Second Preacher Spurns Senate Inquiry

Associated Press/December 6, 2007

A second Christian ministry is refusing to meet a Thursday deadline for a Senate investigation into preachers' salaries, perks and travel, The Associated Press has learned.

Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas, said in a statement to the AP on Thursday that he will not respond to the inquiry until next year.

A lawyer for preacher Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church International in suburban Atlanta had said Wednesday that the investigation should be referred to the IRS or the Senate panel should get a subpoena for the documents.

Sen. Charles Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, sent lengthy questionnaires a month ago to six ministries so he could review whether pastors were complying with IRS rules that bar excessive personal gain through tax-exempt work.

Only Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo., has provided the detailed financial and board oversight information sought by Grassley.

Grassley, an Iowa Republican, said in a Wednesday conference call with reporters that he "can't be impressed" by the argument from some of the preachers that the IRS already monitors them, because his past inquiries have unearthed information that the IRS never knew.

All the ministries preach a form of Word of Faith theology, known as prosperity gospel, which teaches that God wants believers to reap material rewards for their faith.

Grassley has insisted his investigation "has nothing to do with church doctrine" and is strictly concerned with making sure nonprofit groups are following the law.

However, several religious liberty watchdogs have said the scope of the inquiry is too broad and warned that it could be unconstitutional.

Ronn Torossian, a spokesman for Hinn, said in a statement that the preacher "plans to facilitate a response to Senator Grassley's inquiry by Jan. 30th, and likewise notified the senator's office of this intent on Nov. 20th." Torossian said Hinn is "in full compliance with government agencies duly authorized to oversee churches and charitable organizations."

Torossian would not elaborate.

The other televangelists have been noncommittal in their public comments, but some have voiced strong objections that echo Dollar's.

The other ministries targeted in the inquiry are Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga.; Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla.; and Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas.

Refusals to turn over the information could lead to a court fight, giving a judge the authority to decide whether the committee is entitled to all the information it requested.

"Hopefully these organizations will work with us," said Grassley, who has been investigating nonprofit compliance with IRS rules for years. "I don't think I've had to issue a single subpoena in the five years that I've been trying to get cooperation from organizations."

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