Beliefnet News

By Adelle M. Bank
2008 Religion News Service

WASHINGTON — Two of the six ministries with finances under investigation by Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, have been unwilling to cooperate, citing privacy rights and questioning Grassley’s focus on groups that preach the “prosperity gospel.”
In an update released Tuesday, Grassley urged the noncooperating ministries to view the inquiry in a different light.
“This has nothing to do with church doctrine,” said Grassley, the top-ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee. “It’s only about tax-exempt policy.”
Two Atlanta-area ministries, Creflo Dollar Ministries in College Park, Ga., and Bishop Eddie Long’s New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in Lithonia, have refused to submit the financial records first requested by Grassley last November.
An attorney for Dollar had already told Grassley that the church would not comply by the original Dec. 6 deadline. Long’s attorneys also sent a letter indicating unwillingness to cooperate, Grassley’s office said.
In an op-ed column in Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Long’s attorney James M. Hunter called Grassley’s inquiry an “inquisition” and said the church intends to “comply with all laws applicable to churches.”
“Grassley’s inquiry is not a formal congressional investigation or subpoena, but an informal request for information from certain ministries he believes to be preaching the `Prosperity Gospel,”‘ Hunter wrote.
“He has expressed his disapproval of certain teachings of these ministries since such teachings are not consistent with his beliefs, even questioning religious leaders’ traveling by corporate jet because Jesus traveled by mule.”
Marcus Owens, a lawyer for Dollar, said in a Nov. 27 letter to Grassley that the investigation would be more appropriate if it involved a formal subpoena.
“While, as is true with most religious beliefs, not all religions or denominations subscribe to the Prosperity Gospel, this country has a long tradition of celebrating — and protecting — the diversity of the religious beliefs of its citizens,” Owens wrote.
Just two of the six ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries in Newark, Texas, and Joyce Meyer Ministries in Fenton, Mo., have provided materials that are being reviewed by Senate staff, Grassley said.
Two other ministries — Without Walls International Church in Tampa, Fla., and Benny Hinn Ministries in Grapevine, Ga., have sent mixed signals.
Without Walls has asked for additional time to submit materials.
Juda Engelmayer, a spokesman for Without Walls, confirmed that attorneys have been talking with the senator’s office but declined to disclose details.
Hinn’s lawyers had told Grassley’s staff they would determine by Dec. 12 if the ministry would cooperate, but Grassley’s staff said there was no further contact after an exchange of messages the following day.
A spokesman for Hinn did not immediately respond to a reporter’s request for additional information.
Hunter, closing his op-ed in the Atlanta newspaper, quoted Long:
“New Birth’s ministry is not about any one person’s personal prosperity, but the greater prosperity for all of God’s peoples.”
While some watchdog groups have welcomed Grassley’s probe, the evangelical magazine Christianity Today called some of his comments an “oversight overstep.”
In a January editorial that referenced prosperity-gospel preachers, the magazine said: “Whether they’re proclaiming the true gospel is a separate question. And it’s a question that the church, not the ranking member of the Senate Committee on Finance, should answer.”
Copyright 2008 Religion News Service. All rights reserved. No part of this transmission may be distributed or reproduced without written permission.