Is Prosperity a Blessing from God, or a Crime?

Written by Mark Van Steenwyk : November 12, 2007

image The L.A. Times released an article today called Is Prosperity a Blessing from God, or a Crime? This is the latest of a number of articles about Sen. Charles Grassley’s (R-Iowa) attempt to call high-profile mega-pastors to account.  Sen. Grassley has requested financial records from Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Paula White, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, and Eddie Long.

From the article:

Grassley, a Christian, said that he believed in the idea of a “humble church and a humble minister spreading the Gospel” but that the inquiry was not motivated by his personal beliefs. Rather, he said, it is part of a broader concern about the transparency of nonprofit organizations. In recent years, the committee has probed the financial records of United Way, the American Red Cross, the Smithsonian and the Nature Conservancy…

Part of the difficulty, observers say, is that tax rules have not caught up with the fact that many ministries across the U.S. now operate as corporations. Mega-church pastors run multimillion-dollar enterprises, selling not just Bibles, DVDs and paintings, but gym memberships, nutrition classes and the use of banquet facilities. Some refer to themselves not just as pastors but as CEOs.

This raises all sorts of issues.  Personally, I’m happy that Senetor Grassley is calling these ministries to account.  Odds are, most of them are following the letter of the law.  But this investigation will cause lawmakers to re-evaluate church tax laws.  These days, these tax laws have loopholes so big you could drive a Bentley through them. 

These sorts of cases are becoming increasingly common.  I’m not sure why churches still get special status. In my mind, they should 1) either pay taxes like every other organization, 2) follow the same rules and guidelines as regular non-profit organizations, or 3) operate off the tax grid completely…the way many Catholic Worker Houses do (many don’t set themselves up as non-profits…which makes donations non tax deductible).

Do you think this scrutiny is beneficial? 

Do you think there should be changes in church tax laws?

Do you think it is justifiable for mega-pastors to have the level of affluence demonstrated by folks like Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar (which is the PERFECT televangelist name)?

Where should churches draw the line in compensating their pastors?

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7 Responses to “Is Prosperity a Blessing from God, or a Crime?”

  1. joe troyer on November 12th, 2007 1:18 pm

    Do you think this scrutiny is beneficial?

    Sure it is beneficial. When you register as a 501c3, you are obligated to the government to follow sound practice. makes you wonder if we sell out, as the church, taking on a non-profit status with the govt.

    Do you think there should be changes in church tax laws?

    The loopholes should be closed and I think there should be very distinct guidelines. Even rigid. If we have the integrity of the Body of Christ, this shouldn’t be a problem.

    Do you think it is justifiable for mega-pastors to have the level of affluence demonstrated by folks like Joyce Meyer and Creflo Dollar (which is the PERFECT televangelist name)?

    At some point it is a sin. Plain and simple. Where is that line? I don’t know. At some point it is passed God has blessed me, to taking from those who need it most. Honestly, most people who give to these ministries are the ones who can least afford it. “I thought the church was supposed to feed it’s flock, not fleece it.” (The Radicals)

    Where should churches draw the line in compensating their pastors?

    At the point where it is taking away it’s ability to serve the community. While a man should be paid what he is worth, the pastor should be a living example of discipleship and following Christ. How’s that for vague? What can I say, I get paid by the church. lol.

  2. Jason Barr on November 12th, 2007 5:19 pm

    I want to preface anything else I would say with this - it seems to me as if we have already lost in a sense if we have to depend on the civil authorities to police the financial status of evangelists and teachers. By that I don’t mean to say that the victory of Christ is nullified, but rather in the same sense in which Paul spoke in 1 Corinthians 6. Not that this is anything new given the widespread failure of the church to follow the pattern set by Jesus’ life and the praxis of the early church in social, political, and economic life, but it’s worth mentioning.

    Of course, if the church today really was living subversively according to the example of the early church we would probably come under far greater scrutiny by the authorities, tax and otherwise, so I don’t want to make my statement above seem one-sided - it’s a multivalent issue.

    Now on to the questions:

    1. The scrutiny may be beneficial in some circumstances and not in others. I think it could be a way of prodding leaders of such ministries that bring in so much money to remain in submission to the law of the land, and not only that but I hold out hope that it may cause believers to question their relationship to money and to the political structures of the US, particularly the statutes regarding nonprofits and churches.

    2. I echo statements above to the effect that churches ought to be regulated by the same provisions as other nonprofits if they are to be under nonprofit status. I see special provisions for churches in the nonprofit codes as a kind of relic of Christendom and I generally think the faster we can get rid of such things the better. But I also tend to prefer the way most CW houses operate.

    As a funny aside, I also know some people at a CW house in Iowa who do have a house that’s a registered nonprofit. The ones who operated the house before the people who are currently there set it up that way. The new people didn’t like it but decided it would probably be too much of a hassle to get out of it - so they passed a bylaw stating no member of the board of directors could speak English. Their board is currently a 6-month-old infant and several pets.

    3. No, plain and simple. Asides from the matter of the personal example of Jesus and of the pre-Christendom church, I also sympathize deeply with the Make Affluence History campaign and believe that, even though people who have great wealth may use that to benefit others (even to a very large extent) through philanthropy the very system itself that produces such wealth is unjust by its very nature. I do not believe Christians should prosper economically to such a great degree at the inherent expense of billions of people (and this is a belief that constantly convicts me about my own economic habits, may God have the mercy to free me from my own consumptive tendencies).

    4. I actually rather like the way Christian Peacemaker Teams compensates their staff. They make sure workers are at or near the poverty line for their family status and then provide resources to make sure they have their needs met, having a strong emphasis on communal orientation and sharing of resources. It’s amazing how far even poverty-line income can go when people share together.

    I think church workers should be compensated in such a way that their needs are met and (if they have them) they are able to pay off debts in a timely fashion (though standard taxable income is not necessarily the only way to do that), but I think in general even a pastor’s personal income should be a resource of the community - just as should a church member’s income.

  3. Mark on November 13th, 2007 2:58 am

    There is nothing wrong with having money. Job had a heck of a lot and God considered him holy. It is not about what you have, it is about how you got it and how you use it.

    On the same note, it is a fallacy to say that if you are a good Christian then God will give you wealth. That is totally messed up.

    I like the model of my grandparents church for paying their pastor. The church board pays the pastor an amount that is equivalent to the average income of members of the church. I get pissed off when people say that people in the ministry have to be poor. It is a false standard. If we pay our doctors so much to help us with our physical health, why are we not willing to pay our pastors to help us with our spiritual health.

    In the end I think we all have a long way to go as North Americans in learning how to be responsible with our money.

  4. Jason Barr on November 13th, 2007 4:24 am

    I don’t generally pay doctors, not the least of reasons being because I don’t have insurance. That being said, I think the comparison you draw between paying doctors and paying pastors is misleading largely because the health care system in this country is demonstrably corrupt and favors the wealthy establishment in a way Jesus certainly would have challenged. I don’t think it’s good to make a positive comparison between the health care system and the way doctors are paid and the way pastors are compensated.

    And I wouldn’t just say people in the ministry should be poor (voluntarily, not necessarily forcibly), I would say perhaps everyone in the church should be - or at the very least those who have large incomes should (again, voluntarily) keep ONLY what they need to provide for them and theirs, giving the rest to serve the mission of God. It certainly isn’t as simple as just saying “hey if we’re poor then we’ll be like Jesus and God will like what we’re doing”.

    Zaccheus might be more instructive for us than Job - and remember it’s entirely possible that Zaccheus’s (voluntary) reparations bankrupted him. The key is that if we become followers of Jesus we define our relationship with money according to the ways Jesus and the early church defined their relationship to money - that is to say it isn’t just a matter of being “responsible” with “what I own” but rather of using what God owns and is only letting me borrow for the good of the church and the mission of God.

  5. Andy in Germany on November 13th, 2007 4:57 am

    Okay, remember I’m from the country with the 8% church tax, from which the Pastor is paid. We are missionaries, and we are not paid. Thing is the church has this ‘Professional’ mentality and so the members pay the pastor, deacon, cartetaker and organist, and assume they will do anything needed. The also assume the pastors wife and family will do anything needed but that is something else. The result is that people just do what they want then drop commitments “For career reasons” when it doesn’t suit them, because they pay the professionals to do it really.

    As to tax laws: a non-profit has to have seven members, meet every year and file returns. It’s not about privacy, but accountability. If we christians are doing a proper job of being accountable, why should we be afraid of this? Surely that could be part of our witness?

  6. Surly Dave on November 14th, 2007 1:07 pm

    I think we get in trouble when we look to the government to fix problems of the heart. The folks who attend those churches, along with their pastors, don’t need a government fix: They need a change of heart. The same goes for big business. The executives don’t need more taxation, they need Jesus.

    All that would happen if the government went after them is that a bunch of lawyers would get rich. Granted, that’s kind of spreading the wealth:).

  7. mountainguy on January 10th, 2008 6:03 pm

    It’s ok if this lot of money works for spreading the word of Jesus. For example, JOyce Meyer (My mother loves her) has made TV shows spreading Jesus message for at least 30 predominantly muslim countries (That’s quite fine). But why does she live in a mansion?

    Anyway, we as christians ought to be ready for non-dependant from government; even worse, we should be able to keep our faith under a totally antichristian system. It’s just horrible to churches to depend upon Caesar.

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