Senator Charles Grassley (R.-Iowa), the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has begun a public campaign to look into the financial amenities and expenses of several big name television preachers. These ministers include Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer, among others. Grassley sent letters to six ministries this week requesting answers by December 6 about their expenses, executive compensations and amenities, including their use of cars and private jets. Grassley says he is acting on complaints from news coverage of these various ministers.
There are several problems with Grassley’s approach. First, the IRS requires pretty stringent reporting of the salaries and benefits of these organizations already. You can go online and easily find our what a ministry like ACT 3 earns, what my total salary package is, and related valuable financial information. (I hope you will do this since you will find that we operate in solid and responsible ways in these areas.) Most people are simply not aware of this information and of how important it is to ministry credibility. Donors who have reasons to question a group they support should use this resource. You can also find out how much a ministry has in the bank by this means and thus you can know what its cash assets really are. I was shocked at how much some respectable ministries, ministries that I once supported, have stored away while they still appeal for funds as if they are nearly going out of business. I learned this by these online records.
Second, when the government goes after a few bad apples the rest of us could face unnecessary complications. I am not fearful of some conspiracy here but I hate more government red tape because of these abusers. I am always a bit cautious about the government going too deeply into the inner workings of religious organizations. (I also affirm that sometimes this becomes necessary but I believe restraint is called for here. I think Grassley, a conservative senator, knows this well.)
The bigger problem here is that there is clearly an excessive lifestyle being perpetrated by these various preachers. It doesn’t take a degree in rocket science to figure this one out. The biggest problem of all, at least for Christians in general, is that willing people by the millions keep giving millions of their dollars to these people and do not seem to care that they live they way they do and spend money the way they do. The reported salaries of many of these leaders is in the millions. And this does not tell you the whole story since there are perks, hotels, travel, royalties, etc. Behind all of this is the "health and wealth" gospel. Sadly, this distorted message is a partial truth, since wealth in and of itself is not evil. The problem is in how these ministries connect wealth to "promise" and how they link physical blessings to spiritual truth in the wrong way. The fact is that many Christians, and for that matter non-Christians, will be enabled create great wealth by simply living wisely. This is a desirable end. The opposite error of the health and wealth message is the "try to stay poor for Christ" message, which hardly any one believes is really the biblical message. But if you are not poor enough, and most of us are not, then at least you should "feel guilty if you prosper a bit too much." (No one ever defines what is "too much.") This is the gospel of evangelical pietism and was built up over the past two hundred or so years. It too is filled with immense problems. What we need is a third way, a way that does not fall into health and wealth madness on the one side and a false pietism of guilt on the other. What we need is a gospel that understands the cultural mandate and the wealth mandate as Christian. I’ll have more to say about this in the weeks to come.