News Revelations

IRS changes status of Billy Graham’s ministry

Billy Graham speaks during the Billy Graham Crusade at Flushing Meadows Corona Park in New York City on June 25, 2005. RNS photo by John O'Boyle/ The Star-Ledger

(RNS) The Internal Revenue Service has reclassified one of the most famous Christian organizations, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.

At the request of the Graham organization, the IRS changed its tax status from a nonprofit to an “association of churches,” The NonProfit Times reported Monday (Sept. 26). The change was made last November.

The change means the 66-year-old Christian organization no longer has to file what the IRS calls Form 990, a public statement of its financial information, including salaries for top officials. It will continue to publish an annual financial report, available to the public on its website.

The reason for the change, said Mark DeMoss, a Graham spokesperson, is primarily to avoid the intense work required to file a 990, which he described as “onerous.”

“It takes a full-time person a big part of a year just to prepare the 990 and when you are also having to prepare audited financial statements anyway, it is a bit of an extra burden,” he said.

The shift will not affect who the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association may hire or what kind of health care it must provide employees.

DeMoss also said the new tax status will safeguard the organization’s religious liberties.

“There are many organizations who believe that religious liberties are better protected if they are designated as an association of churches,” he said. “A lot of people feel like those freedoms are increasingly being restricted.”

The BGEA was founded by the Rev. Billy Graham, 97, and is now run by his son Franklin Graham. Franklin Graham has been critical of IRS scrutiny of both his father’s and his own organization, the humanitarian relief organization Samaritan’s Purse.

“I believe that someone in the administration was targeting and attempting to intimidate us,” Graham said in a letter to President Obama in 2013 after both nonprofits were audited by the IRS. “This is morally wrong and unethical.”

According to its most recent IRS disclosures, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association took in almost $107 million in 2015. Samaritan’s Purse recorded an income of $593 million for that year. Franklin Graham was compensated a total of more than $1 million between both groups.

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About the author

Kimberly Winston

Kimberly Winston is a freelance religion reporter based in the San Francisco Bay Area.

30 Comments

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  • I think you have a point. How much profit has Graham made from the sale of Graham crackers? It’s probably in the millions of dollars. I personally prefer chocolate-chip cookies, but (to paraphrase the Pope) if someone honestly likes Graham crackers, then who am I to judge?

  • Christianity has changed from Jesus only owning the shirt on his back and the apostle Paul sewing tents to support their ministry. The Grahams are multi-millionaires and the Pope’s outfits use gold thread. What are they saving that wealth for? Shouldn’t the coffers stay almost empty as they apply that money for charitable purposes. Charity is one of the pillars of Islam and from what I’ve read, they outdo Christians.

  • Once again, secular thinkers of the more extreme type (you know who you are), only wish to apply the putative provisions of the “separation of Church and State” when they work to the Church’s disadvantage, never the reverse.

  • “religious liberties are better protected if they are designated as an association of churches”
    …in the name of “god of fortresses”FREEDOM for each to worship any own strange god.

  • I guess Franklin doesn’t want people to see how he pays himself close to a million dollars a year to do nothing more than run around screaming about how the sky is falling.

  • DeMoss, quoted: “A lot of people feel like those freedoms are increasingly being restricted.”

    Unfortunately for the folks DeMoss is talking about, that they “feel” that way, doesn’t mean it’s actually happening. Feelings are, in fact, an exceedingly poor barometer of reality. Their feelings may be real, but they are not fact.

    In Christianity’s case these feelings are compounded by the inherently persecutorial psychopathology of the religion. They’ve been known to invent “persecution” simply so they can “feel” persecuted for Jesus. That leads to delusions.

  • Apparently, you do not understand the term separation. There are plenty of advantages this separation provides, without a peep from us “extreme secular thinkers”. But when the Church is getting unfair and special privilege provided to them, then yes we will speak out against it. Sorry you do not agree with that.

  • Please explain to me why a church needs a designation as a “family of churches” as opposed to tax exempt charity, what privileges that offers, and WHY a church needs that special privilege not afforded to others? I think those answers tell a lot!

  • so they made the change because filling out a tax return is JUST TOO HARD?? A private company like theirs raking in millions from the poorest people in the country can’t afford to pay people to do that? How many jobs does that eliminate?

    These people have run christianity into the ground, people are running from their christian roots in droves because of their hate for anyone different than them. It’s the salem witch trials all over again for them.

  • Over on his FB page, Graham is screaming bloody-murder about how evil Obama is “giving away the internet,” and whipping his lunatic followers into more than their usual spasms of crazed rage. Some of them are saying that Obama should be shot, and Congress “hung” (heh heh heh). Of course, what any of this has to do with Grifter Graham’s duty to preach the “Gospel” is beyond me. And of course the Grifter is lying through his teeth about the facts.

  • People like to hide their financials because they have something to hide. This son has made a travesty of his father’s ministry. Shame, shame on Franklin Graham.

  • That is true to some degree. CharityWatch.org gives Samaritan’s purse an A- because only 77 percent of it’s total expenditures are spent on the stated Programs (relative to Overhead). That’s not good enough. But, that’s also misleading. E.g., A truck driver is driving relief supplies to victims of a natural disaster. Should the salary and other expenses of that trip go towards the expenses or administrative overhead? What about when that same truck driver is just at the headquarters cleaning the truck, doing maintenance, etc? If a manager is on the phone actively making the arrangements for where to store the supplies that truck driver is delivering, is that overhead administrative expenses or is it part of the relief efforts? Does he need to separate part of his salary to administrative overhead and part towards the project? How these questions are answered determine how different rating agencies will get different figures. An accountant does not contribute directly to relief efforts, but his job keeps the bills paid, the overabundance of governmental red-tape met, employees paid, tax records handled, etc. That salary wouldn’t go towards projects, but the position is absolutely essential for the programs of the entity to succeed. All employees need to eat, have utilities, etc. So, they need to be paid. Overall it’s not as bad as many non-profits, but could be better.

    Charitynavigator.org breaks things down differently because they put some expenditures in different categories: Program Expenses 88.3 %., Administrative Expenses 4.5 %, Fundraising Expenses 7.1% Those fundraising expenses may look high until you realize they spend 6 cents to raise every dollar. Much better than many other charities that spend 40-70 cents for every dollar.

    Should Franklin be making what he is making? That’s a question you are willing to answer yourself. But, compared to other non-profits they are doing well.

  • I disagree. Christians in many countries of the world are being killed specifically because they will not denounce their faith in Christ. Other countries are just putting them in jail. Still others are just fining them. Many Christians in the USA see a series of events in the US as leading towards those extremes even though we are a long way off from them.
    Examples:
    Some kids have been forbidden to form Bible clubs, wear clothes that fit the rules except they promote Christ (but promoting political/causes are allowed), forbidden to do book reports on the Bible, forbidden to pray out in the open, sing Christian songs in talent shows, etc. So far, the lawsuits have mostly been won in favor of the kids having these fundamental rights. But, the fact that they had to go to court speaks volumes.
    Silhouettes of Churches that were essential to the founding of towns have been forced to be removed from city seals. This despite the fact that the Church/monastery was the first formal non-home structure in the town and played a central role in the history of the town (both for religious and simple civic events).
    Schools are not allowed to have moments of silence or prayer at the beginning of the day.
    The importance of the Christian Church (of multiple variations) has been erased from some history books.
    Many people of faith will report that their neighbors and others in the community are becoming more and more brazen in their remarks against Christians. I have been criticized for doing charity work when the people found out I was there with a group from the Church. It was okay right up until they found out we were a Church group.

    I could go on and on. You may not agree with the concern that many Christians have, but it is a justified concern and is not delusional.

  • You are correct; there are places in the world where Christians have been and are being persecuted and murdered. And what do many Christians in the U.S. piss and moan about? Being wished “Happy Holidays!”

    Those religious symbols are being remove from city and town seals because they shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Allow me to direct your attention the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment: “Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion…”

    I think your neighbors were wrong for criticizing you and your church group simply for doing charity work. But I find the general cry of victimization from certain segments of the Christian community to be far fetched in a nation where there’s practically a church on every corner. In a society where the free flow of ideas is permitted and essential any position is subject to challenge. This does not amount to persecution.

    What I think is bothering you is the fact that Christian hegemony is beginning to evaporate. To the privileged equality seems like oppression.

  • I highly recommend the newly published book, Ten Tough Problems in Christian Thought and Belief: A minister-Turned Atheist Shows Why You Should Ditch the Faith, by David Madison. Granted, it’s preaching to the choir, if you’ll pardon the expression, but he asks some pretty straightforward questions which any rational person should consider.

  • Re: “I disagree.”

    Of course you do.

    Re: “Christians in many countries of the world are being killed specifically because they will not denounce their faith in Christ.”

    But not here in the US.

    Re: “Many Christians in the USA see a series of events in the US as leading towards those extremes even though we are a long way off from them.”

    Please provide a list of American Christians who’ve been killed solely because they’re Christians. (And Cassie Bernall at Columbine doesn’t count, because that was a fictional story.)

    Re: “Some kids have been forbidden to form Bible clubs …”

    Wait. Are you telling me they can’t hold Bible clubs in their homes, their churches, their parish centers, in private halls? Seriously!? When did that happen? Please, provide a list.

    Re: “… wear clothes that fit the rules except they promote Christ (but promoting political/causes are allowed), forbidden to do book reports on the Bible …”

    Ah. Those, you see, are tales woven by Todd Starnes of Fox. Every bit as fictional as Cassie Bernall’s supposed martyrdom.

    Re: “… forbidden to pray out in the open …”

    Christians aren’t supposed to pray in the open. Your own Jesus clearly and unambiguously ordered you to pray “in your inner room.” Please see Matthew 6:5-6.

    Re: “Silhouettes of Churches that were essential to the founding of towns have been forced to be removed from city seals.”

    Yes, because those cities aren’t supposed to be promoting them. You do know the law, don’t you?

    Re: “This despite the fact that the Church/monastery was the first formal non-home structure in the town and played a central role in the history of the town (both for religious and simple civic events).”

    And what bearing, exactly, could that possibly have on the governance of any given town? Why is it necessary to make obeisance to those “first structures” merely because they were the “first structures” in town? How is that not a form of idolatry? Please see Exodus 20:4-5, Deuteronomy 5:8-9, and 1 John 5:21, among many scriptural passages that forbid idolatry.

    Re: “Schools are not allowed to have moments of silence or prayer at the beginning of the day.”

    So far you’re not impressing me. When I was in school, we had “moments of silence.” Sorry, but you’re lying.

    Re: “The importance of the Christian Church (of multiple variations) has been erased from some history books.”

    I’ve studied history in college, and also know this not to be true. Any study of European or American history is going to deal with Church history. To say otherwise is simply absurd on its face.

    Re: “Many people of faith will report that their neighbors and others in the community are becoming more and more brazen in their remarks against Christians.”

    As far as I know, you’re not entitled to be liked by others merely because you’re Christians. You do realize that, I hope? Did you honestly expect to be fawned over because you blather on and on about your Jesus? If so, what kind of arrogance could possibly make you think so? How dare you even be arrogant about your Christianity, when your own Jesus ordered you to be humble, instead? Please see Matthew 5:3, 5 among many other gospel passages about the virtue and sanctity of humility.

    Re: “I have been criticized for doing charity work when the people found out I was there with a group from the Church.”

    Oh, you poor thing! Here, let me give you pacifier. Oh — and let me make that sarcasm clear: I also don’t believe you when you say your charity was disrespected and rejected merely because you’re from a church. I simply don’t buy that any more than I buy that history books no longer mention the Church.

    Re: “I could go on and on.”

    I don’t doubt that you can. What I doubt is that you can do so based on verifiable fact rather than on your general “feeling” that you’re being persecuted. To be clear, that feeling of persecution is an artifact of Christianity itself. As a martyr’s cult, the ultimate goal of any Christian — as expressed by the apostle Paul, the apostolic father Ignatius of Antioch, and many others — is to be persecuted for Jesus’ sake. Honestly, I get it. You can’t help yourself. It’s a compulsion you can’t resist.

    But while I may understand the compulsion, and the delusions it’s engendered, I am (unfortunately for you) under no obligation to buy into any of it.

  • Separation means precisely that…Separation. The Church’s resources are not properly, under that principle, any of the government’s business. The Church is not an individual nor a business as such, only when an effort by the Church to engage in profit making takes place should such profits be liable to potential taxation. Please cite for me some of these advantages the Church attains to at the expense of the State. I would further point out that our rights as citizens, any citizen, do not derive from the State; they are inalienable. Sorry that you do not understand that basic constitutional principle.

  • Of course ANY news like this will bring out the Graham-haters, as the long line of commentators below will attest. There was virtually no change on the IRS end except the 990 requirement; what makes this anybody else’s business? Some folks have ‘way too much time on thieir hands.

  • Franklin Graham says and does Letty reprehensible things. Animosity is not just natural, it would be expected by people who hold themselves to any moral and ethical standards.

  • Well, it’s obviously NOT a non-profit organization.

    “It takes a full-time person a big part of a year just to prepare the 990 and when you are also having to prepare audited financial statements anyway, it is a bit of an extra burden,”

    Their imaginary god can supposedly write a “holy book” through men, but it can’t complete a tax return without it being a “burden.”

  • “Please cite for me some of these advantages the Church attains to at the expense of the State.”

    For starters: http://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/mass-court-says-it-s-all-right-to-force-taxpayers-to-foot-the-bill-for

    Furthermore, who responds to church fires? It’s not the sky-fairy.

    “I would further point out that our rights as citizens, any citizen, do not derive from the State;”

    Some do, some don’t. Regardless, the state is control of your rights. Not the sky-fairy.

  • None of our rights derive from the State, they are inalienable, certain privileges yes, such as a operator’s license for a motor vehicle. And certain rights come with restrictions, age and citizenship requirements for voting. On your final point, I quite agree, the state is in control of our rights, sometimes to the detriment of our liberties. I have no conception of this sky fairy to which you refer. As to church fires, the costs to the state are minimal on a percentage basis measured against more common conflagrations, but not all fires, structural or otherwise, are charged back through taxes to their victims. Thus the firefighter’s response is a benefit, not an advantage, there is a subtle difference. Further if a church or synagogue, or mosque burns (quite often as a function of arson) should the fire dept. let it burn, potentially spreading to other buildings? I think not.

  • I like how you ignored http://www.au.org/blogs/wall-of-separation/mass-court-says-it-s-all-right-to-force-taxpayers-to-foot-the-bill-for

    “None of our rights derive from the State, they are inalienable”

    That is a “philosophical” stance. There’s no absolute, universal law to substantiate it. The idea of inalienable rights is social construct.

    “Thus the firefighter’s response is a benefit, not an advantage,”

    Huh? You’re going to play word games to make a point? A benefit is an advantage.

    “should the fire dept. let it burn”

    I didn’t suggest any such thing. That’s a silly comment.

  • “I have no conception of this sky fairy to which you refer. ”

    Then you have “no conception” of the church.

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