were without him..

      January 23, 2011 at 9:30 pm |
  12. brian

    Please remember ministers are taxed. as a minister i know most work for next to nothing. and as an accountant, most of the non profits are even worse with their charitable giving percentages. it seems many are mad at churches and ministers. may i suggest you see a counselor for the traumatic experiences brought on you by a local church, or consider your hatred to be the response to the Holy Spirit's conviction. be saved today

    January 8, 2011 at 6:20 pm |
  13. Eric

    im glad that the mystery is for the foolish and not the "wise" im glad there is only one way. of course non of the good that thousands of churches have done will be published by state controlled media, US media would not exist if there were something positive to report

    January 8, 2011 at 6:04 pm |
  14. Water to whine

    Televangelists are scam artists who take atvantage of naive people. Just ask Marjoe.

    January 8, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
  15. Jaxonville

    I worked for religious radio stations for 14 years where I met the most immoral, dishonest people I have ever come across. I also found the vehicle of choice for phony preachers was always a Lincoln Towne Car. When one of the them pulled up to the station in a Lincoln, I knew I had a phony.

    January 8, 2011 at 3:54 pm |
  16. jh

    Another whitewash. Grassley got the tea party memo that you don't investigate your allies.

    January 8, 2011 at 2:15 pm |
  17. Albert

    While the government is at it, they should ban these impostors from calling themselves Christians. These groups are far removed from the teachings of Christ. Shame on the people that follow these frauds even though the Bible says to stay far away from them.

    January 8, 2011 at 1:43 pm |
    • HotAirAce

      No way should any government be involved in determining who is a proper member of any particular cult. I think it would be very interesting if, and assuming this has not already been tried or done already, someone was to register "Christianity" or "Islam," etc. as a trademark and then go after everyone for a licensing/usage fee, under established laws about copyrights, trademarks, trade secrets, etc. Off to see if this has been tried, but I suspect these labels are so widely used, they wouldn't be accepted for registration.

      January 9, 2011 at 1:18 pm |
  18. jkinch

    Come on people...this report from a Congress that brought us Obamacare, collapse of the housing market, 14 trillion dollars in debt. If it is Christian it must be evil. Stop drinking the kool-aid.

    January 8, 2011 at 12:29 pm |
    • Anglican

      I guess doing away with exclusion for pre-existing illness, keeping your college age children on a parents insurance plan, and insurance for everyone is bad?

      January 8, 2011 at 12:51 pm |
    • PasturdMania

      Give me a break!

      I am so sick of Republicans shoving their pro-religion-anti-everything-else agenda down the throats of ALL Americans. There are millions of us who don't buy the god/jesus myth, but that doesn't stop you. I've never had an atheist knock on my door to impose their beliefs upon me. Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for conservative religious fanatics. They are parasites.

      Just admit it, it is your sort that have been drinking the kool-aid for 2000 years!

      January 8, 2011 at 1:03 pm |
    • Albert

      Seems like you already finished off the Kool-aide, hypocrite.

      January 8, 2011 at 1:45 pm |
    • Reality

      Universal health care is a great idea as long as there are ways to pay for it and incentives to help keep costs down. Some suggestions:

      1. An added two dollar health insurance tax (or higher) on a pack of cigarettes. Ditto taxes on alcolholic beverages, the higher the alcohol content, the higher the tax. Ditto for any product shown to be unhealthy (e.g. guns, high caloric/fatty foods??)
      2. Physicals akin to those required for life insurance- the overly obese will pay signficantly more Medicare and universal health insurance (unless the obesity is caused by a medical condition).
      3. No universal health care coverage for drivers driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs or using cell phones while driving.
      4. No universal health coverage for drug addicts or for those having self-inflicted STDs.
      5. No univeral health coverage for abortions unless the life of the mother is at significant risk and judged to be so by at least two doctors.
      6. No universal health coverage for euthanasia.
      7. No foreign aid given to countries who abort females simply because they are female.

      January 8, 2011 at 2:50 pm |
    • wwajdblogger

      American Jesus would oppose government health care reform that pays doctors for giving advice to their patients on end-of-life health options, which may include advance directives to forgo aggressive life-sustaining treatment. A Christian government would not pay a single penny to any program that allows death to come earlier than God’s natural law intends. Except for capital punishment - that's okay.

      January 9, 2011 at 1:06 pm |
  19. dwech

    What Eddie long actually meant: "I am relieved that after more than three years of apologetic investigation and countless smoke and mirror tactics, that Senator Chuck Grassley's staff finally went away. Our ministry at New Birth has always and will continue to operate without accountability, and have no need for integrity, or paying taxes. I am thankful to God that the public now knows the half-truth, and wish they would accept the same of my perverse behavior."

    January 8, 2011 at 12:15 pm |
  20. michael

    Religion and Goverments have always been Bed Fellows!! They each scratch each others greedy backs!! Its hard to get
    a soldier, to fight to the death, without promising him eternal life after he is slatered on some battle field. Thats why you
    won't see anything in regards to changes in tax status. War, Religion, both feed off of one another. I mayself can't wait
    to be massacred on a battle field. looking forward to the that life style of 100 virgins, and a castle to boot! Praise be to
    God!! She knows how to treat a simple minded killing machine like myself!

    January 8, 2011 at 11:32 am |
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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.