Two prominent mega-ministries under a Senate probe for opulent spending indicated they would institute reforms even before the investigation is complete, according to a new report.
Charismatic preachers Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn are the only two that have fully cooperated with an investigation that is currently scrutinizing four other popular ministries and they are now reportedly taking their own action to ensure proper financial standing as a nonprofit.
"Transparency has been and will continue to be a standard of this ministry," said Joyce Meyer, who was the first to turn over requested papers, in a statement Tuesday. "We hold a deep commitment to our ministry partners and friends, and this is why we have a tradition of going above and beyond what is required by law. We are committed to the truth and to our purpose."
After review of the ministries' financial documents and responses to a range of questions, Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, concluded that both Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn have answered every question and "in the spirit of true cooperation, also have provided information over and above what was requested."
"Joyce Meyer and Benny Hinn have engaged in open and honest dialogue with committee staff," Grassley said Monday.
The investigation began last November after media reports and ministry watchdogs alleged opulent spending and possible abuse of nonprofit status by six ministries, each of which has millions of followers. Grassley, who is leading the probe, has asked for financial records and answers to questions regarding organizational as well as personal spending.
The Senate probe, however, has not gone without question and criticism.
Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International has declined to provide any of the requested information. And Grassley has received limited responses from Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church, Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church, and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries has gone public with its protest, launching a Web site, www.BelieversStandUnited.com, against the senator's investigation.
Copeland, 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.
Currently, the Senate Finance Committee is consulting with its attorneys to determine the next steps regarding Copeland.
"The ministries that continue not to cooperate appear to be heeding the advice of attorneys who are not familiar with congressional oversight in general and specifically the Finance Committee's oversight and legislative work in the area of tax-exempt organizations over the last seven years," Grassley said. "These attorneys who aren't part of the ministries themselves have a natural incentive to prolong the process as long as possible."
Meanwhile, amid the ongoing investigation, Meyer and Hinn have plans to institute reforms and Grassley expressed full support for "self-reform," which he said can be faster and more effective than government regulation.
Delanie Trusty, CFO for Joyce Meyer Ministries, said Tuesday, "As our ministry grows, we continually examine how we can most efficiently serve and minister to people. We embraced this opportunity to examine in detail the daily operations of the ministry, and we have reconfirmed our commitment to the high standards we hold ourselves to."
Each year, Joyce Meyer Ministries voluntarily undergoes an independent financial and legal audit to ensure its goals of accountability, the ministry noted.
Grassley encouraged ministries to pursue independent accreditation programs, such as the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability.
"The most successful non-profit organizations recognize the need for transparency about their operations and accountability to their donors and the taxpaying public," Grassley commented.