The Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science is working on a new project that members claim will expose America's "religio-industrial complex," and highlight the tax perks and privileges enjoyed by megachurch pastors and preachers of the prosperity gospel.
"The most important first step is cataloging the extravagant lifestyles of some clergy for an audience that includes the religious and non-religious alike. Many religious people find the extravagant lifestyles of some religious figures offensive," Sean Faircloth, the foundation's Director of Strategy & Policy, shared with The Christian Post about the idea behind the report.
While Faircloth could not say when the report would be completed, he added in his emailed statement that the main purpose and goal of the effort was to push for "equal treatment under the law, so that no religious bias in American law exists, including in tax policies (e.g. the parsonage exemption which benefits numerous well-off clergy)."
Faircloth goes more in depth about the investigation the Richard Dawkins Foundation is conducting into the wealth of many of America's religious leaders on GodDiscussion.com, where he shares that federal law permits religious organizations to give housing allowances to ministers, called parsonage exemptions, which allow some clergy to allegedly live like millionaires.
"Eight so-called ministers got housing allowances at Robert Schuller's Crystal Cathedral. Now three of these received housing allowances of $100,000-plus a year and three happened to be relatives of Reverend Schuller. Robert Schuller's daughter bought a house now valued at $2.29 million," the Richard Dawkins Foundation representative claims.
Faircloth also brings up the issue of the teaching of the prosperity gospel – mainly, when some megachurch leaders teach the faithful that if they donate money to the church or a particular ministry, they will be blessed by God with material and spiritual wealth.
"Joyce Meyer, America's top woman minister, lives the prosperity gospel full out, I'll tell you," Faircloth claims on GodDiscussion.com "Her ministry brings in over $100 million annually and of her money, she says 'There's no need for us to apologize for being blessed.' And Meyer asked, 'Is there no reward for anybody who's doing what I am doing?' Luckily, God has provided a very specific answer to that question. One part of that answer is a multimillion dollar private jet because flying commercial is so, to quote Meyer, uncomfortable today.
The future report is also set to highlight the rise of megachurches in America, the mentality that is allowing them to gain members, and how they are utilizing a government system that allows churches to operate as charitable organizations and go tax free.
Some megachurch pastors, such as Rick Warren of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., have chosen not to receive a salary from their church, choosing instead to develop charitable outreach programs to assist their communities (read Megachurch Pastors Use Their Millions to Bless Others).
Joel Osteen of Lakewood Church in Texas, one of the most popular megachurch pastors in America, argued earlier this year that financially successful ministries teaching people that they too can enjoy success does not conflict with teachings of the Bible.
"The way I define it is that I believe God wants you to prosper in your health, in your family, in your relationships, in your business, and in your career. So I do … if that is the prosperity gospel, then I do believe that," Osteen said in a previous interview with The Christian Post.
"I don't believe we are supposed to go through life defeated and not having enough money to pay our bills or send our kids to college. So you know, when I hear some of that, I think that is not who I am, he doesn't know me or what I teach. Because he is saying God doesn't believe that… there is no demand, I don't think I'd put it like that but I always talk about God rewards obedience. When you follow His way, the Bible says that His blessings will chase you down and overtake you."