…Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar's; and unto God the things that are God's.--Matthew 22:21 KJV
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between man and his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that the legislative powers of government reach actions only, and not opinions, I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.--Thomas Jefferson’s letter to the Danbury Baptist Association, dated January 1, 1802.
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…--US Constitution, Amendment One
While some members of the US Senate are busy running for president and other members are picking sides between them, still others are working behind the scenes for the watchword of the day: change. That change, if successful, will most certainly be dramatic. The question remains, however, is whether the prospective change is good, desirable, or whether it is even constitutional.
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), the Senate Finance Committee chair, is heading a investigation into the finances of six Christian ministries. Each ministry must provide the committee with all information concerning its expenses, executive compensation, and amenities given to executives. The investigation started in November.
The inquiry is part of Grassley’s long-standing interest in making sure tax-exempt organizations are accountable to donors.
"I’m following up on complaints from the public and news coverage regarding certain practices at six ministries," Grassley said. "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 with the tax code."All of these ministries are familiar to me and, except for the Meyers (who have already complied with the Senate's "request"), all either explicitly say or give off the impression that they subscribe to the "prosperity doctrine"--that a Christian should give his/her church tithes and offerings in order to receive something tangible in return, rather than doing so because God commands it. (I would assume that the private aircraft and the Rolls Royces are evidence that the doctrine is sound. Okay, not really.) The deadline to furnish the information to the Senate Committee was December 6, 2007, so the ball is in the Committee's court.
Grassley wrote to Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.; Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church, Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas; David and Joyce Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga., and Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga.
Are these ministries grossly profiting from the tithes and offerings of their followers? Heaven only knows. And perhaps it's necessary for an earthly authority to look into answering that question.
But should that authority be the US Senate?
And how would the Senate be sure that a religious entity is accountable to its donors?
What will happen to the five ministries who have refused to release the requested information?
After the situation is resolved, what precedents would be set for governmental agencies to make further demands on some other church, synagogue, mosque, etc.?
See, we may say "yeah! go get 'em" for at least one of the above-mentioned ministries, but, as always, the short-term satisfaction of seeing suspected charlatans get theirs must give way to long-term considerations: whether this investigation will lead to more fishing expeditions in the Church.
If they can do it to these churches without actual evidence of wrong-doing, who's to say that yours isn't next?
Of the investigation, Pastor Joel Hunter of 12,000-member Northland, A Church Distributed in Orlando said that there's nothing to fear if the six entities are innocent. "Nothing to fear if innocent." Why do those words always seem to herald some intrusion upon liberty?
UPDATE: Walking the line--the Copelands aren't exactly operating as if their tax-exempt status is in jeopardy.
LITTLE ROCK, Ark. — A Christian nonprofit says a Texas televangelist turned a national ministers’ gathering last week into a fundraising opportunity for Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee [that guy again], a newspaper reports.
The Trinity Foundation, a charity that monitors televangelists and viewed a live Internet broadcast of the event, said the fundraiser took in $111,000 and generated pledges nearing $1 million, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reported in a copyrighted article Tuesday.
The fundraiser was held at Kenneth Copeland Ministries’ campus in Newark, Texas.
Russ Florence of Tulsa, Okla., a spokesman for Copeland, said in a statement that the event did not amount to an endorsement of Huckabee by Kenneth Copeland Ministries. He said Huckabee’s campaign rented one of the rooms after the ministers’ conference and Kenneth Copeland Ministries did not make a contribution to Huckabee’s campaign.
“No offering was or has been taken for any political candidate by Kenneth Copeland Ministries or at a KCM event,” Florence said. [SNIP]
“Basically, Kenneth Copeland simply asked him how he could pray for him and the governor asked him to pray for physical stamina for the team and the financial resources that they need each day,” she said. “I’m not sure who called who.”
Huckabee’s campaign released a statement saying it rented a room for “a separate event that was hosted by a private individual” and was not affiliated with Copeland’s ministry. The campaign said the event conformed with campaign finance laws and tax regulations.
The Trinity Foundation is helping in a Senate investigation, headed by Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. Grassley began the probe into spending by Christian television ministries last year.
Copeland’s actions “should raise enormous red flags,” said Trinity Foundation founder Ole Anthony. “This is not appropriate as a part of American church life or American politics.”