The scramble for cash and possessions has finally caught up with some of America's leading televangelists. Six of the best - Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Creflo Dollar, Eddie Long, Kenneth Copeland and Benny Hinn, are now under investigation.
All are well known in Australia. They head the best seller lists in Christian bookshops; travel regularly to Australia, frequently in their own planes; host radio and television programs, and repatriate an unknown amount of cash to the USA each year. Before the Federal election, Copeland, confirming Pastor Danny Nalliah's prophetic anointing of John Howard as Prime Minister, declared that Howard, was "God's man in Australia". A director of Kenneth Copeland Ministries Eagle Mountain International Church Ltd, is Nabi Saleh, of Gloria Jeans Coffee, and elder of Hillsong church.
Senator Chuck Grassley, ranking Republican member of the Senate Finance Committee is leading the charge into allegations of financial fiddling. At stake is the honesty, transparency and integrity of some of the biggest names in religious circles in Australia and the USA.
The issue, as Grassley explains is that, "Americans give generously to religious organisations, and those who do so, should be assured that their donations are being used for tax exempt purposes of their organisations".
In an exceptionally detailed letter, to Joyce Meyer, for example, the Committee has requested, all audited financial statements: lists of all domestic and overseas bank accounts and investments; details of all her aircraft, as well as flight records; a listing of all expense account items including clothing and cosmetic surgery; records of all houses, including purchase and maintenance costs; details of all monies earned overseas; as well as confirmation of the costs of such items as the marble topped toilet!
Let there be no doubt, television preaching is exceptionally profitable.
All of those named, run multimillion dollar empires. Creflo Dollar took in US$69 million in 2006; Joyce Meyer US$124 million; and Copeland, after appealing for an additional US$20 million has just taken delivery of his fifth plane. Lifestyles are excessive. Copeland was given US$2 million to mark the anniversary of his ministry; Dollar was given a Rolls Royce, and White gave a colleague a Bentley convertible.
A greed based theology has its rewards. For Joyce Meyer, "God has made her rich ... .a US$10 million corporate jet ... a US$107,000 silver grey Mercedes, her US$2 million dollar home and houses worth another US$2 million for her children are all blessings ... straight from the hand of God".
Fiddling cash and claiming the blessing of God is not just a travesty of the Christian faith, it may also break the law. Accountability, integrity and transparency seemed to be of little concern to the religious right, not only in the USA but also in Australia.
Most of the mainline American denominations and established religious organisations are members of the self regulating, but highly regarded, Evangelical Council for Evangelical Accountability (ECFA). None of the six under investigation are members. MinistryWatch.com, an organisation monitoring and auditing the religious right, has graded Dollar, Hinn and Copeland at the bottom of its transparency table. No such auditing organisations exist in Australia.
Para church groups from the Australian religious right have been involved in the federal election campaign. The Australian Christian Values Institute, with Saltshakers, ran it's "Christian values checklist" in the daily papers; Catch the Fire Ministries conducted conferences in Parliament House, and the Australian Christian Lobby, a private company, with staff in most states was involved in national mail outs and a sophisticated media campaign. None have public and accessible information on the sources of their finances.
These same groups mobilise the religious right, unsuspecting participants, as well as politicians in Parliament House on national days of thanksgiving, praying for rain, sexual integrity forums, and Christian values. Where their finances come from remains a mystery. Houston's Hillsong was turning over some $40 million in 2005; Pringle’s Christian City Church, more than $38 million, and Mier's Christian Outreach Centre, $48 million. (Business Review Weekly, May 26, 2007)