More than a year after the ranking Republican on the Senate Committee of Finance called out six televangelists suspected of opulent spending and possible abuse of their nonprofit status, one has gone to great lengths to clear her name while one still refuses to turn over information, according to the latest update this past week.
The remaining four of the "Grassley Six," meanwhile, still lie somewhere in between.
"My staff and I continue to review the information we've received from the ministries that cooperated, and we continue to weigh our options for the ministries that have not cooperated," Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa stated Thursday after a long period silence regarding the probe of the Joyce Meyer Ministries, World Healing Center Church, Without Walls International Church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, and World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries.
Grassley's latest statement came after the senator heard that Joyce Meyer Ministries had joined the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), the Christian accreditation agency that oversees the financial accountability, fund-raising and board governance of many leading Christian nonprofit organizations.
Since Grassley first requested that the six ministry leaders provide financial statements and records back in November 2007, Joyce Meyer Ministries has been the most cooperative, posting audited financial reports from 2003 to 2006 on its website and being one of only two organizations that had turned over financial documents for the probe ahead of the Dec. 6, 2007, deadline. The other organization was Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
Joyce Meyer Ministries was also one of two organizations that provided extensive answers to all questions in a series of submissions, according to a memorandum from Grassley's office to the press. The other was World Healing Center Church, led by theologically controversial televangelist Benny Hinn.
"It's good to see increased financial accountability, transparency, board governance, and ethical fund-raising taken seriously," commented Grassley after meeting with ECFA representatives this past week while they were in town for their annual meeting.
"These are good goals for every tax-exempt group," he added.
Grassley said ECFA membership is "like a Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval" for ministries that have independence from the IRS and don't have to file material with the IRS as most other tax-exempt groups do.
"I hope other ministries, including the ones I'm looking at, will pursue accreditation," he added.
According to Grassley's office, Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church/Eddie L. Long Ministries, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries have submitted responses though they are still incomplete. Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International/Creflo Dollar Ministries, meanwhile, have declined to provide any of the requested information.
Creflo Dollar, whose U.S. operations are based out of College Park, Ga., has contested the probe, arguing that the proper governmental entity to examine religious groups is the IRS, not the Committee on Finance.
As of Saturday, a November 2007 letter from Dollar's church to Grassley and Sen. Max Baucus, chairman of the Finance Committee, was still available on the website of Creflo Dollar Ministries.
In the letter, the church requested "respectfully" that the Senate Finance Committee provide "an appropriate legal context for the review, as would be reflected by a formal subpoena for the information."
"If a subpoena were issued, the Church and its members could be afforded certain confidentiality protections, perhaps mirroring the privacy rights of section 6103, which would reduce the likelihood of any public judgment regarding its religious beliefs," it explained.
The church also defended the "Prosperity Gospel," a controversial belief that each of the "Grassley Six" organizations have been accused to preaching.
According to Dollar's organization, the "Prosperity Gospel" is "a deeply held religious belief that God's devout followers and earthly leaders will prosper and be successful in all they do, including in financial matters, as the outward expression of His favor."
Critics, however, say the preaching of the "Prosperity Gospel" is a teaching of materialism masqueraded as theology. Some also argue that the major hallmark of the Prosperity movement is the accumulation of wealth and material goods and not the work of the Gospel, which is marked by sacrifice and selflessness.
Other prominent proponents of Prosperity include T.D. Jakes, Joel Osteen, Rod Parsley, and Frederick K. C. Price, among others.
On the Web:
World Changers Church International's letter at www.creflodollarministries.com/Public/AboutUs/Grassley.aspx