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CULTURE DIGEST: ABC News looks at ministries that misuse donations; …

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP)–ABC News targeted the spending habits of the heads of some Christian ministry organizations that repeatedly ask people for monetary donations, with its “20/20” newsmagazine citing multimillion-dollar mansions and a private jet, for example, owned by Paul and Jan Crouch of Trinity Broadcasting Network.

“We’ve all been trained to not even think, to just give the money over and not ask questions and to just not be good stewards,” Rusty Leonard, founder of Stewardship Partners, said on 20/20 March 23. “And all the satisfaction we get is in the act of giving, not of making sure that actual good work gets done.”

Leonard became so disturbed by the misuse of ministry funds that he started a website, ministrywatch.com, which monitors the spending habits of a significant number of Christian groups. He helps the public keep tabs on which organizations are trustworthy with money and which ones don’t have financial transparency.

“It’s a huge red flag. Nobody should donate to any of those ministries. There’s no point in donating to a ministry that wants to take your money but not tell you a thing about how they’re going to spend that money,” Leonard told ABC. “… I’m human, you’re human. If I had no constraints on me, I’d probably do all kinds of stupid things.”

Trinity Broadcasting Network, the largest religious broadcaster in the world, is on Leonard’s “Donor Alerts” list because he has serious concerns about how money given to the group is spent.

TBN “sits on a $340 million cash hoard and owns houses in an exclusive Orange County, Calif., community hidden behind very regal gates,” ABC reported. “They control a mansion worth about $4 million, and an even bigger one — over 10,000 square feet — that’s worth about $6 million. The Crouches also travel the world in a jet worth a reported $7 million.”

TBN Vice President Paul Crouch Jr. issued a response to the broadcast, saying the program was based on “unreliable,” “outdated” and “incomplete” information and had used a “prejudiced source” — presumably referring to Leonard.

Ministrywatch.com gets about 4,000 hits a day, Leonard said, and some groups are actually asking him to evaluate them. The website released a list of the Top 30 Brightest Shining Light organizations for 2006, which are ministry groups that Leonard deems trustworthy with handling money. Among them are Answers in Genesis, Crown Financial Ministries and the Family Research Council.

JEWISH SEMINARY TO ACCEPT HOMOSEXUALS — Giving in to modern times and the need to attract a younger generation, the Jewish Theological Seminary has announced it will begin accepting homosexuals as students.

“The decision to ordain gay and lesbian clergy at JTS is in keeping with the longstanding commitment of the Jewish tradition of pluralism,” Arnold Eisen, chancellor-elect of the seminary affiliated with Conservative Judaism, said in a statement, according to The New York Times March 27. “Pluralism means that we recognize more than one way to be a good Conservative Jew, more than one way of walking authentically in the path of our tradition and of carrying that tradition forward.”

Jewish Theological Seminary in Manhattan is considered the intellectual and spiritual center of Conservative Judaism, which falls between the liberal Reform movement and the more traditional Orthodox, The Times noted. Reformed Jews accept homosexual rabbis, but Orthodox Jews do not.

The decision to accept homosexuals at Jewish Theological Seminary stems from a panel of Conservative legal experts who explored the topic and decided last December to let individual congregations and institutions decide their stance on homosexuality. The Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies in Los Angeles, the only other Conservative seminary in the United States, has already admitted two homosexual students, The Times reported.

.XXX PORNOGRAPHY DOMAIN REJECTED — The Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, a private agency that oversees Internet operation, has rejected for the third time in seven years a proposal to create a .xxx domain name for pornographic websites.

ICANN voted 9-5 March 30 against implementing the proposal, which supporters said would separate pornographers from the rest of the Internet. Use of the domain name would have been voluntary, and pornographers could have maintained their popular .com names as well.

“This is a victory for the American public and our supporters who by the thousands contacted the Commerce Department and ICANN to voice opposition to a XXX domain,” Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, said in a statement. “Instead of relegating porn to a specific domain, the government would have actually been facilitating the adult industry’s growth.

“In other words, the XXX would have established a virtual red light district, giving pornographers even more opportunities to flood our homes, libraries and communities with illegal, hardcore obscenity.”

Nearly all of the board members who voted against the domain name said they were concerned that ICANN would find itself in the content regulation business, deciding what is pornographic and what is not, the Associated Press reported.

In related news, the Alliance Defense Fund is promoting a four-minute video called “Defending Innocence: The Pima County Case,” which documents how concerned citizens in one town, armed with the right legal information and resources, took a stand against the spread of hardcore pornography by defeating a pornographic outlet’s attempt to locate within 500 feet of a children’s dance studio.

ADF co-founder James Dobson has said the war on the criminal enterprise of pornography is “a winnable war,” and ADF is encouraging people to visit communitydefense.org/faq/aboutcdc for more information.

NEVADA GOVERNOR OPPOSES LOTTERY BILL — In a rare alliance, the Democratic governor of Nevada, Jim Gibbons, is siding with Republicans in opposing a lottery in his state, but for a different reason.

Gibbons is against the proposed constitutional amendment allowing for a lottery because he fears it would compete with the state’s famous gambling industry, the Associated Press said March 27.

“I respect recent efforts by some legislators to explore options for new revenue to the state; however, I do not believe it is a proper function of Nevada government to operate a lottery, nor do I think that the state should be in competition with its largest industry,” Gibbons said in a statement, according to the Nevada Appeal.

Nearly every session of the Nevada legislature has dealt with a lottery proposal as a way to raise money for education, the Appeal said, but while it has passed the House, the proposal has yet to make it through the Senate and onto the ballot.

Gibbons said studies show that lotteries fail to promote economic development.

“Elsewhere, lotteries have proven to be costly and bureaucratic, something I do not believe our citizens want more of in Nevada,” he said. “I will not, therefore, support any legislation that includes the establishment of a lottery in Nevada.”

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  • Erin Roach