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AFA, NCC, CADC Go to Bat for Benny Hinn (Updated)

John on May 8, 2008 at 4:34 pm

Update 5/9 4PM: I’ve contacted more than half the signatories of the letter to Senator Grassley, asking them to please explain their support of prosperity gospel hucksters like Benny Hinn. So far I’ve received a couple of polite responses.

  • The Christian Anti-Defamation Commission has a blog post explaining their decision here.
  • William Murray of the Religious Freedom Coalition sent me an e-mail in which he said, in part:

    When I read about private jets and matching Rolls Royce “his and hers” cars I am just appalled that ministry funds could be spent in that fashion. While this kind of spending is being done our brothers and sisters in Christ in Iraq are being persecuted and impoverished. I believe that some of the higher profile organizations with lavish spending should be investigated by the various States who have authority over fund raising organizations. (The Religious Freedom Coalition is registered in all 50 states and DC.) In addition, the IRS should take a close look at “ministry expense” versus personal income in some of these cases. As appalled as I am by some of these so-called churches, I do not think that Congress should be doing the job that federal and State agencies with non-political interests are set up to do.

First of all, I sincerely appreciate both individuals taking the time to respond. Taking the responses in turn, I guess I’m having a hard time understanding the CADC’s position. The blog post I was referred to says, in part:

While we may disagree with other’s religious doctrine, practices and budgets, we must defend their right to freely exercise their religion and spend their money any way they see fit. This is not altruism. If a government official can abuse these ministries at will, then they can certainly abuse others.

If the ACLU were taking this position (imagine that…) I could understand the reasoning. Their mission is ostensibly to hold the line on any infringement of liberty by government (though they seem very selectively anti-Christian in most cases). However, I suppose I have different expectations of a group called the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission.

Does anyone who claims to be a Christian qualify for this group’s support, regardless of their track record of behavior? Have they, for instance, come out in support of the Mormon Fundamentalists whose compound was recently raided? The paragraph in question seems to suggest that any doctrinal questions are beside the point. Would they defend, say, Wiccans on the same grounds? Practitioners of Santaria?

Perhaps they would, I don’t know. It just seems to me that at some point a judgment could be made about whether or not prosperity gospel preachers deserve this kind of public support.

Moving on, Mr. Murray expresses his own genuine dismay at the reported practices of some of these “ministers.” It’s a relief to hear that he is seeing this as (I believe) it really is.

I do sympathize with his concern about where this type of targeted investigation could lead, especially as we enter the current election cycle and the possibility of a political shift to the far left. However, if the proper procedure in this case is for an upper level IRS manager to find good cause for an investigation (as the initial letter suggests), I can only imagine that a complaint from the 23 signatories to this letter could easily constitute such cause. Given Mr. Murray’s obvious awareness of the problem, why hasn’t such a letter been sent? Why are we only now seeing this coalition form to protect these individuals?

It seems to me that the signatories to this letter have substantial credibility and name recognition. They could have banded together to initiate a proper investigation of some very squirrelly characters long before now. What is the reason for not doing so?

Update 5/9: Well, it took some searching but I finally found the letter which was posted on Townhall.com. In case it disappears, I’ve turned it into a page on my site here. I’ll just comment on a few aspects…
The first paragraph expresses concern that all of the ministries targeted are evangelical and that all support traditional marriage. Uh, yes, but I’m fairly certain that the signatories know they have something more specific in common, i.e. they all preach a version of prosperity gospel. This first paragraph seems like a disingenuous attempt to shift the argument to something it’s not.

In the second paragraph they basically make a slippery slope argument. Sure these ministries are questionable but what’s next? Why can’t we just worry about what’s next when it comes, if ever. There’s plenty evidence these ministries are corrupt. Why in the world would we try to defend the indefensible?

The next four paragraphs continue in this vein, arguing that this is the role of the IRS, not the Congress. Again, why are we arguing points of procedure to shield prosperity gospel hucksters like Benny Hinn?

In the penultimate paragraph they bring up the first amendment. Apparently an investigation into financial irregularities represents an undue burden on free excercise. Really? Seems to me an honest ministry should be only too eager to put their financial data before the congress and the world. And if a ministry is in fact being persecuted, well, didn’t Paul say something about that coming with the territory? Should it really surprise us that much?

The signatories to this letter have chosen a strange moment to stand on technicalities. Defending charlatans like Hinn from their just desserts only calls into question one’s own credibility and honesty. If there is a principle worth defending here, what about the principle of not merchandising the gospel? Does that count for anything?

[End update]

We noted several months ago that Sen. Charles Grassley had begun an investigation of six prosperity Gospel preachers: Kenneth Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, Eddie Long, Joyce Meyer, and Randy and Paula White (who were a team until their recent divorce). Word came out a few weeks later that the investigation had been prompted by televangelist scourge (and possible cult leader) Ole Anthony.

Now a group of powerful, well-connected Christians who work in Washington DC have apparently decided to go to bat for the preachers of prosperity. According to reports, a letter signed by 20 prominent evangelicals accuses Grassley of having an anti-religious or at least anti-conservative motivation:

The letter argues that the 6-month-old inquiry sets a dangerous precedent. It also suggests that the ministries were targeted for sharing “the same branch of evangelicalism” and promoting “socially conservative public policy positions such as support for the traditional definition of marriage.”

Although the ministries under scrutiny are conservative theologically, they are not at the forefront of the culture wars issues championed by the leaders who are now rallying to their side.

The most prominent figures who signed the letter are Moral Majority co-founder Paul Weyrich, American Family Association chairman Don Wildmon and former Ohio Secretary of State Ken Blackwell.

Press reports are scant at this moment, but in addition to Weyrich, Wildmon and Blackwell, we can add a few other names to the list of signatories:

Gary Cass of the Christian Anti-Defamation Commission and the Reverend Rob Schenck of the National Clergy Council.

My question at this point is simple. Why would these individuals, all of whom have a public profile, wish to link themselves arm in arm with the likes of Benny Hinn? Hinn has been dogged with claims of financial irregularity for years. Is he really worth defending at the price of one’s own reputation? I’ve contacted several of the individuals who signed the letter asking for some sort of response or explanation. We’ll see if any is forthcoming.

And one more question. Where are the high profile Christians willing to stand up and cheer Grassley on as he tries to clean up this shameful mess?

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