Religious Tax-Free Scams

As I’m sure you know, there are Christian ministries whose television preaching does nothing but bankroll the lavish lifestyles of these ministers of  “truth”. However, what you might not be aware of is that the investigation into the worst examples of this will do absolutely nothing about it, and is quite happy for them to carry on … tax-free.

The New York Times reports that a three-year investigation into the financial improprieties at six of these big money making religious machines has concluded with a report that advises that

“self-correction” by churches and religious groups is preferable to legislative or regulatory solutions.

Seriously!! … Were the members of investigation team so moronically stupid that they let themselves by conned into believing this. There were clues that this was not the best approach, only two of the six ministries cooperated with the investigation and volunteered to institute reforms, the others simply continued to hide behind tax laws that allows religious organizations to operate tax-free with little transparency or public accountability.

This is quite frankly insane and is simply begging for reform; religious groups apparently have a special “we-believe-in-a-mythical-supernatural-entity” card they can play that allows them to tell the US tax authorities to bugger off. In fact, their tax status is so special, it sets them apart from other nonprofit groups and charities that must file detailed annual reports of expenditures to the Internal Revenue Service, the religious groups don’t even need to do that.

Senator Grassley, who led the three year investigation is quoted as saying,

The challenge is to encourage good governance and best practices, and so preserve confidence in the tax-exempt sector without imposing regulations that inhibit religious freedom or are functionally ineffective.“.

Did he simply not notice that most of those he attemted to investigate refused to cooperate, so on what evidence does he use to come to such an outrageous conclusion? Paying their fair share of tax has nothing to do with religious freedom, they can carry on believing what they like, but as with any other business (and thats all it is), they should be paying tax.

In fact, it gets worse, because Grassley recommended repealing or modifying I.R.S. rules that prohibit churches from endorsing political candidates (so much for complete separation of church and state). Sigh! … a move like that would be a disaster for US democracy. Such a repeal has long been sought by groups on the Christian right, but then given that the neo-cons have successfully injected theo-con into politics as a political tool, that should be no surprise.

So what happens next? Well, the investigation concluded with the formation of an independent commission that has no teeth or any power to do anything, its in effect the “Do nothing” option.

And what did the investigation reveal?

  • Many of these ministries give housing allowances not only to the preachers who lead the ministries, but also to scores of relatives and friends who are classified as “ministers.”
  • Some ministers receive housing allowances for more than one home.
  • The six ministries under investigation appeared to be using donations from the faithful to buy airplanes, lavish homes and jewelry, and to run profit-making businesses for leaders and their family members.
  • All six are “prosperity gospel” ministries, which teach that believers will themselves become prosperous by donating generously to the ministry. The preachers flaunt their opulent lifestyles as evidence that their teaching is true.
  • The four ministries that provided incomplete or no information, according to the Finance Committee investigators, were Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries; Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church; Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International; and Bishop Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. (Yes indeed, “That”” Bishop Long … the one who was recently sued by four young men who accuse him of luring them into sexual relationships.

However, perhaps the last word on all this belongs to Barry W. Lynn, executive director of Americans United for Separation of Church and State. He is quoted as saying

“It’s a sign that this investigation has gone seriously off course.”

No kidding, Grassley’s investigation truly has managed to completely screw it all up by proving themselves to be utterly incompetent and inept.

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