FAQ :: What was revealed by Senator Grassley’s investigation of “prosperity” preachers?

On January 6, 2011 Senator Grassley released his review of the six ministries response to his inquiry. He called for a further congressional review of tax-exemption laws for religious groups. [1]Grassley was concerned over the following problems he learned about the “prosperity preachers”:

Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas, a $20 million organization and prosperity gospel pioneer. Questions were raised about the transfer of church assets to a for-profit company, Security Patrol Inc., a $1 million loan from Gloria Copeland to the group, and a “personal gift” of more than $2 million given to Kenneth Copeland to mark the ministry’s 40th anniversary.

A Copeland spokeswoman released a statement saying the ministry is working on a response to Grassley’s letter, follows all laws and best practices governing churches and religious non-profit groups, and “will continue to do so.”

Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Georgia. Grassley’s letter asks for records on private planes, board makeup, compensation and donations and “love offerings” to visiting ministers. In a statement, Dollar called his ministry an “open book” and said he would cooperate. He also questioned whether the investigation could “affect the privacy of every community church in America.”

Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, was asked about use of a private jet, a home in Dana Point, California and “layover trips” while traveling on ministry business. Hinn did not respond to requests for comment.

Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Georgia, was questioned about his salary, a $1.4 million real estate transaction and whether he, and not the board, holds sole authority over the organization. Long plans to fully comply with the Senate’s request, and his church has “several safeguards” to ensure transactions comply with laws governing churches, according to a statement from Long’s spokesman.

Joyce and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Missouri, were quizzed about receiving donations of money and jewelry and the handling of cash from overseas crusades. They also were asked about expenditures at ministry headquarters, including a $30,000 conference table and a $23,000 “commode with marble top.”

The ministry’s lawyer released a statement describing the ministry’s work and public release of several years’ worth of audits. He also said the IRS found in October that the group continues to qualify for tax-exempt status.

Randy and Paula White of the multi-racial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Florida, were asked about home purchases in San Antonio, Texas, Malibu, California, and New York, credit card charges for clothing and cosmetic surgery and the purchase of a Bentley convertible as a gift for Bishop T.D. Jakes, a prominent Texas preacher and televangelist. An e-mail to a spokeswoman for Jakes was not immediately returned.

In a statement, Randy and Paula White declined to comment on specifics, saying they needed time to review the letter with their lawyers. But the Whites called the Grassley letter “unusual, since the IRS has separate powers to investigate religious organizations if they think it’s necessary.”

Hinn, Copeland and Dollar sit on the board of regents for Oral Roberts University, which has been mired in a financial scandal of its own.

The Senate Finance Committee has chided secular non-profits for governance and compensation problems in the past, but this level of scrutiny for what are basically “non-pulpit churches” is unprecedented, said Ken Behr, president of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability. Because the groups have tax status as churches, they are not required to file tax forms open to public inspection. [2]

1.http://finance.senate.gov/newsroom/ranking/release/?id=5fa343ed-87eb-49b0-82b9-28a9502910f7. 2. USA Today. “Sen. Grassley probes televangelists’ finances.” A.P. 11.07. 2007. www.usatoday.com/news/washington/2007-11-07-televangelist-probe_ N.htm.