"With no SEC [Securities Exchange Commission] or federal government watchdog, no investors who will sue
if given false information and loose reporting rules, the nonprofit sector
has little oversight and much room for financial manipulation."
American Institute of
Most Christian churches, denominations, para-church organizations are good
stewards of the donations that they receive from their supporters. However,
they vary in efficiency and financial openness. In addition, there have been a few
really bad apples in the mix.
Examples of Christian ministries accused of questionable practices:
Robert Tilton was the head of the World Outreach Center Church
during the late 1980s and early 1990s. At one time, his "Success-N-Life"
religious infomercials reached all 253 television markets in the U.S.
One mass mailing allegedly sent out a four square-inch piece of
fabric, with an appeal for donations: "...after you send it back with a
$1000 vow, it will be a Miracle Cloth saturated with the presence of
God....Let the Holy Spirit lead you in applying this Miracle Anointing Oil
and Miracle Cloth in faith to pictures of your loved ones, to your billfold,
to the doorposts of your home, to your body. However he shows you, apply
this Miracle Cloth and Anointing Oil in faith for special miracles."
estimates that ministry revenue was about $80 million per year.
The Trinity Foundation, a group which monitors televangelists,
removed the contents of the Church's dumpsters and turned the material over
to Prime Time Live, an ABC-TV expose program. In 1991-NOV, the
program broadcast an episode which involved an interview with a woman who
allegedly spent two days as mail opener at Robert Tilton Ministries.
She allegedly told reporters that she and her fellow workers were told to
remove any cash, checks or jewelry from the incoming mail and throw prayer
requests into the trash can. The Christian Research Institute claims
that the eventual destination of the prayer requests was a recycling center
where they were converted into toilet paper. 2
Almost two years later, on 1993-SEP-30, the San Jose Mercury News reported
that Robert Tilton Ministries had gone off the air. Tilton allegedly blamed
the Prime Time Live episode. Rotten.com wrote: "According to the
[Mercury News] article, 'the ABC report alleged that Tilton never prayed
personally over each letter as promised, and that a processing company in
Tulsa threw out prayer requests after contributions were deposited in the
bank.' Tilton's lawyer insisted those allegations were incorrect.....More
than ten years after the collapse of his ministry, he's still reaching
millions of television viewers from his mailing list -- and several years
ago his televised informercials were picked up by Black Entertainment
Jim Bakker headed Praise the
Lord (PTL) ministry whose PTL television program began in 1974. In 1980,
he allegedly had a brief sexual fling with Jessica Hahn, a church secretary.
He allegedly convinced her to engage in sexual behavior by saying: "When
you help the shepherd, you're helping the sheep." He was widely reported
as giving Hahn $265,000 as hush money to keep their activity secret.
In 1987-APR, televangelist John Ankerberg allegedly accused Bakker of having
engaged in sex with prostitutes and homosexuals, of encouraging spouse
swapping between PTL employees, and embezzling millions from the business.
As Bakker's PTL ministry and Heritage USA theme park was failing, a leading
fundamentalist televangelist, Jerry Falwell, was asked to take over control. He later allegedly said: "God sent me there to bring
an abrupt end to the immorality and financial fraud of this 'religious soap
opera' that had become an international embarrassment to the Christian
gospel." In 1988, Bakker was indicted for
fraud and conspiracy. He was convicted in 1989-OCT on 23 counts of fraud and
one count of conspiracy. Rotten.com estimated that he embezzled $158
million from the PTL ministry. He received a sentence of 45 years and a
$500,000 fine for defrauding investors of $3.7 million. Bakker was released
to a halfway house in 1994-JUL. In 2003-JUN, he started up a new television
program, The New Jim Bakker Show.
He has allegedly claimed that the failure of PTL was engineered by a
conspiracy of former friends and colleagues: "I sorrowfully acknowledge
that seven years ago ... I was wickedly manipulated by treacherous former
friends and colleagues who victimized me with the aid of a female
confederate. They conspired to betray me into a sexual encounter at a time
of great stress in my marital life. ... I was set up as part of a scheme to
co-opt me and obtain some advantage for themselves over me in connection
with their hope for position in the ministry." 3
This essay continues below.
Conservative Protestant watchdog groups:
Isolated instances of fraud within Christian ministries may well have
creation of a number of monitoring groups. Their general goal is to increase
donor confidence that their contributions are being effectively used.
Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability: This group was
founded during an 18 month period starting in 1979, by 150 ministries. 4 By
2005-JAN, it is "comprised of over 1,100 charitable, religious,
missionary, social, and educational" non-profit organizations.
Its mission statement states that they are "....committed to helping
Christ-centered organizations earn the public's trust through developing and
maintaining standards of accountability that convey God-honoring ethical
practices." As its name implies, membership is only open to conservative
Protestant groups Member agencies must subscribe to a written statement of
faith which should include the historical teachings of Protestantism. The ECFA's own statement of faith regards the Bible as infallible Word of God,
and includes belief in the Trinity; Jesus' virgin
birth, sinless life, miracles, atonement, and resurrection; and
believers' salvation, regeneration, and final location in heaven or hell. This requirement would
exclude liberal and some mainline Christian denominations from membership.
The ECFA has a list of seven standards that must be met by its members. They
Subscribing to a written statement of faith "affirming its commitment to
the evangelical Christian faith."
Criteria related to the structure and tasks of the board of directors
and audit committee.
Audited financial statements.
Management and financial controls.
Financial disclosure to the public.
Avoidance of conflict of interest.
Meeting eleven requirements in their fund-raising.
During the period 2003 to 2005, the ECFA requested resignations, or
suspended or terminated the memberships of a few member organizations. The
most frequent reason given for this action was that the ministry failed to provide
renewal information. Some were determined to have not met one of the seven
standards. The groups were:
Capitol Hill Pregnancy Centers, Washington, DC.
Bob Cryder Team Ministries, Canby, OR.
Denver Area Youth for Christ, Denver, CO.
Gospel to the Unreached Millions, Huffman, TX.
Manipur Missionary Society, Glendale, AZ.
Manna International, Redwood City, CA.
ORA International, Niceville, FL.
San Diego ROCK Church, San Diego, CA.
Trinity Lutheran College, Issaquah, WA.
University of the Family, Littleton, CO. 5
Canadian Council of Christian Charities (CCCC) is an organization
for Christian ministries in Canada. They perform a function similar to the
ECFA in the U.S. They state that their "...role is to serve Christian
charities and churches by providing the necessary tools to be effective and
efficient in the administration of their ministry. Members must have "a
declared doctrinal position...which embodies the central tenets of the
Christian faith." As of 2005-JAN-12, they had
155 certified members from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, evangelical, mainline,
and liberal Christian faith groups. Only one group had an item pending. The Radio
Bible Class of Windsor ON is listed as not complying with Standard 10:
adherence "....to a written Code of Ethical Fundraising and Financial
MinistryWatch is a program of Wall
Watchers which is described as an "independent source for ministry
ratings." Their goal is to educate their web site visitors to "make
better informed decisions in the area of giving." It provides
public access to organizational and financial profiles of more than 500 U.S.
church and para-church ministries. Their reviews of ministries describe:
Financial efficiency: They rate most
groups on a scale of 1 to 5 stars according to its financial efficiency as
computed by a Ministry Watch algorithm. 5 is the best rating
Transparency grade: They rate groups on
a scale from A to G according to the group's speed of response to
Ministry Watch requests for information, and the quality and quantity of
financial information that it makes available to the public.
Analyst Comments: This is
MinistryWatch.com's take on the group.
Doctrinal conformity: Many reviews
critique the group's conformity to Evangelical Christian beliefs. For
They criticized Bob Larson Ministries
for his excessive emphasis on Satanic activity in the world, and his
teaching that born-again Christians can be demon possessed.
TD Jakes Ministries has been criticized
for Jake's beliefs about God and his embracing of prosperity theology.
Radio Bible Class has been criticized
for its "mild departure from [its] founder's more sharply distinct
dispensational teachings," and for a few beliefs "such as Richard De
Haan's view concerning the temptation of Christ."
MinistryWatch maintains a "Donor
Alerts" section on their home page which highlights problem areas
related to donations. For example, on 2005-JAN-31, they had links to essays
Tsunami disaster scams.
A call for major changes at Trinity
Nigerian E-mail frauds.
As of 2005-JAN-31, MinistryWatch listed 28
Christian groups that they feel have "demonstrated little or no
transparency with regard to their finances." The list includes some high
profile organizations such as Amazing Facts, Benny Hinn Ministries,
Crystal Cathedral Ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, March for Jesus,
and TD Jakes Ministries. More information.
Secular watchdog groups which monitor religious and other charities:
American Institute of Philanthropy attempts to "...maximize
the effectiveness of every dollar contributed to charity by providing donors
with the information they need to make more informed giving decisions."
They conduct "...an in-depth financial analysis of audited financial
statements and other reports to give you a better understanding of how the
money is actually being spent. They evaluate social welfare groups. See:
BBB Wise Giving Alliance "...collects and distributes
information on hundreds of nonprofit organizations that solicit nationally
or have national or international program services." They offer a
National Charity Seal symbol to be used by national charities that meet
the Alliance's standards. See:
Charitable Choices' goal is "...to give charities -- including
smaller, less-established charities -- a very cost effective way to promote
their work." They list over 300 "...charities, all of which have met
the combined Federal Campaign's 10 accountability standards, including low
Charity Navigator describes themselves as "your guide to
intelligent giving." They: "...help charitable givers make
intelligent giving decisions by providing information on over thirty-five
hundred charities and by evaluating the financial health of each of these
to connect "...nonprofit organizations, donors, foundations, and
businesses. This connection will serve as the backbone of a more effective,
efficient, and well-informed nonprofit sector." They have a data base of
over 1 million non-profit organizations. See the "For Donors" section
SF Foundation publishes The Green Book which lists 1.5
million American non-profit organizations. They hoped to have the books'
contents freely available on the Internet by 2005-MAR-15. However, the task
apparently has not been completed as of 2005-AUG-29 See: