(Photo courtesy Michael Batts)
A financial accountability commission focused on religious nonprofits announced Thursday that it has launched an online forum for public comments on regulatory and tax policy issues.
The Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations hopes the forum will provide tangible feedback centered on regulatory issues regarding churches, clergy, and other nonprofits.
“It is vital that we have as much constructive input as possible, since the issues we are addressing could affect clergy, religious organizations and other nonprofits all across America,” said Michael Batts, chair of the Commission, in a statement.
“We hope that public feedback will give the commission further clarity and insight as we address these important issues.”
Formed by the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability in January, the commission was created in response to the conclusion of a three-year Congressional probe into the finances of six televangelist ministries. Headed by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the probe found problems regarding issues of financial accountability and excessive spending in the six ministries investigated.
The ministries investigated were Joyce Meyer Ministries, Benny Hinn's World Healing Center Church, Creflo Dollar's World Changers Church International, Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and Without Walls International Church.
In an interview with The Christian Post, Batts said that the commission’s purpose is based on the concerns that came from the Congressional probe.
“[The commission’s goal] is to improve the overall health and financial practices of the religious organizations sector for the good of the sector and to avoid burdensome regulation and inappropriate government entanglement,” said Batts.
Despite the emphasis on “self-regulation,” Batts explained that the “ECFA is not opposed to appropriate types and levels of government oversight.”
“However, an extensive history of Supreme Court case law has made it explicitly clear that excessive entanglement by the government with the church is unconstitutional.”
The recently launched public input page on the commission’s website lists 17 issues, each with its own set of questions related to the topic.
An individual who desires to offer input can click on a button at each issue to read a brief description and then can click on an adjacent button that leads them to where they can provide input. The input page contains criteria for the submission, including requests for civility and being germane to the topic asked about on the previous page.
Questions on the public input page include issues regarding the IRS, tax benefits, and audit protection for church leaders.
In addition to the online forum, the commission will also hold two town hall-styled events next year as a way of garnering live public feedback.
The first town hall will be held in the Los Angeles area on March 5, and the second town hall will be held in the Dallas area on March 7.