Prosperity Gospel Preachers Under Pressure
Two decades on from the infamous events of 1987, this year looks like it's shaping up as a bit of an annus horribilis
for those US evangelists who practice and preach the Prosperity Gospel. WCNC reports
that Morris Cerullo
is to go on trial next week:
The onetime leader of the Inspiration Network, now based in Fort Mill, S.C., is in court next week in San Diego on tax evasion charges.
...Cerullo's attorney says "Dr. Cerullo is extremely disappointed that the charges were filed and believes they are without merit (and) the charges will be proven false."
But, the federal prosecutor said that the money in question came from offerings at breakthrough rallies and speaking fees. The feds tells us Cerullo used that money as his own.
Meanwhile, the consequences of the Prosperity Gospel have come under attack from preacher-scholar Dr Robert M. Franklin:
..."I am convinced that the single greatest threat to the historical legacy and core values of the contemporary black church tradition is posed by what is known as the 'prosperity gospel' movement," he writes, explaining that the black church has assimilated into a culture that is hostile to marginalized people, such as the poor, the HIV-infected, homosexuals and immigrants.
Franklin has laid out his charges in a new book, Crisis in the Village
. He goes on to complain that
one-fourth of the black community lives in poverty. But many churches are devoting more time to "building their local kingdoms" and less time aiding and uplifting the poor.
Cerullo has had some previous legal difficulties. Christianity Today reported last year that
...he was sued twice in 2000 by employees who said they were punished for raising questions about fundraising. The more prominent of these came from John Paul Warren, who said he was fired for confronting Cerullo about "unethical and fraudulent fund raising techniques."
A California appeals court in December 2001 said that the courts could not get involved in the case since it involved employment at a religious organization, and that state involvement would violate both the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. (The Supreme Court in 2002 decided not to hear an appeal.
The latest development comes a few weeks after the spending habits of Kenneth Copeland have come under scrutiny:
The Copelands are regarded by many as the most successful televangelists in the world, and they certainly look the part these days--jetting about in their new Cessna Citation, operated, they say, in exact accordance with federal tax law and used solely for ministry purposes.
But flight records News 8 obtained raise questions.
...According to flight records obtained by News 8, the Copeland jet, on its way to an evangelical seminar in Australia last October, made a two-day layover in Maui. Then it was on to the Fiji islands for another stop.
After seven days in Australia, the Copelands headed to Honolulu for another three days of what they called "eating and rest."
Last December, amid other evangelical stops, there was a jet ride to the Yampa Valley Airport in Colorado, just a few miles away from Steamboat Springs Ski Resort.
This was announced as The Minnesota Star Tribune took a look at the finances of another Prosperity preacher, Mac Hammond:
Last week, a Washington watchdog group filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Hammond's Living Word Christian Center, which now has nearly 10,000 members, broadcasts weekly services to local and national television audience, and runs an array of businesses.
The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the church gave loans to Hammond at favorable rates and created a sweetheart deal on a plane lease, possibly violating federal tax law that forbids insiders from benefiting from a charitable organization. But church officials said they are confident that they are complying with tax laws.
Hammond's church's board of directors includes Copeland's son and "Texas minister Dennis Burke."
And across the border, the Prayer Palace in Toronto is also the subject of investigations:
...the three white pastors - Paul Melnichuk and his 40-year-old twin sons, Tim and Tom - lead lavish lives in contrast to the mainly working-class black families that make up the bulk of the church.
Between them, the pastors have amassed a real estate fortune worth about $12 million. Each owns a multi-million-dollar country estate north of Toronto (Tim's is worth as much as $5.5 million), they share a Florida vacation villa, and the pastors and their wives drive luxurious cars - among them a Porsche Cayenne SUV, a Lexus RX 330 SUV and a Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 convertible.
...charitable works, like a promised orphanage in Brazil, either dried up or never materialized.
Last month, Cerullo was in Nigeria for a rally. The Tide reported:
An American Evangelist, Morris Cerullo, has urged Nigerian leaders to ensure a sustainable economic empowerment for all Nigerians
"God is in control of politics, oil, education and other facets of the economy," Cerullo said. ...He said Nigerians needed honest and upright men of integrity to move the country forward, noting that "the church provides men of integrity, but the greed of some won't allow credible people to rule".
(Adapted from an entry on my blog)