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.
I know a lot of secular bloggers are quite pleased by this and are expressing a certain amount of “Serves them right” and “About time!”-ish sentiments. But I’m going to take Benny Hinn’s side on this one.
I think this is a case of a spiteful religious right going after the top ministries out of sheer jealousy. Let’s take Benny Hinn as a representative of the six ministries under investigation, and Billy Graham as a representative of mainstream Christianity. What’s Benny doing that Billy isn’t? They both claim to speak on God’s behalf in the absence of any visible endorsement by God authorizing them to represent Him. They’re both taking money from people gullible enough to believe that God loves them even though He clearly does not care enough to trouble Himself to show up in real life. And in both cases, the people who are being parted from their dollars are giving willingly (if foolishly).
So what’s the difference? Benny may be enjoying a “lavish lifestyle,” but so what? If God blesses you with a rich reward for your service, what business is it of anyone else’s how you spend your reward? It’s not against the law to be wealthy and self-indulgent in America. So what “crime” is Benny suspected of having committed?
Is Benny guilty of manipulating people’s emotions and motivations with spurious appeals to what God allegedly wants them to do? Every other ministry does the same thing; Benny’s just better at it than they are, and thus more successful. Is Benny deceiving people with ploys like telling them their lack of faith is preventing God from manifesting Himself, or that their motives are wrong and that’s why God’s answer is “No”? That’s a common tactic across all Christian ministries. But most of them aren’t getting rich off it, because most of them aren’t as good at it as Benny.
According to the ECFA, Billy Graham’s organization took in over $131 million in 2006 ($95 million from cash donations alone) and has almost $300 million in net assets. $300 million to support Billy’s efforts to persuade people to believe the same things he does about God. Is anybody telling Billy how to spend his $300 million? Can Billy prove that his theology is correct and that Benny’s is wrong? Billy spends his money on what Billy wants, and Benny spends his money on what Benny wants. So why is one a saint and the other a sinner? If we’re going to “protect” the gullible from Benny, don’t we need to protect them from Billy as well?
As Ed Brayton says, this is going to be an interesting case to watch, because religious people in America have a constitutional right to be gullible and to pay people to deceive them. My assessment is that the parties involved are jealous of the fact that someone else’s Gospel is receiving greater blessings than their preferred Gospel, and are (surprise surprise) turning to the legal/political system to try and “correct” God’s behavior so that the blessings go to the “correct” recipients. That’s just the way things work when your God is an imaginary sock puppet.