Texas TV evangelist Benny Hinn, best known for his flamboyant healing services, has decided to comply with a U.S. senator’s request for information about his ministry.
Hinn’s ministry turned material over to the Senate Finance Committee in late February, in response to a request from U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Last year, Grassley sent letters to six large ministries known for preaching the “prosperity gospel” requesting detailed financial information. (See “Prophets, Profits And Federal Tax Law,” January 2008 Church & State.)
Grassley said he was responding to complaints from whistle-blowers that the ministries may be using their non-profit status to enrich individual pastors and their family members, which would be a violation of federal law. He has requested information about specific expenditures, financial oversight, salaries and other matters.
The Iowa Republican has investigated secular non-profits in the past, but his foray into the world of religious non-profits angered many of the targeted religious leaders.
The Associated Press reported that only one ministry, Joyce Meyer Ministries, has “substantially answered” Grassley’s questions. Two others, Creflo Dollar Ministries and Bishop Eddie Long, both of the Atlanta area, have refused to cooperate.
Another ministry, Paula and Randy White’s Without Walls International Church, asked for more time but has yet to provide information. The final group, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, has said it will provide no information and has attacked Grassley’s effort.
“The enemy is not going to steal what the Lord has won through this ministry, and he is not going to use this attack to bring harm to the rest of the churches and ministries in America!” Copeland wrote to supporters in a recent letter.
Grassley has also been criticized by the Alliance Defense Fund, a Religious Right legal group. “From the get-go, he’s acted like an investigator and not at all like a senator on this and that’s unnerving,” Gary McCaleb, senior counsel, told the Associated Press recently. “He has a right to get the facts, but this has looked, felt and smelled like an enforcement action.”
Grassley defended his actions, telling the Associated Press, “They’re non-profits like anybody else I looked into. I’ve sent them some letters because I want some information. If they want to cooperate that’s good. I expect they will. If they don’t, they’ll be the first people since a fellow named Abramoff, and he’s in a jail cell.”