Update: Senator Grassley versus the TV Evangelists

Today was the deadline for a selected group of TV ministries to turn over financial information as demanded by Senator Charles Grassley. As we could have predicted, so far:

Kenneth Copeland and Joyce Meyer turned in everything before it was due. Paula White responded, but then went silent, no one has a clue what she is up to. Benny Hinn stalled. And Eddie Long and Creflo Dollar have stonewalled.

It’s certainly an interesting situation for anyone in the faith-based or non-profit media world. On the one hand, Grassley has done some real good investigating other non-profits like The Red Cross or United Way and uncovered abuses in some cases. His focus in the past has been the lifestyles the leaders of these organizations lead – especially in light of the fact that their organizations are built on donated money, given to help the public good.

And when it comes to the bigger picture of TV ministries as a whole, there are certainly serious abuses. If you’ve read this blog much then you know we try to call these people to a higher standard and cut out the “Jesus Junk” that pervades this arena. Do some TV evangelists need to be investigated? Absolutely.

But on the other hand, alarm bells go off when any politician targets a select religious group for an across the board “investigation.” As I’ve said before – what if he had targeted the top Muslim groups? The public would have been outraged. Besides, the IRS has very strict regulations for non-profits, churches, and religious organizations. Some have said that he’s investigating these groups because the IRS doesn’t cover them closely enough. But if that’s the case, why isn’t he investigating the IRS? If they’re not doing their job, it would appear they need to be looked into.

So there are certainly interesting reasons on both sides of the case. According to the media, a written response from Eddie Long’s attorney says Grassley’s request is informal, and that it “clearly disregards the privacy protections of the Church under law and appears to cross the line of Constitutional guarantees for churches.”

Dollar is stonewalling and waiting for a subpoena, which is interesting because subpoenaed records cannot be made open to the public, so Dollar keeps his information out of the public eye.

Joyce Meyer has taken the opposite approach. She says that the ministry embraces “… this latest opportunity to demonstrate our commitment to transparency with our supporters and our dedication to the continual improvement of our own systems of accountability.”

Grassley said he is not interested in doctrine. He wants to make sure media ministries are not abusing their tax-exempt status. He believes he has a right to review records because when non-profits get tax breaks, the general public has to pick up the financial slack.

What do you think? Stonewall? Or Comply? Or tell him to investigate the IRS?

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