For the first time, officials with Kenneth Copeland Ministries are talking publicly about an investigation into the church's spending habits.
Kenneth Copeland's message has been broadcast to millions of faithful viewers. He is considered a heavy hitter among television evangelists. But this Pentecostal preacher, with a mega-ministry based 25 miles northwest of Fort Worth, is facing a senate committee investigation.
"Where in the Bible does it say you should have watch dogs and judgment groups that watch over ministries?" asked John Copeland, Kenneth Copeland's son and Chief Executive Officer of Kenneth Copeland Ministries.
In November 2007, Republican Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa launched an investigation into six high-profile televangelists. Sen. Grassley wants to know if they are using church donations to live lavish lifestyles.
"How can you reach the world if you don't have money to do it?" asked John Copeland.
In a recent interview, he sat down with CBS 11 to defend his church's spending policy. First on the list of questions was about his father's personal jet.
"Do you think when someone digs in their pocket to give money to Kenneth Copeland Ministries, they want to give Kenneth Copeland a jet rather than feed the poor?" asked CBS 11 reporter Jay Gormley.
"They gave money towards that jet to buy it. Yes I do believe that," answered Copeland. "A lot of people may see that as a luxurious lifestyle, but when you hit 19 countries in 12 months, what are you going do that with? The jet is a tool. It's just a tool to use in ministry."
Officials within the organization say Copeland Ministries preaches what's called the "prosperity gospel;" the belief that God rewards the faithful both spiritually and financially. Copeland said it takes money to spread that message.
"Mother Teresa comes to mind," said Gormley. "You can't deny her impact on the world through her religious work and yet she lived just above the poverty level. How do you explain that?"
"There's a lot of doctrine that teaches that you're not a good Christian unless you're poor," said Copeland. "But that's not our doctrine, that's not what we believe."
Copeland said the prosperity gospel also explains why his parents live in a multi-million dollar mansion. "It would be kind of silly for that to be your doctrine, but then put your pastor in a two-thousand square foot house," he said.
"A two-thousand square foot home to millions of people is very nice home," Gormley responded.
"Yes, it's larger than the average person's home," Copeland said, adding the official square footage was at 18,000. "It's a nice home. I'm not going to argue that."
But Sen. Grassley said he's not interested in church doctrine. He wants to see Copeland's financial records. According to the senator, four of the six preachers have complied, but Copeland Ministries remains firm. The organization's leadership instead requested an audit by the Internal Revenue Service.
"If four have complied, doesn't that raise the question that perhaps Kenneth Copeland Ministries is hiding something?" asked Gormley.
"We have nothing to hide, that's why we went to the I.R.S. In fact, we told Grassley and we told the I.R.S. that we will answer every question he has," Copeland responded. "The most expedient way to get those answers is through the I.R.S."
Kenneth Copeland Ministries recently launched BelieversStandUnited.com in response to the investigation. John Copeland said the senator is targeting Pentecostals. The family also maintains that Grassley's request is a violation of the church's first amendment rights.
"If we give up that right, then we're giving up that right for every church in America," said Copeland. "If we set presidency here, what happens when the next senator has a problem with somebody's doctrine over here?"
Sen. Grassley issued the following statement to CBS 11:
"Overall, this is a non-profit tax policy review like the numerous others that I've conducted since 2001. I'm not interested in church doctrine. I'm interested in the adequacy of tax-exempt laws and the protection of federal taxpayers."