Grassleyâ€™s investigation: Is it greener on the other side?
By: Robert E. Meyer
The current ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, is investigating several Christian ministries which are famous for their leadersâ€™ high-on-the-hog lifestyles.
Grassley is investigating these organizations to verify or disconfirm allegations or suspicions regarding misuses of monetary donations from patrons of these ministries.
One thing all these targeted organizations have in common, is the adherence to a theological classification within Christianity, commonly referred to as â€œThe Gospel of Prosperity.â€
The idea is that as people give to the places where they get their spiritual meat and drink, they too will become materially blessed with great wealth. Itâ€™s merely a matter of giving, then waiting upon the Lord, they are exhorted.
But the problem is that there is reason to suspect some of these leaders did not get wealthy, â€œwaiting on the Lord,â€ but rather, in a more immediate sense, by fleecing those patronizing their ministries at the present moment.
Those ministries currently targeted by Grassley are led by Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula White.
I approach this whole issue with mixed emotions, yet am clear in my mind about whether or not Grassleyâ€™s inquiry represents a positive development.
Talk of this investigation brings back shades of 1979, when a popular Kansas Senatorâ€™s crusade against the phenomenon of the â€œfalseâ€ religious cults was all the rage. I was angry with Bob Dole then, because I was involved with an organization which was not his main focus, but certainly made the black list. I figured that if Dole could deem my organization to be a dangerous cult, then other groups that I might otherwise have frowned upon, werenâ€™t getting a fair shake either. Visions of Ted
Patrick forcefully â€œdeprogramingâ€ young devotees danced in my head.
Of course, the issue came back to the old relativist principle, â€œwho is to say what is or isnâ€™t a legitimate religious organization?â€ None of us wants the government to act as a referee over theological disputes, that is a peripheral aspect of the broader â€œseparation of church and stateâ€ issue.
We certainly have to acknowledge the legitimate concern over the psychological damage done by cults in the late 70â€™s, as well as the alleged financial improprieties that motivate the current investigation. The real problem is that when we let the government put another foot in the door under the supposition of good intentions, we pave the way for federal intrusions where they donâ€™t belong. That is why it is so disheartening to see nominal believers from the Christian community applauding
Grassleyâ€™s efforts. The IRS has the authority to investigate this type of alleged fraud, short of a grandstanding Senate probe.
Interestingly enough, the good Senator helped boost his populist appeal by playing on class envy. Grassley talked about Jesus coming into town riding an ass, versus a megachurch leader riding up in a Rolls Royce. I understand the appeal to hypocrisy, but sometimes people overdo it with the WWJD analysis, forgetting that many of Jesusâ€™ activities were in fulfillment of his Messianic mission, not intended for imitation.
Donâ€™t get me wrong, I know there are snake-oil peddlers in our midst. I do not defend them, nor do I agree with the truncated Gospel message dispencing prosperity and health to all who give generously. Often, a kernel of truth yields a bushel of deceit! My point is simply that condoning the increased government meddling, isnâ€™t often worth saving a few people from their better judgment.
It is easy to stir up the public sentiment against those who appear to be unjustly enriching themselves. Envy is sometimes a stronger motivating force than greed. The real answer in this case is not to give money to any charity or church that has appearances of financial impropriety. As a donator, know how much money is being syphoned off the top in â€œadministrative expenses.â€
Within the religious community, there is a group called the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, which does its own internal fiscal policing. I look for their seal of approval before I give anything to a particular religious organization.
Greed and gullibility are two complimentary factors which explain the rapid transfers of wealth from one hand to the other. Gaining some degree of mastery over both might be the only thing that can curtail government encroachments against religious ministries or anywhere else.
Today, the powers that be can find a needle in a haystack. Donâ€™t offer them legitimate reasons to search for it.
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Robert E. Meyer is a staff writer for the New Media Alliance, Inc. The New Media Alliance is a non-profit (501c3) national coalition of writers, journalists and grass-roots media outlets.