Fleecing The Flock

Each Sunday morning, millions of Americans head to worship houses or gather around their television to listen to televangelists' faith-filled sermons.

The preachers leading the flock rely heavily on donations from their faithful followers, who give nearly $100 billion annually. But some, such as Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), question how the churches are allocating their funds.

"We need to make sure that the sanctity of tax exemption for charitable giving is preserved, respected... maintains its credibility," Grassley said.

Grassley said he was prompted to action by whistleblowers before he sent six letters to television ministries and demanded they explain their alleged lavish spending, among allegations of $23,000 marble toilets.

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The televangelists have one month to respond to the Senate inquiry, which is voluntary. The senator has requested information from the following people and churches: Creflo and Taffi Dollar of World Changers Church International and Creflo Dollar Ministries of College Park, Ga.; Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church Inc. and Benny Hinn Ministries of Grapevine, Texas; Bishop Eddie Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church and Bishop Eddie Long Ministries of Lithonia, Ga.; Joyce and David Meyer of Joyce Meyer Ministries of Fenton, Mo.; Kenneth and Gloria Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries of Newark, Texas; and Randy and Paula White of the multi-racial Without Walls International Church and Paula White Ministries of Tampa, Fla., according to The Associated Press.

So far, at least two of the ministers have said they would cooperate with the investigation, including Dollar, who said his ministry is an open book.

Dollar, who requested funds to purchase a jet for his church, defended his position.

"Like a carpenter has to have a hammer to do his job, I've got to have a plane to fly around this world and be back here to pastor two churches -- one here and one in New York," Dollar said.

Copeland is another pastor, who requested donations to purchase a jet.

"It will never, ever be used," Copeland promised, "for anything other than what is becoming to you, Lord Jesus."

But when he was caught taking a two-day layover in Maui on his way to an evangelical seminar in Australia and other stops in the Fiji Islands and Honolulu, it raised some inquiries about the $20 million plane.

Kenneth Copeland's ministries said it "operates in accordance with all federal and state laws and will continue to do so."

Some ministry watchers' churches who try to fleece their flocks are not in compliance with the Christian faith.

"Jesus Christ would not want this to be happening," said Rusty Leonard, of Ministrywatch.com. "He did not take money from his followers and use it to buy better robes or a nicer mud flat."

The four other churches have defended their spending as legal. Long said his church has safeguards to ensure it complies with the law.

The churches have until Dec. 6 to turn over their records, according to the AP.

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