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NPR Reports on the Hidden Finances of Televangelists
National Public Radio recently broadcasted a two-part series on Christian TV networks and preachers that avoid IRS scrutiny by classifying themselves as churches. NPR's coverage included commentary from MinistryWatch.com founder and CEO Rusty Leonard. The reports are available online here:
Partially Penitent Pastors - Updates on the Seemingly Endless Driscoll and Furtick Sagas 4/1/2014
Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle and Pastor Steven Furtick of Elevation Church in Charlotte cannot seem to get the controversies they are embroiled in out of the headlines. Still, some of the recent news surrounding these two troubled pastors has reflected a degree of penitence on their part. Unfortunately, the progress made has been significantly less than we would have hoped for and has been accompanied by additional troubling revelations. From the perspective of World Magazine editor Marvin Olasky, these latest developments have capped off what he refers to as "the Second Great Embarrassment". This is a sideways reference to the First and Second Great Awakening, two periods of great spiritual growth in the United States. In Olasky's view, the First Great Embarrassment can be traced to the damage to the church brought on by the Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggert scandals. The Second Great Embarrassment, in his view, began with Ted Haggard's fall from grace in 2006 and has continued more recently with a seeming avalanche of unfortunate circumstances in ministries ranging from Bill Gotthard and Doug Philips to Driscoll and Furtick.
You Ask, We Answer - St. Matthew's Churches Are Despicable Con Artists Preying on the Elderly 4/1/2014
When we asked for your ideas about what we should look into in 2014, MinistryWatch.com was asked by one reader about a ministry which now goes by the name of Saint Matthew's Churches. We can unfortunately confirm our reader was correct to be very concerned about this group. It is run by a sketchy individual named James Ewing who has used his experience as a direct mail fund raiser to bilk what likely amounts to hundreds of millions of dollars over many years from primarily elderly recipients of his highly emotional pleas for donations, promising answered prayers in return. Ewing apparently lives the high life in Beverly Hills, CA while fleecing the elderly with promises he knows are false. While the IRS was able to overcome Ewing after years of legal battles in the early 1990s and remove his charitable designation, Ewing simply reformed his organization as a church, where it is much more difficult for the IRS to withhold its charitable designation. From what we can tell, the organization actually acquired two churches in order to justify its claim that it is an actual church. Still, it is really just a post office box located in Tulsa, Oklahoma collecting cash from unsuspecting and naïve donors. If you have an elderly relative, be on the lookout for mailings from Saint Matthew's Churches and do your best to explain to them that this organization is essentially a fraud stealing money from them.
Bishop Bling Formally Fired by Pope Francis 4/1/2014
The so-called Bishop Bling, a German Catholic Bishop who we highlighted late last year for spending an incredible $43 million of church money on renovations to his housing complex in Limburg Germany, was permanently removed from his post last week by Pope Francis. He had offered his resignation in October 2013 and has been under investigation by the Vatican ever since. The issue was particularly sensitive in Germany since citizens pay a church tax which is used to support the country's churches. The Associated Press reported he will be replaced by Bishop Manfred Grothe, who stated Bishop Bling (whose real name is Monsignor Franz-Peter Tebartz van Elst) will be given another position "at the opportune time". It will be interesting to see where Bishop Bling lands and whether he has learned from his downfall. Indications are he has at least figured out Pope Francis is focusing on helping the poor, given he sat in the economy section of the airplane he took to Rome to try to explain his actions to the Vatican.
Answers in Genesis' Ark Park Finally Moving Forward Thanks in Part to Atheist Bill Nye the Science Guy 3/7/2014
For several years Ken Ham, founder of Answers in Genesis, a ministry devoted to teaching Creationism, has been seeking tens of millions of dollars in funding in order to begin construction of a theme park centered around a life size version of Noah's Ark. Due to the large amount of money the ministry needed to begin construction as well as difficult economic conditions negatively impacting the ability of donors/investors to provide funding in recent years, construction of the "Ark Park" has been repeatedly delayed. The frustrations Answers in Genesis leaders must have felt were quickly swept away, however, after Ken Ham engaged well known atheist Bill Nye "the Science Guy" of PBS fame in a public debate which was purportedly seen by millions over the internet. While many opinions were expressed over who actually won the debate, one thing became clear very quickly - the publicity surrounding the debate coalesced interest in funding the "Ark Park" much better than any other fundraising effort the ministry had undertaken in previous years. Having been privy to the original plans for the park, we are confident it will be a worthwhile and impressive attraction once it has been completed.
You Ask, We Answer - Is Gospel for Asia a Legitimate Christian Ministry? Yes! 3/7/2014
When we asked for your ideas about what we should look into in 2014, MinistryWatch.com received several requests to look closely at Gospel for Asia (GFA). This is understandable since GFA does not disclose its financial reports to the public, which naturally raises red flags. Due to this, MinistryWatch.com stopped following the ministry some years back. The reason for the ministry's secretiveness about its finances, however, is legitimate given the increased persecution GFA faces in India and elsewhere from Hindu and Muslim sources when such financial information is easily available on the internet. In an effort to protect its staff and property, GFA has gone to extraordinary lengths to minimize its financial "footprint". Donors may be confused by this, but we believe GFA's actions seem warranted. MinistryWatch.com will soon post its new profile on GFA, so please check back to review it in the weeks ahead. Meanwhile, we believe we can safely say the concerns some have had about GFA are easily explained and the ministry has been operating with integrity and an appropriate amount of financial transparency in the US given its struggle with persecution.
Bill Gothard Resigns After Being Forced to Take Administrative Leave from the Institute of Basic Life Principles in Wake of Multiple Claims of Sexual Harassment and Abuse 3/7/2014
World Magazine broke a story last week that the board of directors of the Institute of Basic Life Principles (IBLP) had forced its founder, Bill Gothard, to take administrative leave from his positions at the ministry and the associated home schooling program run by the ministry, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI), due to allegations of sexual harassment by as many as 34 women, including four cases of alleged sexual abuse. Yesterday, Gothard submitted his resignation from all of his positions with the ministry. The allegations were made via testimonies of often teenage women who worked at IBLP many years ago via a website called RecoveringGrace.org. The website is dedicated to helping individuals and families who have been harmed by IBLP's often legalistic teachings. Anyone who was or is closely associated with IBLP or ATI should make it a point to visit the RecoveringGrace.org website. We have been impressed with the manner in which this site has operated given the harm done to many and the raw emotions associated with that. IBLP's board, in a statement, promised a full investigation and appropriate reaction to the findings of their investigation. Now that Gothard has resigned, it is not clear how the board will proceed.
More Pastor Problems - Driscoll, Furtick and South Korea 3/7/2014
Unfortunately, dubious behavior by prominent pastors has again been in the news recently. Pastor Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church in Seattle apparently went to questionable lengths to have a recent book of his make the New York Times best sellers list. According to documents obtained by World, Driscoll spent over $200,000 to hire and fund a firm that arranged a complex plan to make it appear that Driscoll's book sales were large enough to merit a one week inclusion on the New York Times Bestseller List. We previously reported on Elevation Church Pastor Steven Furtick's own attempt to concoct book sales and get on the best sellers list for at least one week so he could also make the claim he was a New York Times best-selling author. Apparently, book sales is not the only thing Furtick is willing to distort. Now Furtick is being criticized for his church's attempts to manipulate people into going forward to be baptized. According to a report by Stuart Watson of NBC affiliate WCNC in Charlotte, NC, Furtick strategically places already believing Christian volunteers from his congregation in pews who are the first to respond to Furtick's call to receive Christ as their Savior and be baptized. Sadly, US pastors are not the only ones in trouble recently. In South Korea, the pastor of one of the largest Pentecostal churches in the world, was sentenced to three years in jail for $12 million in church funds. Apparently, Pastor Emeritus David Younggi Cho, 78, of a more than 1 million member denomination affiliated with the Assemblies of God, used church money to pay for stock owned by his son. Unfortunately, he paid more than three times what the stock was worth.
View all MinistryWatch.com Updates
Making 'Good Intentions' Good
Peter Greer of Hope International discusses the unintended consequences that can result from Christians seeking to help those in need. Careful planning is required for our giving if unfortunate side effects are to be avoided. Read more
Christian Rapper Calls Out Prosperity Preachers
A new song released by Christian rapper Shai Linne calls out Joel Osteen, Joyce Meyer, Paul Crouch, and other prosperity preachers by name. In "Fal$e Teacher$", Linne criticizes twelve prominent teachers for preaching a false religion he dubs "selfism". He raps, "Jesus is not a means to an end, the Gospel is He came to redeem us from sin / And that is the message forever I'll yell / If you're living your best life now, you're heading for hell." Read more
Court Documents from TBN's Whistleblower Granddaughter Released
The Orange County Register Newspaper has been closely following the developments regarding TBN. Recently, it obtained
court documents in a case involving Brittany Koper, the Crouch's granddaughter, just prior to them being sealed
and published them on its website. These documents include internal TBN memos, receipts and reports from TBN's accountants
detailing improper and likely illegal acts. In our opinion, it is likely the leadership of TBN will ultimately be
replaced as a result of these revelations and some of the leadership team could possibly spend time behind bars. While the
wheels of justice grind slowly, they do tend to grind finely. It may take quite some time before new leadership is appointed,
but it will be near impossible for TBN's leaders to successfully defend themselves from IRS and FCC regulators. Accordingly,
we call on leaders in the evangelical community to begin to prepare to assemble a new leadership team that could be
presented to the regulators as a replacement. TBN is an attractive asset to the global church, therefore serious efforts should
be made to preserve it and manage it in accordance with laws and regulations. Under stronger evangelical leadership, TBN
could win more souls to Christ, effectively disciple millions with legitimate Christian teaching and bring honor to the
Lord. We believe it would be wise for a new, respected leadership team to be assembled now and presented to the IRS and
FCC as an alternative to other outcomes which would see the church lose control of this strategic asset.
The court documents containing the info noted above can be found at: http://taxdollars.ocregister.com/2012/05/20/tbn-extravagance-read-internal-memos-for-yourself/155188/. We urge readers to looks over these documents themselves as well
as some of the other reporting done by the Orange County Register on this subject. Some of the most damaging elements
contained within the 180 pages include the following:
1. Widespread abuse of ministry funds by TBN directors including having the ministry pay for numerous personal
expenses. Lavish meals, motorcycles and home remodeling were just a few of the expenses charged to the ministry.
Brittany Koper claims she was told to invent business reasons for these many personal expenses to cover up the actual
personal use of ministry funds.
2. Double billing TBN for some of these personal expenses.
3. The transfer of as much as $50 million over the course of a decade to the Crouch family.
4. The use of TBN's two jets for personal use.
5. Matthew Crouch's for-profit film production company received millions from TBN with little to show for it but
an extravagant lifestyle lived by Crouch and his family.
6. Numerous threats made to Koper and her husband for her whistleblowing activities.
7. A report from TBN's external accountant detailing how the ministry and its leadership were at risk from IRS fines
including this conclusion:
"Areas with the greatest exposure include:
Personal Use of the Organization's Assets
Use of the church's credit card for personal expenses
TBN's Dysfunction on Full Display in New York Times Article
Due to family conflict within the ministry's controlling Crouch family, new information about the extent of financial abuse of donor funds has come to light. We again strongly urge donors to TBN to prayerfully consider withholding their giving until such time as new leaders and a new board of directors are brought in to clean up this very troubled and dysfunctional ministry.
Generals International Loses Non-Profit Status
Generals International has lost its non-profit designation from the IRS as a result of its failure to file its IRS Form 990 for three consecutive years. Obviously, donors who have been supporting this ministry, or were considering doing so, should look for other ministries more worthy of their donations.
African Children Welfare Association Loses Non-Profit Status
African Children Welfare Association has lost its non-profit designation from the IRS as a result of its failure to file its IRS Form 990 for three consecutive years. Obviously, donors who have been supporting this ministry, or were considering doing so, should look for other ministries more worthy of their donations.
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