Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Uh Oh, Reverend Creflo!!!

I'm sure most of you know who the Reverend Creflo Dollar "Dolla Bill, Ya'll" is. For the unaware, he's a TD Jakes (assuming you know who he is too) like pastor of a megachurch in Atlanta. His "prosperity ministry" has a large television presence, airing weekly sermons in most markets, usually early in the morning. And assuming all this has missed you, he was that preacher in that godawful "Welcome To Atlanta" video that Ludacris had a few years ago. Ok, so we're all on the same page now.

Anyways, Creflo, fellow ATLien Bishop Eddie Long, and a few other high profile preachers are now under intense scrutiny from Congress to justify their outlandish expenditures. This is a story that is probably going to get very ugly very soon.

Acting on tips about preachers who ride in Rolls Royces and have purportedly paid $30,000 for a conference table, the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee said Tuesday he's investigating the finances of six well-known TV ministers.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa said those under scrutiny include faith healer Benny Hinn, Georgia megachurch pastor Creflo Dollar and one of the nation's best known female preachers, Joyce Meyer.

Grassley sent letters to the half-dozen Christian media ministries earlier this week requesting answers by Dec. 6 about their expenses, executive compensation and amenities, including use of fancy cars and private jets. In a statement, Grassley said he was acting on complaints from the public and news coverage of the organizations. Most of those under investigation preach a variation of the "prosperity gospel," the teaching that God will shower faithful followers with material riches.

Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga. Grassley's letter asks for records on private planes, board makeup, compensation and donations and "love offerings" to visiting ministers.

Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga., was questioned about his salary, a $1.4 million real estate transaction and whether he, and not the board, holds sole authority over the organization.

Because the groups have tax status as churches, they are not required to file tax forms open to public inspection.
It will be interesting to see how this plays out, since we know that alot of times Congress just delves into such things as pure posturing (see past hearings on (c)rap music, violent video games, steroids in baseball, etc.) that don't lead to any real change.

Still, it does raise the question: Is it ethical for these preachers to use what appears to be tithes and offerings on such extravagance?

My opinion might throw you guys for a loop. Personally, I think there's a fine line to be toed here. If a pastor leads a huge congregation (we're talking 25,000+ people in many of these megachurches), literally dedicates his entire life to said congregation, and by sheer virtue of the number of members, said church pulls in millions of dollars a year, who's to say that pastor should live like a pauper?

Like it or not, when you really look at it, a church is a business that provides a service (spiritual guidance) to its customers (congregants). This business needs capital (tithes) for basic operations, and extra money (offerings) to continue to grow and expand (offer more programs and thus attract more members). And just like any other business, I think it's perfectly reasonable for the CEO and Founder (usually the Pastor) to share in the wealth that is generated. It also goes without saying that if that Pastor uses his own intellectual property to create a product (books, audio taped sermons, movies) that in turn generates income, he is entitled to enjoy some of the spoils of this efforts.

The fine line here is obviously just how much these Pastors should be sharing. I don't personally think having a private jet and Bentley GT on the company dime (church tithes and offerings) are a necessity. But reality is, if the congregants at these churches know such things occur and by continuing to attend and give, they are in a sense agreeing that this is okay. If they don't, I trust that these churches have procedures in which these church members can voice their concerns. And of course, this being a free country, those church members can always just pick another church. It's hard, but it's fair.

Of course, the real travesty is when small churches (less than 100 members) in depressed communities find themselves supporting preachers who misuse their funds in a similar fashion. There's no justification whatsoever for a congregation of 200 in the hood' to be buying their preacher a Rolls Royce. Does it happen? Sure. Does that make it right? In my opinion, no, but then again, that's not the sort of church I go to, nor are those the sorts of acts I would personally condone.

I am blessed to go to a medium sized (2,000 members) church that isn't prosperity based. The church is community focused and uses its tithes and offerings on tangible things (programs for kids, feeding the homeless, classes on parenting and marriage) that directly benefit its members. When above and beyond special offerings are requested, they are for specific things like hosting a Halloween Carnival or Funding a Men's retreat. Once the money is raised, it is immediately allocated to the area it was requested for. My pastor isn't ballin' out of control like these guys are, but he isn't struggling to pay his rent either. There's a happy balance.

I'll monitor this story here, assuming it grows legs, but I'd like to know from my readers: Is there a thin line between Preachin' and Pimpin', and if so, exactly what is that line?

Senate Inquiry Targets Televangelists [AP]

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