Days ahead of the deadline Thursday, when six popular televangelists are expected to turn over their financial records for a Senate probe, traditional Christians are not applauding the investigation.
Some Christians wonder what the future implications of the inquiry, led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), might be for Christian media ministries.
"What we're concerned about is the future of Christian broadcasting and Christian ministries – nonprofit ones – if this inquiry is either broadened or ratcheted up and hearings are held and new legislation is considered," said Craig Parshall, senior vice president and general counsel for the National Religious Broadcasters, according to The Associated Press.
Grassley sent letters last month to six leaders – Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn – who head prominent faith-based ministries, requesting financial statements and responses to a wide range of questions regarding their personal and organizational finances. The investigation by Grassley, who is the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee on Finance, was prompted by complaints from watchdog groups and media coverage on the pastors' extravagant lifestyles and whether they are abusing their nonprofit status.
"My business is the enforcement of the tax laws and the integrity of the tax code and making sure that trustees of charitable giving are true trustees," Grassley said, according to NPR.
Charisma magazine editor Lee Grady expressed support for the investigation, saying "questions need to be asked."
"That's why I refuse to demonize Grassley for launching this probe," he wrote in a recent column.
Grady found it unfortunate that the investigation was initiated by someone in the federal government and insisted that the Christian public should have demanded a higher level of accountability a long time ago.
Some – including Paul Crouch Jr. from the Trinity Broadcasting Network, which watchdog groups have also questioned but is not currently under investigation – have criticized Grady for defending the Senate probe.
While Grady hopes the pastors – who preach what critics call the "prosperity gospel," which claims wealth is a sign of God's favor – can prove no wrongdoing, he said, "if God wants to use a senator to help the American church clean up its act, then I say bring on the reformation," according to his column.
But some wonder whether the investigation is the right way to end any wrongdoing.
"We're not representing any of the parties involved, but when I see a senator charging into organizations, wielding this kind of budget ax and laying bare religious figures and expenditures, huge constitutional questions are being raised," said Garry McCaleb, senior counsel at the Alliance Defense Fund, a religious liberty legal group.
The ministries have said they comply with tax laws, but it is unclear how many will respond this week to Grassley's inquiries.