By Tom Strobe
Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission
Four television ministries still have refused to comply fully with a U.S. Senate committee’s probe into their financial records nearly nine months after first being asked.
The ministries of Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long and Randy and Paula White have provided only partial information or none at all, said Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, who initiated the investigation by requesting information from six televangelists in early November.
The ministries of Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer, however, gave “extensive answers to all questions,” Grassley said.
Grassley’s questions of the televangelists were based on accounts of abuses from watchdog organizations and whistleblowers, as well as investigative news reports, he has said. Accusations of contributions being used to support lavish lifestyles have been leveled against at least some of the televangelists.
In a news release, the minority leader on the Senate Finance Committee said of the noncompliant televangelists:
- Copeland has provided partial answers to a majority of questions but nothing on inquiries about compensation. He has said he will not give further answers even if served a subpoena.
- Dollar has refused to provide any responses, and attorneys for his church said the televangelist has not changed his mind.
- Long has given only general information on his ministry.
- The Whites have submitted answers only on certain matters.
Finance Committee staff members are communicating with lawyers for the ministries in an attempt to gain responses, Grassley said. In Copeland’s case, the staff is seeking advice from Senate lawyers on what should be done next, Grassley said.
“The ministries that continue not to cooperate appear to be heeding the advice of attorneys who are not familiar with congressional oversight in general and specifically the Finance Committee’s oversight and legislative work in the area of tax-exempt organizations over the last seven years,” Grassley said in the July 7 release. “These attorneys who aren’t part of the ministries themselves have a natural incentive to prolong the process as long as possible.”
Grassley commended Meyer and Hinn, saying they had “provided information over and above what was requested.” Both televangelists have communicated they are “instituting reforms without waiting for the committee to complete its review,” he said.
In his initial request, Grassley asked the televangelists to provide personal and ministry-related financial records. Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., the Finance Committee’s chairman, joined Grassley March 11 in calling for the ministries to cooperate. They set a March 31 deadline for compliance.
All the televangelists targeted by the committee are identified with the “word of faith” movement, Copeland has said on his ministry’s website. “Word of faith” teaching normally includes the “prosperity gospel,” which asserts that the Bible promises physical and financial blessings to followers of Christ. Evangelical critics of the teaching, however, say such doctrine mistakenly equates God’s promises of blessing with temporal, materialistic success.
The founder of a watchdog organization said the noncompliance of televangelists such as Copeland and Dollar appears to be prompting Grassley to consider further regulation of nonprofit ministries.
“Religious conservatives, like ourselves, believe this to be an unfortunate development, but if donors do not insist on even greater levels of ministry cooperation with donor advocate [organizations], unneeded government regulation is sure to follow,” Rusty Leonard of MinistryWatch.com said in a written statement.
“It has been donors’ willingness to ignore the clear warning signs from a relatively few questionable ministries that will partly cause any increased government oversight,” Leonard said. “The ministry community’s unwillingness to call out those who are simultaneously abusing donors, the Word of God and current government regulations through meaningful self-policing also [is] to blame for any burdensome new regulations.”
Letters on behalf of Copeland and Dollar were sent March 31 to inform members of the Senate Finance Committee of the noncompliance, saying it was based in part on the targeting of teachers from the “word of faith” movement. The lawyers said Copeland and Dollar not only objected to the investigation’s potential infringement of the First Amendment’s protection of free religious exercise but also the senators’ failure to operate through the current process provided by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).
Both ministries said they would comply with an examination by the IRS under the protections it provides.
The names of the televangelists and their ministries, plus the locations of their headquarters, are: Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Newark, Texas; Creflo Dollar, World Changers Church International, College Park, Ga.; Eddie Long, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.; Joyce Meyer, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Fenton, Mo.; Benny Hinn, Benny Hinn Ministries, Grapevine, Texas; and Randy and Paula White, Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries, Tampa, Fla.
Hear the short but very stirring biblical denunciation of the “prosperity gospel” by John Piper, pastor of Bethlehem Baptist Church, Minneapolis, Minnesota click here
To visit the web site of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission click here