A few weeks ago, Charles Grassley, a Republican senator from Iowa and the ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, sent letters to six Christian ministries requesting information by Dec. 6 about allegedly excessive spending in their massive non-profit organizations.
While Sen. Grassley was clear that he didn't want to jump to any conclusions, the Associated Press reported that his relatively intrusive inquiry was in response to news reports and rumors about the lavish lifestyles of these famous prosperity pastors.
At issue is whether these clergymen (and women) are using tax-exempt donations for ministry purposes or simply to fatten their own already padded salaries.
Creflo Dollar, pastor World Changers Church International in College Park, Ga., quickly responded to Grassley's faxed letter by disclosing vague figures to the Atlanta Journal-Consitution that revealed that $69 million flowed into his ministry last year. He also quelled the rumor that his church bought him two Rolls-Royces. The only one he got was given as a surprise, and it's used mostly for special occasions.
While I initially would like to concede to Creflo that it's a slippery slope when Uncle Sam starts snooping around in churches' wallets, the flippant attitude he displays somehow makes me want to give Grassley a pat on the back and tell him to keep on probing.
Creflo and the five other ministries under investigation - including those of Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland, Paula White, Eddie Long and Joyce Meyer - represent all that's bad with the prosperity movement. They lure funds by promising wealth to church members who "sow a seed," and when the start livin' large off the harvest, they act as if they've done some actual work that entitles them to such luxury.
"Without a doubt, my life is not average,” Creflo said. “But I’d like to say, just because it is excessive doesn’t necessarily mean it’s wrong.”
But according to Grassley, and I think to the IRS, it is wrong - like, the "illegal" kind of wrong - if tax-exempt funds are not being used for tax-exempt purposes. Grassley is investigating Joyce Meyer's $23,000 toilet and $30,000 conference table, Benny Hinn's layover trips between crusades, Creflo's tax-free Rolls Royces, Paula White's Bentley and other rumored expenses that can hardly be classified as "ministry needs." Only in America can charitable organizations be manipulated into a get-rich-quick scheme, and I'm glad someone with power is doing something to rein in the excesses.
People, please don't give your money to these wolves in sheep's clothing. Jesus said that all his true disciples would be despised by the world. James said friendship with the world is enmity toward God. Paul, the man whose call to ministry was a call to suffering, said that persecution would follow all those who want to walk the path of Christ. We might not all be called to die for Him, but we certainly shouldn't expect our treasure to be found where moth and rust destroy, where thieves break in and steal. Unlike those under Grassley's microscope, store up your bling in heaven, for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.