Fraud Probe for Televangelists

According to a report from CBS News:

Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, is investigating six prominent televangelist ministries for possible financial misconduct.

According to Grassley’s office, the Iowa Republican is trying to determine whether or not these ministries are improperly using their tax-exempt status as churches to shield lavish lifestyles.

The six ministries identified as being under investigation by the committee are led by: Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn. Three of the six – Benny Hinn, Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar – also sit on the Board of Regents for the Oral Roberts University.

Ironic, isn’t it, that these ministries are being investigated not for their claims or anything else, but for the lavish lifestyles of their leaders? It seems to me that these folks have allowed considerable crossover between the Christian faith and the American religion. I’ve heard them, grew up hearing some of them, and the message in most cases is that they’re entitled to whatever they get because it’s God’s “blessing” of their obedience. They usually go far enough to say that God is obligated to bless in this way, trotting out Malachi 4:10 and Luke 6:38 as evidence.

Though I’m beating a dead horse for most anyone reading this blog, it seems to me important that we qualify the nature of God’s “blessing.” I’m not foolish enough to discount material blessing altogether, since the Bible seems to clearly teach that God’s blessings can indeed be material. After all, we’re to consider all good gifts (including the food we eat, the clothes we wear, the house we live in) as coming from the Father of heavenly lights. But a serious breakdown occurs when we come to see the accumulation of wealth as the biblical response to such blessing.

A biblical response to material blessing, though, is to open our hands, to allow God’s blessings to pour through us to others. It’s the original and non-capitalistic version of ‘trickle-down’ economics–which is a key plank in the modern Republican platform. Abraham was blessed to be a blessing, as were his descendants, and that blessing found complete fulfillment in the appearance of Jesus Christ, the fruit of Abraham’s line, and his redemptive work on the cross.

These ministries are in business (and make no mistake, they’re businesses) to take in monies–incredible sums, I might add–in order to do more television-based “ministry.” This in turn depends on more and more money. I heard one TV minister call it ‘feeding the monster.’

And it’s surprising to me how many of these ministries demonstrate (if they don’t verbally teach) that material wealth is a marker of obedience, and that a big house, cars, and planes, are not only fruit of ministry but necessary for ministry.

(Side note: The stab at ORU is important rhetorically, not least because it widens the net. While ORU is a charismatic (or Renewal) school, the faculty has made increasing contributions to evangelical theology. Sadly, they still allow these goobers to speak in chapels.)

One wishes that the church could do more to counter the activity of these televangelists, but they are the product (and they benefit from) our entertainment-driven culture. The only real antidote is discipleship and discipline in the local churches, and biblical education. Instead, too many churches have allowed programs and “inchurchtainment” to supplant teaching (or thinking).


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