WASHINGTON (BP)–Two television ministries still are refusing to comply fully with a U.S. Senate committee’s probe into their financial records.
Televangelists Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar failed to provide the requested information by the March 31 deadline, according to a written release from Sen. Charles Grassley, R.-Iowa, the minority leader on the Finance Committee. Sen. Max Baucus, D.-Mont., the committee’s chairman, and Grassley had asked Copeland and Dollar, plus fellow televangelist Eddie Long, to submit the documentation they are seeking by the end of March.
Long and three other televangelists have either complied, have begun doing so or have committed to fulfill the request, the written release from Grassley said. According to the release:
— Long will provide information April 15, his ministry reported.
— Randy and Paula White have shipped their initial set of answers, a lawyer said March 28.
— Benny Hinn submitted a second collection of documents March 28.
— Joyce Meyer has fulfilled the request.
Grassley said he would continue his dialogue with the ministries of Copeland and Dollar.
Copeland said his ministry provided 23 pages of answers to questions and 291 pages of supporting material in response to Grassley’s initial request in November, but Baucus and Grassley said March 12 the information was “incomplete.” Dollar has not produced any of the material requested by the senators.
“It’s good to see the majority of the ministries offering information,” Grassley said in the March 31 release. “They receive generous tax breaks as non-profit organizations. In general, the federal Treasury forgoes billions of tax dollars a year to tax-exempt groups. The ministries’ sharing of material with the Senate committee in charge of tax policy shows an interest in accountability for their special tax status.”
All the televangelists targeted by the committee are identified with the “word of faith” movement, Copeland said on his ministry’s website, adding that the inquiry “raises significant concerns” as to whether religious beliefs are being targeted. “Word of faith” teaching often consists of a so-called “prosperity gospel” that promises physical and financial blessings for believers in Christ. Accusations of contributions being used to support lavish lifestyles have been leveled against at least some of the televangelists.
Grassley initially requested information from the six ministries in a Nov. 5 letter. He asked them to provide their personal and ministry related financial records, including credit card statements, expenses for secondary residences used by the televangelists, gifts given by the ministries and lists of private automobiles. Grassley’s questions were based on accounts from watchdog organizations and whistleblowers, as well as investigative news reports, the senator said.
Baucus and Grassley sent a joint letter to Copeland, Dollar and Long -– the three who had yet to say they would comply — March 11, long after Grassley’s original Dec. 6 deadline had passed. Baucus and Grassley expressed hope at that time the committee would receive the documents “without resorting to compulsory process,” an apparent reference to the possibility of subpoenas.
The Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) welcomed the increased cooperation by the televangelists.
“Financial transparency is the cornerstone of financial integrity for nonprofits,” ECFA President Ken Behr said in a written statement. While he appreciates the religious freedom concerns expressed by some, Behr said he believes ministries that comply with current regulations “actually improve donor confidence in our religious charities.”
None of the six ministries is a member of the ECFA.
In early December the National Religious Broadcasters expressed concern about Grassley’s investigation, even though none of the ministries belongs to NRB. NRB President Frank Wright said in a letter to Grassley he was worried about the “broader implications,” saying the senator’s letter “goes far beyond a mere request for financial records necessary to scrutinize the charitable nature of [an] organization’s operations.”
The names of the televangelists and their ministries, plus the locations of their headquarters, are: Kenneth Copeland, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, Newark Texas; Creflo Dollar, World Changers Church International, College Park, Ga.; Eddie Long, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Lithonia, Ga.; Joyce Meyer, Joyce Meyer Ministries, Fenton, Mo.; Benny Hinn, Benny Hinn Ministries, Grapevine, Texas, and Randy and Paula White, Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries, Tampa, Fla.
The Whites announced in August they are divorcing.
Compiled by Tom Strode, Washington bureau chief of Baptist Press.