A ministry watchdog released its list of top 30 ministries that grade high in financial transparency and aren't tainted with issues that would concern donors.
Not on MinistryWatch's December 2007 list are the six ministries currently under scrutiny for alleged opulent spending.
To make it on the watchdog's top "Shining Light" ministries list, organizations are required to be a legitimate nonprofit ministry with a legitimate purpose, show a willingness to treat donors fairly with a transparency grade of "A," be unashamed of being identified as an evangelical Christian ministry, and have no significant issues that would be of concern to donors.
Some of the high-profile ministries under a Senate investigation, called on by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), have received failing grades for financial transparency by MinistryWatch. Adding on allegations from other watchdogs and media reports of possible abuse of nonprofit status, Grassley - the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance - launched an investigation on the ministries in question.
The six ministries - led by Paula and Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland - each collect tens of millions of dollars in donations each year and have millions of viewers who tune in to their ministry broadcasts.
Grassley had requested financial statements and responses to questions regarding personal and organizational finances from each of the ministries by Dec. 6 but papers from only Joyce Meyers Ministries and Kenneth Copeland Ministries were received by the deadline. They are both being reviewed.
Attorneys with Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church, Inc., have not made clear whether the ministry will cooperate with the investigation or not. They last contacted Grassley's staff on Dec. 13, according to Grassley's office on Tuesday. Attorneys representing the Whites, who recently divorced, of Without Walls International Church have been in contact with Grassley's office and asked for additional time to respond
Meanwhile, Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International and Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church have sent Grassley letters indicating they will not comply.
The groups aren't legally required to provide the documentation.
However, with a large base of followers and the media spotlight, all eyes are on the ministry leaders who preach what critics call the prosperity gospel, a highly criticized theology that teaches wealth is a sign of God's blessing.
Grassley has repeatedly insisted that the Senate probe is not about doctrine, but whether the ministries are following the laws.
Some have raised concern about the investigation threatening church independence especially if it ends with new tax rules for all ministries.
But Grassley has the support of several Christian groups – including MinistryWatch, Trinity Foundation, the editor of Charisma magazine, and the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability – that want proof that these preachers are not misusing funds.
"If the Church fails to hold its own accountable and if its most visible leaders fail to live by the very standards they purport to proclaim, then we should applaud when a leader with the standing of Grassley demands accountability," said Michael Barrick, an editorial consultant for MinistryWatch.com.
"How these televangelists respond will reflect directly upon the Gospel of Jesus Christ. One hopes that Senator Grassley has success; if he does, he will be among the first," he said, noting that others have failed to get responses when questions about financial practices were raised.
Grassley has not specified how much more time he will give each of the ministries to respond.