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Posts Tagged ‘Joyce Meyer’

$1.00 for information leading …

October 7, 2011 Leave a comment

Several weeks ago one of the voices on The White Horse Inn, and I believe it was host Michael Horton, suggested that there are some evangelical authors whose books appear in the Christian Living section of the bookstore and/or have a DDC number near 248.4 [link] who are using pen names between Meyer and Osteen.

Since Horton didn’t mention anyone by name I am tempted to believe he was just repeating idle vicious gossip, but I would prefer to be wrong. So I will pay a whole dollar to the first person to spot and verify one of these authors, limit ten total. To claim please send me evidence that some author is using a pen name and has a book with a DDC of 248.*. I will also consider evidence of a pen name and a snapshot of a book in the appropriate section of a chain bookstore, subject to some kind of field check.

Hey look!

August 20, 2011 Leave a comment

This is a cellphone shot of a bookcase from my local public library. Careful observers may be able to spot the Brennan Manning book nestled in among the Joyce Meyers and the Joel Osteens.

I honestly had no idea Joyce Meyer had written so many books, let alone that anyone in Santa Fe would be reading them and donating them to the public library.

 

Family Values Radio, Phoenix AZ

March 17, 2011 5 comments

A few weeks ago I found myself in the Phoenix metro area behind the wheel of a rental car without satellite radio during the morning rush. Phoenix is a large, reasonably well-served media market, and offers some of the usual outlets: K-LOVE, CSN, Family Life Radio and as I’ve mentioned before Harold Camping’s Family Radio.

It also offers a small local two-station network called Family Values Radio [link]. Both stations (KXXT and KXEG) are AM stations, and both carry the same programming stream. Their website offers a live stream [link] but only a partial programming schedule [link]. And that’s a shame, because the few days I was there I heard some of the strangest programming I’ve ever heard on a Christian station.

Family Values Radio offers thirty- and sixty-minute time slots, and these are filled by the usual big names, including Joyce Meyer and Matthew Hagee, son of John, as well as Father Pat Egan, if I’m recalling correctly. It also offers fifteen-minute time slots, and airtime is apparently cheap enough to give a voice to the otherwise voiceless. I heard at least one Messianic Jewish show, a couple of black churches offering a mix of prosperity theology and liberation theology, one preacher mixing the usual prosperity terms (“unleash,” “blessing,” etc.) with a promise that God gives the faithful more satisfying sex.

My favorite, though, was The Word of God is Quick and Powerfull (sic) with Pastor Julia Coleman, a media product apparently available nowhere else. As far as I can tell Ms Coleman pays for the programming herself; she also sings the opening theme, with alternate lyrics to a venerable hymn, and delivers the sermon herself. I only got to hear her a couple of times, but what I heard was something I hadn’t encountered in a long time, and never outside Charismatic churches: one long sentence, in a bold and almost prophetic voice, each phrase starting with something that sounded to me like “My Lord and,” as in

My Lord and I saw the young man

My Lord and I told him he was going to Hell

etc.

Unfortunately she does not appear to have a Web presence; I wasn’t able to figure out what her church affiliation was, or where I’d go to hear her speak on a regular basis. Regardless, if you find yourself in the Phoenix area at 8:30 on a Saturday morning I recommend tuning into Family Values Radio; it’s worth 15 minutes of your time. I’d almost guarantee you’ve never heard anything like it.

One last thing: I hereby declare this usage of the term “Family Values” to be entirely empty. Yes I understand it’s a way of saying “Christian” without actually saying “Christian;” does it have to be that transparent? Were there no clever alternatives available? Etc.

 

The Grassley staff report and the pastoral housing allowance

The Grassley staff report written by Pattara and Barnett [PDF] also cites some of the history of the way the pastoral housing allowance has run afoul of the IRS in the past. The pastoral housing allowance, for those just joining us, is a provision in the tax code that allows “ministers of the gospel” to receive money from their churches tax-free as a housing allowance; it is meant to parallel the tax-free benefit received by pastors who have use of a parsonage paid for by their church.

The examples cited by the staff report are meant to summarize the case law, and are not intended to be representative either of typical use of the allowance or of extreme uses of the allowance. Here’s a quick rundown:

  • 1987: PTL was paying not less than $2000 a month to Jim Bakker as a housing allowance, plus picking up his utility bill, which ran $1000-2000 a month. That’s a really soft number, but it works out to at least $36000 a year for a $1.3 million house.
  • 1993: Leroy Jenkins was using a parsonage in Ohio and taking the allowance for a second house in Florida where he was spending most of his time conducting crusades. The IRS denied the allowance for the Florida house. No amounts are given.
  • 1995: Walter V. Grant was taking $175,000 a year as a housing allowance before he was imprisoned for tax evasion.
  • 1993-5: Rick Warren takes allowances ranging from $76,300 to $84,278 as a housing allowance each year for a house purchased in 1992 for $360,000.

The court case surrounding the Warren allowance mushroomed (pages 13-15) and ended up in front of the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals [link] where Establishment Clause issues were raised and not entirely resolved; one of the results was the Clergy Housing Allowance Clarification Act of 2002 (CHACA) [link] which limited future allowances

such allowance does not exceed the fair rental value of the home, including furnishings and appurtenances such as a garage, plus the cost of utilities

and exempted anyone who exceeded the new guideline in previous years

no person shall be subject to the limitations added to section 107 of such Code by this Act for any taxable year beginning before January 1, 2002

Section 2(b)(3) effectively settled Warren’s case in his favor and had the side effect of making the examples above, all pre-2002, legal.

CHACA continues to be interpreted fairly generously, at least in some quarters. Fred Southard, the recently retired Chief Financial Officer from Crystal Cathedral, was taking almost all of his compensation as a housing allowance:

According to court documents, Southard received $132,019 out of his total $144,261 compensation in the form of a housing allowance in 2009. Southard has been with the Crystal Cathedral since 1978. He owns a home in Newport Beach assessed at $2.3 million, property records show. [link]

In other words, Mr Southard’s tax attorney would have you believe that the fair rental price plus utilities for a $2.3 million house in Newport Beach was $11,000 a month.

This brings up two more issues: 1) apparently anyone can be a “minister of the gospel” for tax purposes provided they have a church to pay them; the Grassley staff point out that Paul Crouch of TBN fame ordains various station managers and department heads to this end, and 2) the allowance is not capped.

This certainly seems like a lot of money, especially when compared to the national average:

Note that the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the average housing expenditure for all households in the United States in 2007 was $16,920. (page 14)

Remember that the Rick Warren we’re talking about here, who is taking a $6000-7000 a month housing allowance isn’t the best-selling author we know today. That didn’t happen until 2002 [link]. In 1994 he was just a megachurch pastor from California.

I have a hard time making sense of these numbers; if I had to estimate my own housing costs they’d come out somewhere near the 2007 average. I’ve been to a couple of pastors’ houses here in the Santa Fe area, and while they were nicer than mine, etc. it’s hard to imagine that their expenditures were twice mine (say $32,000 a year). I have a hard time believing that any pastor needs a million-dollar house, and an even harder time believing that if he needs a million-dollar house that he should be able to pay for it and maintain it tax-free.

Even allowing for that it’s hard to comprehend a preacher taking 90% or more of his compensation in the form of a housing allowance. That seems dishonest both to the letter and the spirit of the law. I think if I were attending a church where the pastor were taking even a $50,000 tax-free housing allowance it would give me pause.

Anyway, in conclusion, I hesitate to mention this now, but we will need to think about what this means later when we come back to the case of Joyce Meyer; it’s important to remember that she’s the star pupil of the Grassley investigation for having made some changes and joined the ECFA, so it may be helpful to look at how she treats the housing allowance.

 

The Grassley Investigation: an overview

February 23, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve cached a copy of the staff memo to Senator Grassley (R-IA), written by Theresa Pattara and Sean Barnett, locally [PDF] and I would encourage all interested parties to have a look at it. Here’s my quick overview:

The inquiry dealt directly with some narrow questions pertaining to tax law and “media-based ministries,” namely

  1. Benny Hinn Ministries
  2. Joyce Meyer Ministries
  3. Creflo and Taffi Dollar/World Changers Church International
  4. Randy and Paula White/Without Walls International Church
  5. Kenneth Copeland Ministries
  6. Eddie Long/New Birth Missionary Baptist Church

And questions regarding their tax status and the appropriateness of tax-free compensation, including but not limited to

  • Housing allowances; these are under current law explicitly tax-exempt compensation for pastors, and have been subject to interpretations that seem very much at variance with the original intent of the governing law
  • “Love offerings;” this is a term that is used differently by different people, but in the Grassley staff report always refers to an untaxed transfer of money to ministers. It is also apparently treated as a tax loophole under some circumstances.
  • Companies owned by ministries that would be taxable if they were not church-owned

There are also some broader issues, including but not limited to

  • Whether churches should file the IRS Form 990
  • How donors can make well-informed giving decisions
  • Conflict of interest in churches
  • The legal definition of a church for tax purposes

It’s important to keep these distinctions clear; the staff report goes back and forth between broad issues and narrow issues, but it becomes clear that no sweeping changes were seriously being considered, so only the narrow issues are really of interest.

Two of the six ministries responded to Senator Grassley’s inquiries: Benny Hinn Ministries and Joyce Meyer Ministries. The histories of two of the other ministries (Eddie Long and the Whites) have become complicated due to unrelated scandals and business issues. Also, the relationship between Benny Hinn and Paula White merits mention and not much else [link].

The inquiry ended with more a whimper than with a bang. Senator Grassley asked the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA) to form an independent commission to make recommendations to him. He made it clear that he wants the community to correct various practices itself under threat of legislation [link]. The reaction to this request etc. has mostly been greeted with disdain [link, link, link] and only occasionally seen as a shot across the bow, wake-up call, whatever [link]. Of these only the Nonprofit Quarterly article notes the important political reality that Grassley is not currently as powerful a Senator as he was in say 2006 and so may be biding his time.

Meyer joined the ECFA and got a top rating from them [link], making her the big winner in this story (about which more later). It isn’t clear to me at present what Hinn did apart from cooperating with the inquiry.

For the record and up front let me say that I think churches currently benefit from advantages they had at say mid-century that they will not have fifty years from now, among them the housing allowance, that if they were new law today would not pass Constitutional tests they would face in the current political climate. I really do think because there’s so much money in the hands of so many large ministries, and because of the questionable things they’ve done with that money, they will eventually forfeit at least some of the current tax-exempt status churches have today. And finally: I think churches should have to file the IRS Form 990, primarily because of the disclosure it requires about executive compensation, conflict of interest, and politicking.  But more on all those things later.

Phoenix First Assembly of God

February 22, 2011 2 comments

I had to be in Scottsdale this past weekend on family business, with a flight early Sunday afternoon. A 10AM service would have been too late for us, so our options were limited to churches with early (8AM or 9AM) services. We had been wanting to visit a real megachurch for a while, so I picked Phoenix First Assembly (PFA) [link] out of the Hartford Institute list for Arizona [link]. According to self-reported numbers they run 16,000 a week, placing them in the largest 1% of megachurches in the United States. If I had done a little more research (well, clicked a clearly presented banner on the main page of their website) I would have noticed that their senior pastor Tommy Barnett would not be preaching, due to heart valve surgery [link].

We arrived early at the church’s multi-building campus and had a look around, visiting the youth facility (something like a cross between a big lecture hall and a concert venue) and the children’s facility (a big open room in what appeared to be a converted garage with a big sound board in the back and a drama stage in the front), noted their relationships with Crown Financial Ministries, the National Association for Marriage Enhancement [link], and Starbucks and headed into the main sanctuary. The entire campus is very pretty and well-placed back against a hillside with an expansive view of at least part of Phoenix. The sanctuary is round and done up in a sort of a maybe Mission Revival style; the rest of the campus is concrete, metal, and glass.

By the time we got into the sanctuary the music had already started; our greeter handed us flyer and a small white flag. The flyer wasn’t a liturgy or an order of service; it was just a list of announcements and a schedule of other events taking place at PFA, some of which were highlighted. The white flag was about 6″ x 8″, glued to a small dowel rod, and our greeter made it clear that she wouldn’t explain it to us but that all would become clear during the service.

The sanctuary is big, round, and flat; there are balcony sections, but most of the seats are on the floor. The stage is huge and backed by five video screens. There was a live band with guitar, bass, and drums, along with a horn section including a tin whistle, a piano, and several singers placed evenly across the stage. There was one woman who was clearly the lead singer as she got most of the camera time. There was no backing choir, and no choir loft. Lyrics were projected onto the various screens. The music was not your standard praise choruses (nor was it traditional hymns); the lyrics were less repetitive than your standard Hosanna! Music stuff but was pretty much in that ballpark. Off to the far right “live worship artist” William Butler [link] was painting on a canvas.

The service was “produced” like a television show, with multiple cameras (including a crane jib camera), but I’m not sure why; the church video archive is currently empty [link], and PFA does not appear to have a television presence.

After the music there was a “news brief” segment, a fast-paced, tightly-edited video complete with an anchorwoman standing and talking directly into the camera, telling us about the many services offered at PFA, upcoming sermon series. This included a segment on Joyce Meyer, who is holding a conference at PFA February 24-26; there was a drop-in from one of Meyer’s appearances where she said something flattering about Tommy Barnett and his strong faith.

Most of the sanctuary was roped off; I am guessing this was to pack the small early-service crowd into the front rows and make the sanctuary look full on video. The sanctuary was maybe one-quarter full, and with all the video, lights, and sound coming from the stage the effect was almost overwhelming. My traveling companion likened it to a rock concert, saying

I’m a little surprised they let us in here for free.

After the news segment the ushers passed the offering buckets. These were shaped like KFC buckets, or large round movie popcorn containers, but were made of gray plastic. There was another song from the band featuring the tin whistle. After that there was an update on Tommy Barnett’s health from Angel Barnett (see e.g. this video); she told us an amusing story featuring Tommy and his hotel room. This transitioned neatly to the introduction of Tommy’s son Luke who preached the sermon.

The text for the sermon was 2 Chronicles 16:9a [NIV]; just the part about God looking for someone whose heart is totally committed to Him; not the part about being at war. The bulk of the sermon was a recap of the life of Mother Teresa [link] with life lessons for us drawn from her biography. The white flags we had been given figured into the “surrender” aspect of her life story somewhere. To his credit Luke Barnett didn’t try to make the points rhyme, but the word choices were sometimes obscure; he seemed to have a compelling story to tell but lacked the sermoncraft chops to bring it off. Also, his delivery is of the loud, almost strained type popular in many churches today where the pastor attempts to convey the importance of what he’s saying by shouting even though he’s adequately mic’d and amplified.

If there was a Gospel message I missed it; if there was a mention of Jesus I missed it. Because the nominal text was from the Old Testament I would have expected at least a hand-wave at connecting it to us as Christians rather than its original audience (Asa, king of Judah).

Our baby became restless and we had to leave well before the sermon finished; we visited the bookstore and beverage area and noted the various items for sale. They were a mix of homegrown stuff (books, CDs and DVDs by Tommy Barnett) and evangelical names big and small. The book area was surprisingly small given the size of the church; compared to the churches of comparable size I’ve seen I’d call it a token bookstore.

On balance I’d say this was a tightly-marketed, slickly-produced experience; I definitely got the impression that a fair number of development and marketing people are involved in making PFA what it is. Everything has a brand name at PFA, and the campaigns and their brand names appear to change very frequently, I guess so it doesn’t get dull. I got the impression that most of the message originates in an executive creative meeting or some such. There was a mention of small groups “starting up again;” I took this to mean that they are seasonal. I sort of expected a Pentecostal church, but apart from a handful of people raising their hands I didn’t see any evidence that this is an Assemblies of God church [link] rather than a non-denominational church.

Finally, I didn’t see evidence of there being 16,000 people at this church. It’s huge, but it seemed smaller than Thomas Road Baptist Church (~13,000) and Calvary Albuquerque (also ~13,000). Perhaps the PFA reported number includes campus churches; I didn’t see any evidence of these, either, so I can’t be sure.

Inspiration Network (INSP)

November 7, 2010 Leave a comment

My current cable provider, Comcast, recently began offering Inspiration Network (INSP) as part of its extended package, and I spent a few minutes browsing their schedule recently. I have something of a weakness for Billy Graham programming, and INSP offers the occasional half-hour of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) program. Tuesday morning, for example, they’ve got a half-hour in the morning sandwiched between Creflo Dollar and Morris Cerrullo.

INSP’s programming is a funny mix of television reruns (The Waltons, Highway to Heaven, Our House, a Canadian something called Wind At My Back) and big-name television ministries, but without the TBN and CBN stars (no Crouches, no Pat Robertson). Here’s a sampling from their published schedule [link]:

  • Mike Murdock
  • Jimmy Swaggart
  • Creflo Dollar
  • James Robison
  • Benny Hinn
  • Joyce Meyer
  • Sid Roth
  • Rod Parsley
  • Bill Gaither (Gospel Hour)
  • Hilton Sutton
  • Bishop Larry Harris
  • Silas Malafaia
  • David and Barbara Cerullo [link]
  • Jay Sekulow/ACLJ
  • Jentezen Franklin
  • Beverly Crawford
  • Randy Weiss
  • Bret McCasland
  • Mark Lyon Edmond
  • D. James Kennedy
  • Del Tackett
  • Gregory Dickow
  • David Jeremiah
  • Kerry Shook
  • Doug Batchelor
  • Bobby and Sherry Burnette
  • Keith Moore
  • Charles Stanley
  • Perry Stone

The first dozen or so, along with BGEA and Creflo Dollar constitute the bulk of the weekday ministry programming; the rest are part of the weekend lineup, and they’re a mixed collection of name-brand ministries and what appear to be pastors of large churches who are looking to expand.

For a somewhat unrelated reason I visited the Ministry Watch website recently and downloaded their 30 Donor Alerts of 2009 end-of-year wrapup [PDF]. It’s a very readable document, outlining seven areas they recommend being careful when making giving decisions. They list thirty ministries where they raise concerns, ranging from loss of tax-exempt status to high salaries to being a cult. Here’s the list of Donor Alert entities that is also featured in the list above:

  • Benny Hinn
  • Rod Parsley
  • Creflo Dollar
  • INSP/David and Barbara Cerullo
  • Morris Cerullo
  • Mike Murdock

Ministry Watch flagged the Cerullos for excessive compensation (~$3 million for the Cerullos over two years 2005-2006), the others for lack of transparency, being investigated by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and sundry negative media coverage.

Please note that Joyce Meyer did not make the list; her data for 2007 and 2008 was unavailable [link], and if her total compensation figures are available I can’t find them anywhere; it’s a complicated picture because she sells so many books, and only part of the proceeds filters back to the ministry [link]. Ministry Watch currently gives her a “C.”

What I don’t understand is why otherwise reputable ministries in the big list above (BGEA, Bill Gaither, maybe David Jeremiah) would have anything to do with INSP. Is there really that much money to be made? Do ministries make money consistently on a per-outlet basis? Is this just a business decision? I really have no idea.