Joyce Meyer Ministries Addresses Lingering Controversies About Financial Practices

A representative for Joyce Meyer Ministries insists that the non-profit organization has long valued transparency and financial accountability and was not, in fact, moved to make significant changes to its financial operations due to being targeted by a Senate investigation or scrutiny from investigative reports.

(Courtesy of Joyce Meyer Ministries)

Meyer is a popular Bible teacher and bestselling author who is president of her namesake nonprofit and also co-founder, along with her husband, of the ministry's St. Louis Dream Center, where Meyer occasionally preaches. The Fenton, Missouri-based Christian ministry, which enjoys the "regular support" of 405,414 donors, recently released its latest annual financial report detailing its assets, expenditures, and the results of its charitable and evangelistic endeavors. Data not included in the report, however, are the salaries paid to members of Joyce Meyer Ministries' board of directors, specifically, to her husband and two sons. At one time, members of the Meyer family (including daughters Laura Holtzmann and Sandra McCollom) accounted for 50 percent of JMM's board members.

The ministry, founded in 1985 as Life in The Word, expanded its board from eight to 12 members when it joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) in 2009, about two years after the Senate probe was launched. Scrutiny by the St. Louis-Post Dispatch allegedly also prompted the JMM board to reduce its CEO's salary and change how Meyer financially benefits from her lucrative book sales. Proceeds from Meyer's books, along with honorariums from her private speaking engagements, are given to the ministry and not to Meyer herself, according to an attestation letter in JMM's annual report.

"Joyce Meyer Ministries was already transparent," Lori Ann Potter, public relations liaison for the organization insisted in a July 29-30 email exchange with The Christian Post. "Our efforts to maintain financial accountability and transparency have been in practice for many years and were not a result of Senator Grassley's inquiry."

The inquiry in question was launched in 2007 by Iowa Sen. Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance, and concluded in 2011. Meyer was targeted in the financial probe along with ministers Benny Hinn, Creflo Dollar, Paula White, Eddie Long, and Kenneth Copeland. The group, its members also referred to as prosperity preachers, was dubbed the "Grassley Six."

None of the targeted ministers were obligated to comply with the Senate committee's requests for detailed information on their financial practices, and faced no penalties for choosing not to. Meyer and Hinn did respond to the inquires and were commended by the panel for doing so, although Meyer was the only one who's ministry joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA).

The ECFA, founded in 1979 by evangelist Billy Graham, states on its website that it provides services to many well-known Christian nonprofits "that faithfully demonstrate compliance with established standards for financial accountability, transparency, fundraising and board governance." Some notable ECFA members include Biola University, Cru, Gospel for Asia, and Jews for Jesus.

Seeking accreditation from the ECFA in 2009, increasing its board of directors from eight to 12 members and increasing frequency of board meetings to twice a year were the only changes adopted by the ministry, Potter told CP, in the wake of the Senate investigation.

"These were the only changes made. We were already fully compliant with IRS laws and no further changes were necessary as a result of the Senate Finance Committee investigation. We wanted to join the ECFA to be a part of an organization that provides guidance and oversight to religious organizations," Potter said.

In the concluding report released by Grassley, the senator maintained concern over the "the personal use of church-owned airplanes, luxury homes and credit cards by pastors and their families" and questioned "the lack of oversight of finances by boards often packed with the televangelists' relatives and friends," The Associated Press reported at the time.

The Senate committee handed the policy issues over to ECFA to study, Dan Busby, president of the accreditation organization told CP. The ECFA president explained that his organization then formed a national commission on accountability policies for religious organizations. The committee produced two reports, including one entitled "Enhancing Accountability for the Religious and Broader Nonprofit Sector."

The resulting recommendation from the committee, composed of "80 religious leaders from across all major faith lines," was to let these non-profit organizations monitor themselves — since the IRS already has laws regulating charities.

As a 501(c)(3) charitable organization, Joyce Meyer Ministries is classified as a "church" by IRS guidelines. The IRS prohibits heads or insiders of such nonprofits from gaining "excessive economic benefit" from their organizations. However, the IRS does not provide numerical guidelines for what it considers "fair" or "reasonable" compensation. A tax exempt status can be jeopardized if the nonprofit's activities "serve the private interests of any individual or organization" instead of "the poor or the distressed or the community at large" (for example). JMM, like any church, synagogue or mosque, is exempt from otherwise mandatory federal income tax and can opt out of filing the related 990 form disclosing its financial dealings.

"The long and short of that project that took a year or so to complete, we said basically there are enough laws on the books right now to monitor religious organizations if there are outliers, if there are concerns about ministries today, the Internal Revenue Service has the power to address those. So while the senator's staff had really pushed for more legislation, our response was 'no more legislation,'" Busby told CP.

Some might consider the Grassley investigation fruitless since it lacked teeth to enforce participation from these ministries, and in the end, left these nonprofits to simply monitor themselves. In other words, these ministries have gone about their businesses as usual, except perhaps for Meyer.

"That's true. Only Joyce Meyer Ministries...stepped up to be accredited. The others, various things have happened," Busby said, noting the divorce of Randy and Paula White and the leadership reshuffling of the church they founded, Without Walls International Church.

"Bottom line is, we accredit and monitor Joyce Meyer Ministries… We did not accredit the other entities that were investigated by Sen. Grassley," Busby added.

Email this CP reporter at nicola.menzie(at)christianpost.com | Follow this CP reporter on Twitter.