July/August 2008 Church & State | People & Events

Televangelist Kenneth Copeland is speaking out against efforts by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to in­vestigate several prominent tax-exempt ministries.

Advocates of the so-called “prosperity gospel” teach that God will reward their followers with riches. But some critics say the ministries are using non-profit status to finance the leaders’ opulent lifestyles. Last year, Grassley contacted six prosperity min­istries and asked for detailed finan­cial information.

Aside from Copeland, the ministries under investigation are Benny Hinn Ministries, Joyce Meyer Minis­tries, Without Walls International Church, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and World Changers International Church.

Copeland is conducting a public relations offensive against Grassley. Last month he dispatched his son, John, to respond to charges that the ministry’s leaders live well on tax-deductible proceeds.

In an interview with KTVT-TV in Dallas, John Copeland defended his parents’ huge mansion, private jet and other trappings of wealth. He criticized the Grassley probe as unwarranted.

“Where in the Bible does it say you should have watchdogs and judgment groups that watch over ministries?” asked Copeland, who serves as chief executive officer of Kenneth Copeland Ministries. He also asked, “How can you reach the world if you don’t have money to do it?”

John Copeland also defended the ministry’s use of a private jet, asserting that the ministry’s donors supported its purchase.

“They gave money towards that jet to buy it. Yes, I do believe that,” Copeland said. “A lot of people may see that as a luxurious lifestyle, but when you hit 19 countries in 12 months, what are you going to do that with? The jet is a tool. It’s just a tool to use in ministry.”

Asked about religious leaders who lived simple lives, or even in poverty, Copeland was dismissive.

“There’s a lot of doctrine that teaches that you’re not a good Chris­tian unless you’re poor,” he said. “But, that’s not our doctrine. That’s not what we believe.”

His parents are right to live in an 18,000-square-foot house, Copeland said. Given their belief in the prosperity gospel, he said, “It would be kind of silly [to] put your pastor in a 2,000 square foot house. Yes, it’s larger than the average person’s home. It’s a nice home. I’m not going to arg­ue that.”

Some Religious Right leaders are furious over the probe. Nearly two dozen Religious Right figures recently signed a joint letter to the Senate Finance Committee, protesting Grass­ley’s request.

The letter signers accused Grassley of going after the ministries because he does not like their theology, a charge echoed in the missive.

“We cannot recall instances in the past where a congressional committee has targeted major ministries under threat of subpoena,” the letter asserts. “The ministries have been asked to produce financial records and internal documents in what appears to be an exercise in disproving their alleged guilt.”

Signers include Paul Weyrich, a founder of the Moral Majority and now chairman of Coalitions for Am­erica; the Rev. Donald E. Wild­mon, chairman of the American Family Association; Ken Blackwell, former Ohio gubernatorial candidate and chairman of the Coalition for a Con­servative Majority; the Rev. Rick Scar­borough of Vision America; Sadie Fields, state chair of the Georgia Chris­tian Alliance; Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law; and the Rev. Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council.

Grassley has vowed to press on with the investigation. He is also responding to charges by Copeland that the probe is motivated by religious bias.

In a statement, Grassley pointed out that he has investigated several non-religious tax-exempt groups to make certain they are following the laws.

“The six churches that I wrote to in November promulgate their doctrine in a highly visible manner – television, radio, Internet,” Grassley said. “As a result, they have drawn scrutiny from news organizations, members (former and current) of the churches, members of other churches and the general public at large. Given my work with tax-exempt organizations, it was only natural that people write to me about these churches.”

He added, “When I wrote to these churches, I had no idea the ministers considered themselves ‘Pentecostal.’ I came to find out recently that one of these six may actually be a Baptist church. I didn’t go about trying to figure out what each of them classified themselves as before I wrote to them. I wrote to them based on the concerns raised about their operations.”