When three former professors filed their lawsuit against now resigned President Richard Roberts of Oral Roberts University in early October, allegations of lavish living at the university's expense on the part of Roberts and his family raised some questions here at UTW about the lifestyles and financial accountability of other local religious leaders.
The end result of that curiosity was an article in our October 18-24 issue, "Lifestyles of the Rich Evangelists."
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, had some of the same questions about religious leaders on a broader scope, and so he asked six TV evangelists to pony up information about expenses, compensation, amenities and board oversight of their respective ministries.
He requested the information on Nov. 6, and the deadline was last Thursday, Dec. 6.
The end result of his curiosity is still to follow, though, as only two of those ministers have so far, at the time of this writing, acquiesced to his request for information.
Jill Kozeny, a spokesperson for the Republican from Illinois, told UTW that neither the senator's inquiry nor his choice of subjects had anything to do with the ORU lawsuit.
It just so happens, though, that three of those six are members of ORU's board of regents: Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church, Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International and Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
The others are Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries, Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Paula White of Without Walls International Church.
All six preach the so-called "prosperity gospel," which teaches that those who faithfully contribute money to Christian ministry will be proportionately rewarded by God in the form of financial prosperity.
ORU has also been a subject of criticism for its "prosperity gospel" emphasis, which is no coincidence, considering its board of regents membership.
Grassley, though, has publicly stated that his inquiry also has nothing to do with the ministers' theological positions, but that he's treating them as he would any other non-profit organization, religious or otherwise.
"I'm following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices," he said in a prepared statement at the start of his investigation.
"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls Royces. I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence to the tax code," he added.
Jill Gerber, another Grassley spokesperson, said the investigation is part of the senator's "long-standing interest to make sure tax-exempt organizations are accountable to donors and to the taxpayers as a whole."
At the time of this writing, Copeland and Meyer were the only ones who have complied with Grassley's request for information.
Gerber said Grassley's office received a package of material from Meyer's organization two days before the deadline, and from Copeland's on the day of the deadline.
Dollar (an unfortunate name, under the circumstances) sent Grassley and Finance Committee chairman Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.) a letter stating he does not intend to volunteer any information, and that the senator should either refer the matter to the Internal Revenue Service or subpoena the information.
Representatives of Long's ministry initially publicly stated that they intended to cooperate, but the bishop later denounced the investigation from the pulpit, calling it "unjust," "intrusive" and an "attack on religious freedom."
According to Grassley's spokespeople, Long hasn't made any attempt to contact his office.
Hinn's representatives told Grassley's office that he won't provide the information until next year.
Attorneys from Hinn's ministry met with Grassley's staff last Friday, the day after the deadline.
Concerning White, Gerber said Grassley's office received "initial contact" from her attorney's on the day of the deadline, with "no indication of further response."
"It's good that some of the ministries are cooperating," said Grassley last week in a prepared statement.
"I hope all of them will cooperate in the end. They have to realize that ministries are no different from any other non-profit organization. They have to abide by tax laws like any tax-exempt group. I'll be accommodating and give ministries more time as long as they're cooperating and indicate that to my office. If they don't cooperate, it would be very unusual. I've looked at a lot of non-profit groups over the years, and they've all cooperated," he added.
And if they don't cooperate?
Kozeny, his spokesperson, told UTW that, since Baucus was able to obtain a subpoena for charities connected to Jack Abramoff with Grassley's support, the senator is confident Baucus will return the favor if subpoenas are necessary in this instance.
Share this article: