Religious Right Snubs Grassley Over Televangelist Enrichment Probe

Religious Right activists in Iowa have used their power in the state Republican Party to punish U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) for launching a probe of several prominent mega-ministries.

Grassley had requested a slot as a delegate from Iowa at this year’s Republican National Convention. Normally, such a request from a longtime senator would be granted without question, but conservative evangelicals, who control the Iowa Republican Central Committee, turned Grassley down.

“Evangelical Christians in Iowa, dominant in the state’s Republican Party, have denied…Grassley his request for a place on the state’s delegation to this summer’s Republican National Convention in St. Paul, Minn.,” reported The Washington TimesThe Times noted that religious conservatives hold nine out of 17 members on the Committee, and they chose Iowa Christian Alliance President Steve Scheffler as chairman of Iowa’s 40-member delegation.

Former Iowa Republican National Committee member Steve Roberts told The Times the party structure is under the thumb of the Religious Right.

“It’s pretty well controlled now by the Christian Alliance,” Roberts said. “If somebody came to me and wanted to be a delegate to the national party convention, I used to say, ‘Talk to the state party chairman or to Grassley.’ Now it’s very simple. You go to the Christian Alliance, and they determine who is a delegate, and you have to do exactly as they say.”

Grassley is hardly an enemy of Christian conservatives. A member of the Senate since 1980, he scored 100 percent on a scorecard put out by Family Research Council Action and Focus on the Family Action, two of the most militant Religious Right groups. Grassley is also a conservative Baptist.

Religious Right groups, however, are furious over Grassley’s decision last year to request detailed financial data from six large “prosperity gospel” ministries. Grassley, who has long been interested in allegations of financial misconduct by non-profit groups, said he decided to act after receiving whistle-blower complaints about the ministries. (See “Prophets, Profits And Federal Tax Law,” January 2008 Church & State.)

Grassley has pointed out that non-profits are not supposed to divert money to the personal enrichment of non-profit executives and their families or to use tax-exempt funds to finance opulent lifestyles. Yet some of the ministers he is investigating own private jets, multiple mansions and fleets of expensive cars.

In July, Grassley’s office issued an update on the status of the investigation. It reported that two of the ministries, Joyce Meyer Ministries and Benny Hinn’s World Healing Center Church, had provided extensive answers and acted in good faith.

Randy and Paula White’s Without Walls International Church and Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church submitted general information that Grassley’s staff deems incomplete. Attempts are under way to get more information.

Kenneth Copeland Ministries submitted partial responses but ignored key questions about staff compensation. Grassley’s staff considers this “not responsive.”

Creflo Dollar’s World Changers Church has declined to provide any information.

Grassley’s investigation has led the media to take a closer look at some of the ministries. In July, the Associated Press ran a long report on Copeland, who is based in Newark, Texas. The AP noted that several Copeland family members share in the ministry’s largess.

Independent tax experts asked by the AP to look into Copeland’s finances were alarmed.

“There are far too many relatives here,” said Frances Hill, a University of Miami law professor who specializes in non-profit tax law, told the AP. “There’s too much money sloshing around and too much of it sloshing around with people with overlapping affiliations and allegiances by either blood or friendship or just ties over the years. There are red flags all over these relationships.”