Pentecostal preacher Kenneth Copeland is now looking to gain public support as he continues to question and protest a senator's investigation into the spending of six "prosperity gospel" ministries, including his. This week, his ministry launched a Web site to address concerns about the inquiry.
"The Grassley Investigation: Do Churches Still Have Constitutional Rights?" says an article on the homepage of www.BelieversStandUnited.com.
The site is in response to an inquiry led by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), who last November sent letters to six prominent ministries asking that they provide financial records and answer questions regarding their organizational as well as personal finances. The senate probe was prompted by media reports and ministry watchdogs that alleged opulent spending and possible abuse of their nonprofit status.
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. And information obtained by Grassley "could potentially be used in a manner that could harm or embarrass the Church, its preachers, members, partners, and friends," his ministry stated. According to the Web site, one of the ministries was asked to provide a list of the names and addresses of every minister whom the church has paid to speak or perform music at the church.
Kenneth Copeland Ministries was one of two ministries that responded to Grassley's request for information by the Dec. 6 deadline that was given. But Grassley's office said Copeland has not provided sufficient answers. The prominent ministry has declined to provide additional information.
Further questioning the probe, Copeland has raised suspicion about Grassley targeting only Pentecostal churches that preach the prosperity gospel - a teaching that God wants his followers to be rich both spiritually and materially.
"It is unprecedented in the history of our country that a U.S. senator would selectively set his investigative sights on six Pentecostal churches and in so doing, attempt to ignore both their constitutional and their legal rights as set forth in the IRS Code," said Copeland in a statement on Monday.
Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has repeatedly said the investigation has nothing to do with church doctrine.
Many have shown support for Grasley's investigation, saying the Iowa senator is being careful and not going into doctrinal issues. Rusty Leonard of MinistryWatch.org - which rates ministries on financial transparency to aid donors - says the inquiry is well-founded as it is trying to ensure that the ministries' leaders are adhering to "fundamental biblical principles such as transparency and honesty while exhibiting a sacrificial lifestyle modeled after Jesus."
Leonard, whose organization has given Copeland Ministries an "F" grade for transparency, blasted Copeland for his allegations against the inquiry and for not fully complying.
"Copeland is trying to create the impression that he is being cooperative, when in fact he failed to comply with 25 of the 42 requests for information from Sen. Grassley," Leonard said. "Now, he wants the IRS to continue the investigation, but only because IRS investigations are confidential. Copeland doesn't want the public or his donors to see what he's been doing, and that's alarming. It screams that he his hiding something from KCM (Kenneth Copeland Ministries) donors and the public."
KCM indicated that fully complying with the investigation could open the door to an attack on the religious freedom of other churches and ministries.
"If KCM failed to defend its legal rights, then it is deeply concerned that you and your church or your neighbor's church could be next," said the ministry.
Leonard doesn't buy the ministry's argument.
"The idea that Copeland is standing on some constitutional principle is simply a diversion," he said.
More than 6,100 people have voted on the Web site in favor of protecting church rights and religious freedoms, according to KCM. BelieversStandUnited.com was also designed to educate Christians about their constitutional rights and the effects of governmental inquiries on the Church as a whole and to update the Christian community about the ongoing Senate inquiry.
The five other ministries being probed are led by Paula and Randy White, Benny Hinn, Joyce and David Meyer, Eddie Long, and Creflo Dollar.