Friday, July 11, 2008

What would Jesus fly?

I guess that ever since there has been religion there have been religious charlatans. It never seems to change. A Jim and Tammy Faye Baker fall in disgrace and there are several Benny Hinns to take their place.

World Magazine reports that all six of the televangelists under investigation for potential abuse of their tax-exempt status by the Senate Finance Committee own corporate jets. In addition, there are about 25 other churches ministries that own luxury jets. I don’t know that owning a luxury corporate jet makes you a crook, but it does seem that in most cases a corporate jet is an indulgent luxury. If you are a for-profit corporation answerable only to your stockholders, or a rock star: Go for it. Churches should be held to a different standard.

Jet airplanes do not come cheap. According to this report an entry level used jet cost about $2 million dollars and a top of the line jet goes for about $50 million. Neither are they cheap to operate, costing anywhere from $2000 to $10,000 an hour. One of the ministries, Crenshaw Christian, flew 700 trips between Los Angeles and New York City in a five-year period yet these two cities are connected by more than 20 commercial flights a day. Kenneth Copeland’s ministry owns three jets, including a Cessna 750 the fastest civilian airplane available in the world.

I can understand the caution that Congress has traditionally taken in investigating religious institutions. Separation of Church and State and freedom of religion are important liberties in America. I don’t want the government telling Churches how they can spend their money or what beliefs are acceptable. There is always the danger that government may be selective in investigating those ministries that take unpopular positions. Just because there is the danger that government may overstep its bounds and abuse its power however does not mean that government must take a hands-off approach.

Just because an organization calls itself a church does not mean they should be allowed to avoid taxes unless they are legitimately functioning as a church. There must be rules to determine what is a legitimate religious organization. If ministries are to have tax-exempt status, they need to be held to the same standards as other tax exempt organizations. Investigating religious institutions is a delicate undertaking but one that needs to occur.

Working most of my life with poor people, I know some of the people who are sending these televangelists their money. It is little old ladies living on $850 a month social security and skimping on their medicine so they can support these ministries. The televangelist flying around in their corporate jets and living in mansions owned by their ministry have no shame. If there is a judgment day, I hope the charlatans using religion to prey on the weak, ignorant and gullible are judged harshly.

To read the World magazine article, click the title.

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  1. What would you think of a religious organization which is run by unpaid volunteer ministers? The main printing and directing of the teaching work is done by volunteers that receive a very modest stipend in addition to their food and shelter - pretty much just enough to buy incidentals. Their missionaries and traveling ministers or overseers also receive a small stipend and are modestly cared for by the congregations that they serve. The local congregations meet in modest well appointed places of meeting without ornate auditoriums, decked out stages, stained glass or idols for worship. The building's purpose is for clean worship of their God, not opulent display. Like I said before the local ministers that are appointed to teach the local congregations are not paid a dime. Neither are those that choose to volunteer to teach the Bible within the local community, even those who do it full time. Each has their own profession they use to support their families and they use their spiritual knowledge to teach.

  2. Sharon, I admire those who selfishly give of themselves to serve other. I know there are many underpaid pastors and missionaries and sincere, honest people doing good deeds, helping the down and out and trying to save souls. It is a shame that the flamboyant televangelist give others a bad name. I condemn the charlatans, but admire the majority of people who give themselves to the ministry. I know the charlatans are in the minority.