US Senate investigates TV evangelists
Senator Charles Grassley, the leading Republican on the US Senate's Finance Committee, has asked six celebrity televangelists to provide financial statements and records for an investigation into possible improprieties. The TV evangelists -- including Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer, who recently conducted campaings in Northern Ireland -- have until 6 December to file their accounts with the committee.
Television ministries in the US (controversially) enjoy tax-emept status. Senator Grassley has therefore written to six leading ministries requesting accounts and detailed answers to pretty direct questions (see below). In addition to asking about the use of private jets and luxury homes, the Committee would also like to know what possible ministry purpose Joyce Meyers is assigning to her $23,000 "commode with marble top".
What the Senate Finance Committee wants to know
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 nonprofit groups, and "will continue to do so."
Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga. 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, is asked about use of a private jet, a home in Dana Point, Calif. 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, Ga., 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, Mo., who 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."