Beliefs Politics

Five of six ministries meet deadline in Senate spending probe

c. 2007 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON _ Five of the six prominent evangelical ministries that were given until Thursday (Dec. 6) to submit financial statements as part of a Senate probe of alleged lavish spending had made at least some contact by the deadline, Sen. Chuck Grassley said.

One of those five, Atlanta-based Creflo Dollar Ministries, has refused to voluntarily provide any information, and the sixth, Bishop Eddie Long of Atlanta, has not made any formal contact.

Grassley, R-Iowa, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, had given the six television ministries 30 days to respond to his request.

The letters were sent to Randy and Paula White of Tampa, Fla.; Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Texas; Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Mo.; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, Ga.; Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Ga.; and Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.

As of 5:30 p.m. Thursday, Grassley’s office reported:

_ Copeland’s ministry delivered a package of material.

_ Dollar’s ministry sent a letter saying it doesn’t plan to provide material voluntarily and “raised the idea of a subpoena.”

_ Hinn’s attorneys have scheduled a meeting on Friday (Dec. 7). (His ministry issued a statement saying it plans to respond to the inquiry by Jan. 30.)

_ Long’s representatives have not sent any material or made contact with Grassley, but ministry representatives have said publicly that they will cooperate.

_ Meyer’s ministry sent a package of material.

_ The Whites’ attorneys have contacted Grassley’s staff.

“It’s good that some of the ministries are cooperating,” Grassley said in a statement. “I hope all of them will cooperate in the end.”

Grassley, who has previously investigated the American Red Cross and the Smithsonian Institution, said his investigation was sparked by news coverage and complaints from the public about the affluent lifestyles and large budgets of ministry leaders.

Some prominent Christian leaders and organizations concerned with financial accountability welcomed the investigation as long overdue. But an umbrella group, the National Religious Broadcasters, questioned the probe in a letter sent to Grassley on Tuesday.

NRB President and CEO Frank Wright wrote that Grassley’s request “goes far beyond a mere request for financial records necessary to scrutinize the charitable nature of (an) organization’s operations.”

None of the six ministries under investigation are members of the NRB, which is based in Manassas, Va.

(OPTIONAL TRIM FOLLOWS)

In a statement released the day before the deadline, Grassley clarified the reasons for his requests.

“This has nothing to do with church doctrine,” he said Wednesday. “This has everything to do with the tax exemption of an organization. Is that tax exemption being used according to the law, and is the money that’s donated under the tax exemption being used for legitimate, non-profit purposes?”

He said his inquiry is not an “attack” on ministries or other tax-exempt groups.

“I believe the strong majority of non-profit groups, including churches, operate above-board and perform good works that make their tax exemption a bargain for the American people,” he said. “But it would be irresponsible not to examine allegations of questionable practices at certain tax-exempt groups.”

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