A group of Pentecostal ministers and churches have thrown their backing behind televangelist Kenneth Copeland and his refusal to cooperate with a Senate probe into his ministry's spending.
Assemblies of God International Fellowship released a statement in their latest newsletter saying the current investigation, led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), into the financial records of six prominent ministries "seems to be crossing a legal boundary."
"Politicians enact laws to separate Church and State which many think to be unconstitutional and then try to intrude into Church affairs while denying the Church discussion of State (political) affairs. This sounds like a one way street in favor of the State," the group said.
Grassley launched an investigation last November, requesting financial records and answers to questions regarding organizational and personal finances from ministries led by Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Paula and Randy White, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long and Benny Hinn. Each has millions of followers and collects tens of millions of dollars in donations a year.
The senate probe was prompted by media reports and ministry watchdogs that alleged opulent spending and possible abuse of their nonprofit status.
Copeland submitted limited responses to the Grassley office and recently launched a Web site, www.BelieversStandUnited.com, questioning and protesting the senator's investigation.
The televangelist, who has said his ministry fully complies with all laws, believes the inquiry is a violation of religious freedom, an invasion of privacy and a threat to the separation of Church and State. He also raised suspicion over Grassley’s targeting of only Pentecostal churches that preach the “prosperity gospel” – a teaching that God wants his followers to be rich both spiritually and materially.
A Grassley spokeswoman told The Christian Post that it's unusual for a tax-exempt group to take such action against an investigation. She noted that Grassley has looked at tax-exempt policy issues involving a variety of entities, including the Red Cross, the Nature Conservancy, the Smithsonian, non-profit hospitals and universities.
But some, including Assemblies of God International Fellowship, are backing Copeland and his questioning.
The fellowship believes that the IRS, created by the State, should be conducting an investigation, not the Senate.
"It seems that Rev. Copeland is right in ignoring the Senate’s investigation of Church affairs but pledging to fully cooperate with any investigation by the IRS," the group stated.
In response, the Grassley spokeswoman stated, "Senator Grassley points out that the legislative branch writes the laws, and the executive branch enforces the laws. His responsibility as a leader (chairman and now ranking member) of the Senate committee with exclusive jurisdiction over tax policy is to evaluate the effectiveness of that policy.
"He looks at whether the law is weak in certain areas and allows people to exploit, say, tax-exempt groups for personal gain," she continued. "He leaves the enforcement of existing tax law to the IRS, the executive branch agency with that responsibility."
As of Friday, Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn are the only two ministries that have submitted full responses for the Senate probe. Randy and Paula White have submitted partial responses, Eddie Long and Copeland have submitted "very limited responses," according to the spokeswoman, and Creflo Dollar has submitted no requested information.