It’s all very taxing


We’ve been having great fun here at the Merritt Ranch, thinking about this televangelist issue. Because…well…we can make anything more complicated than it has to be.

I talked to three people: (1) a church person from Alban, (2) a civil rights guy from the Board of the ACLU (Okay, he’s a church guy too, with a PhD in theology), and (3) an insider in the Charismatic movement.

(1) said the Senate has a right to probe. In harmony with Diane’s comment from yesterday, (1) said that televangelists have nothing to do with us. They’re entertainers with lavish lifestyles, while most church leaders are not. This is simply not the story of pastoral life.

(2) said the Senate has no right to probe.

Why would they investigate these pastors/churches and not let their donors/boards handle any misuse? If someone is stupid enough to contribute to a ministry that allows its pastor to live this kind of lifestyle, why would the government want to investigate it? Because it is tax exempt? There are abuses in tax-exempt organizations just as there are abuses in the for profit world. Both cost the country potential tax dollars.

For example, why wouldn’t they investigate the lifestyle and spending practices of the CEO of Exxon, which gets huge tax subsidies (like the tax exempt status, this costs us potential tax dollars)? It feels like a political stunt. And again, think of the slippery slope. If they can investigate these kinds of issues, why can’t they challenge the expensive car that the pastor a large church is driving? Why can’t they challenge a pastor buying an expensive laptop versus a more modest laptop? Etc.

It seems to me the real issue here is not a matter for Congress. It is a question of why the members of these churches tolerate such behavior. We are clear that we disapprove, why don’t the members? But why get the government investigating the internal life of congregation? That is a slippery slope of the highest order.

(3) said the Senate has a right to probe. While (2) sees tax-exempt status as a right, (3) sees it as a privilege. “If an organization’s going to say it’s a nonprofit, then they have to be open to investigation.”

Evidently, these movements are pretty infuriating for Charismatic pastors, because their members often come to them and say, “Well, I wanted to give the church $2,000 this year, but I listen to Joyce Meyer so much, so I sent $1,500 to her and I’ll give the church $500.” But, of course, at the end of the day, Joyce doesn’t show up in the ICU….

I asked, “Do you consider these churches?”

“No. They’re parachurch ministries.”

But (3) said to remember, many of these people are authors (Joel Osteen and Joyce Meyer are top sellers) who have sold thousands of books, and that’s probably enough for Meyer to afford $23,000 on a commode with a marble top. “And, you’ve also got to realize, they have massive organizations. It’s not so strange that they would be making a lot of money.”

She saw a big difference between what Richard Roberts (Oral’s son) has been charged of doing (taking money out of the school’s endowment for personal use), and what Osteen does.

So, what do you think? Beyond the obvious fury that many of us feel over the fleecing of the flock…is there a civil liberty issue here? As preachers of the prosperity gospel, could their lavish lifestyles actually be a practice of their religion? Does the government get to decide how much religious leaders ought to be paid, or how they spend their money?

I just figured out that the interview is not this Monday, but next. Which is good, because I’m still not sure what I’m going to wear. But I learned something from all of this. After Lindsay, Oral Robert’s daughter-in-law was questioned about spending $39,000 in one year at Chico’s, she said, “As long as I wear it once on TV, we can charge it off.”

Or, maybe not….

8 thoughts on “It’s all very taxing

  1. Ah, I don’t see you wearing Chico’s, my dear. You’re not “of a certain age.” But you will look fabulous in whatever you wear. Color/neckline/jewelry are what matter, especially if it’s all close-up. You could probably wear jeans and bunny slippers with a fabulous top.

  2. You quoted me perfectly. How did you do that? Were you typing as I spoke? I didn’t hear any tap, taps. Now to the important question. Of course, you MUST wear black.

  3. Bunny slippers…hmmm…that would be comfy. Thanks for the kind words, Ruth!

    CI #3: Pretty good, eh? Actually I’m relieved I got it right, especially since I was negotiating dinner with Little C when we were talking.

    Songbird, I wish I could charge it off! But, you know, Western’s finance committee’s a lot more vigilant than ORU….

  4. I met Barbara Brown Taylor once and she thought my jacket was from Chicos. NOT.
    I actually think black is a good choice.
    and this is a fascinating discussion.
    I do see a slippery slope here.
    but I do think they are fleecing their flocks.
    As far as the tax code? well, good point. If they are, so is Exxon, etc.

  5. I’m “2.” I don’t think tax exempt status is a right. But the free exercise of religion is a right. As a nation, we have found that the tax exempt status has increased the free exercise of religion (we have the most diverse and active religious community in the world).
    The tax system is used to encourage or discourage people from different kinds of behaviors. We give tax credits for people to buy homes, oil companies to explore for new oil and teachers to deduct teaching supplies. I’m glad religious groups and charities are considered as beneficial to society as new oil deposits!
    Wasteful stuff takes place in the profit and non-profit worlds all the time. When the United Way was exposed in DC several years ago, they lost about 80% of their donations. That is the way to punish a non-profit that spends money unethically or foolishly, not with Senate hearings. Stop giving.

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