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Sponsored link.

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bullet"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 Philanthropy

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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.

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Examples of Christian ministries accused of questionable practices:

bulletRobert 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." 1 Rotten.com 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 Television." 1
bulletJim 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.

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Sponsored link:

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Conservative Protestant watchdog groups:

Isolated instances of fraud within Christian ministries may well have motivated the creation of a number of monitoring groups. Their general goal is to increase donor confidence that their contributions are being effectively used.

bulletEvangelical 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 involve:
bulletSubscribing to a written statement of faith "affirming its commitment to the evangelical Christian faith."
bulletCriteria related to the structure and tasks of the board of directors and audit committee.
bulletAudited financial statements.
bulletManagement and financial controls.
bulletFinancial disclosure to the public.
bulletAvoidance of conflict of interest.
bulletMeeting 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:
bulletCapitol Hill Pregnancy Centers, Washington, DC.
bulletBob Cryder Team Ministries, Canby, OR.
bulletDenver Area Youth for Christ, Denver, CO.
bulletGospel to the Unreached Millions, Huffman, TX.
bulletManipur Missionary Society, Glendale, AZ.
bulletManna International, Redwood City, CA.
bulletORA International, Niceville, FL.
bulletSan Diego ROCK Church, San Diego, CA.
bulletTrinity Lutheran College, Issaquah, WA.
bulletUniversity of the Family, Littleton, CO. 5

bulletCanadian 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 Accountability." 6
bulletMinistryWatch 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:
bulletFinancial 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
bulletTransparency 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.
bulletAnalyst Comments: This is MinistryWatch.com's take on the group.
bulletDoctrinal conformity: Many reviews critique the group's conformity to Evangelical Christian beliefs. For example:
bulletThey 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.
bulletTD Jakes Ministries has been criticized for Jake's beliefs about God and his embracing of prosperity theology.
bulletRadio 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 which discussed:
bulletTsunami disaster scams.
bulletA call for major changes at Trinity Broadcasting Network.
bulletFraudulent solicitation.
bulletNigerian 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.

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Secular watchdog groups which monitor religious and other charities:

bulletAmerican 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: http://www.charitywatch.org/
bulletBBB 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: http://www.give.org/
bulletCharitable 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 overhead." See: http://www.charitychoices.com/
bulletCharity 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 charities." See: http://www.charitynavigator.org/
bulletGuideStar attempts 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 at: http://www.guidestar.org/
bulletSF 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: http://www.sf.org/

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References used:

  1. "Robert Tilton," rotten dot com, at: http://www.rotten.com/
  2. "Special Report: "Tilton's Tottering TV Empire," Christian Research Institute, at: http://www.equip.org/free/DT030.htm
  3. "Jim Bakker," rotten dot com, at: http://www.rotten.com/
  4. The Evangelical Council For Financial Accountability's web site is at: http://www.ecfa.org
  5. "Former Members," ECFA, at: http://www.ecfa.org/
  6. The Canadian Council of Christian Charities' web site is at: http://www.cccc.org/

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Copyright 2005 & 2006 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally posted: 2005-JAN-31
Latest update: 2006-MAY-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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