According to an Associated Press story, only two of the six big-time ministries met the Thursday deadline for turning over requested financial records to a U.S. Senate panel headed by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa (in photo).
Grassley said he received packets of information from the ministries of Joyce Meyer as well as Kenneth and Gloria Copeland. Faith healer Benny Hinn asked for more time. And attorneys for the recently split couple, Paula and Randy White, made initial contact with Grassley’s office but had not followed up by the deadline.
The two leaders of Atlanta mega-churches, Creflo Dollar and Eddie Long, have refused to cooperate thus far.
According to the AP report, Sen. Grassley sent pointed questions about a month ago to these ministries asking about salaries and perks such as private jets in an effort to determine whether rules governing tax-exempt groups had been broken.
Grassley promises to be patient but persistent in getting the information needed to determine if these ministries are following proper guidelines for tax-exempt organizations.
The tragedy is that such efforts at financial reporting and reform must come from the government rather than within the church, said J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma magazine and an old Berry College buddy of mine.
“What is unfortunate about this investigation is that it had to be initiated by someone in the federal government,” said Grady, in a Nov. 9 column. “The Christian public should have demanded a higher level of accountability a long time ago.”
In a recent interview with the senator, Grady said Grassley urges ministries to affiliate with the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability that confirms the use of normal and verified accounting procedures.
Grassley also told Atlanta television anchor Monica Pearson that his own pastor smilingly reminded the senator on a recent Sunday that the Baptist church in Iowa where he is a longtime member has open books.
Secrecy over financial records for churches and other nonprofit groups make no ethical or legal sense. Even our minor-league operation (in terms of dollar amounts compared to multi-million-dollar “ministries”) at Baptists Today uses great caution to assure our donors that their gifts are properly used — through in-house procedures, monthly financial reports from a CPA, reviews by a budget subcommittee and the larger board of directors, and an annual independent audit.
It is simply a matter of stewardship and honesty that is consistent with biblical faith.
Apparently, not everyone sees it that way. A statement to Grassley from representatives for Bishop Eddie Long, the high-living pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga., said the senator’s probe “clearly disregards the privacy protections of the Church under law and appears to cross the line of Constitutional guarantees for churches.”
Unlike secular not-for-profit groups, the IRS does not require churches to publicly release their financial records. That creates the potential for non-compliance with IRS laws to be hidden more easily. But it does make it right.
Grassley insists he is not meddling in anyone’s doctrine but making sure that organizations enjoying the benefits of tax-exempt status go by the related rules.
To Long’s attempt at misusing greatly valued constitutional guarantees of religious liberty to justify noncompliance with Grassley’s request, the senator had his own firm response:”Forget it. They don’t have a leg to stand on.”
If necessary, Grassley said he would seek subpoenas to get the information needed to determine if those benefiting from tax-exempt status — and, boy, are they benefiting — are complying with IRS rules. Good for him.
Just have to wonder how many other big-shot preachers are a little more nervous than before.