Preachers are getting richer and richer and richer at the expense of by jennyyingdi


									     12A — Morning News • Sunday, October 24, 1999

                                                                                                                                Fractured faith

       Continued from page 1A
                                                       Boston said. "I think everyone agrees
                                                       with that But it's by tradition, not by
                                                       constitutional law. There's nothing in
                                                       the Constitution that requires govern-
                                                                                                           Preachers are getting richer                                  <*S                         <~s
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     TITHES, OFFERINGS
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Jerry Swindle leans across the
                                                       ments or states to not tax churches.                                                                                                                                                               long wood-colored table In the stuffy
       rhurfhes with hierarchical struc-
       tures can become victims of those
       they trust A panel of Hall's peers
                                                      They all do H because there's great
                                                       public support for the concept"
                                                          There was a movement last year in
                                                      Colorado to tax churches, but the ref-
                                                                                                           and richer and richer at the                                                                                                                   room with plastic candles in windows
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          that are frosted green, orange and
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          yellow, A cross rests on the wall. His <
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          Bible sits in a blue leather carrying
       loiind him guilty in a church trial of         erendum failed because of concerns                                                                                                                                                                  case next to him. Next to it is the
       lying and misappropriating money he that smaller churches, which operate
 ' UM.HJ t«r golf vacations, clothes, even
      i-Iiina from Nieman Marcus.
          Misappropriation in religious cir-
                                                      month to month, might suffer.
                                                          "It was getting out of hand," said
                                                      John Patrick Michael Murphy, a .
                                                                                                         expense of the taxpayer, and I                                                                                                                   walkie-talkie that he always carries
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          for his job as a locksmith:
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           - He's wearing a blue suit and a
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                          large cross that hangs from a chain
                                                      retired Colorado Springs personal
      cles is nothing new. Recall the •
                                                                                                              ?                                                                                                                                          onto his tie, which has angels floating,
      exploits of televangelist Jim Bakker,
      u hose multi-million dollar PTL tele-
                                                      injury' lawyer, radio talk show host
                                                     and political activist who led the
      \ ISIDII ministry crashed amid scandal effort"The churches were buying up
      alter he was defrocked by his denom- our real estate and putting down mil-
                                                                                                          don t think it's right. I don't                                                                                                                across it A nametag on his lapel says
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         he is the chaplain at Memorial
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Health University Medical Center,
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         where he has worked the entire pre-
      ination and served five years in fed-          lions of dollars of improvements. It                                                                                                                                                                vious evening-
      eral prison for fraud.
         The Rev. Henry Lyons, head of the
      powerfulNational Baptist '
     Convention, USA, is serving a 51/2-
                                                     cost us money. We will pay more
                                                     taxes when they pay none."
                                                         Chatham County churches—some
                                                     902 places of worship own 1,045 acres
                                                                                                         think that's pleasing to God.''                                                                                                                     It is Sunday morning and Swindle :
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         is in a back room at Miller's Temple
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        Johnson Deliverance Center on. .
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                         Hopkins Street, where he is an elder ,
     \ear prison term for a racketeering            with a fair market value of $216 mil-'                                                                                                                                                              and a member of seven years. He-:
     scheme that bilked millions from
     companies hoping to market their
                                                     lion—would have to pay more than
                                                    $3 million in property taxes if they
     products to 8.5 million black Baptists. were not exempt
                                                                                                                                             Elizabeth Whitley                                                                                           loves this church. It's the church his
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                        wife has been going to since she was
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   • born. He preaches the evening ser-
         "Clearly there is a long history of .           Clergy typically must report their                                                                                                                                                             vice here every first and third
     people who used the Gospel and
     Christianity to accumulate wealth
                                                    income and pay taxes on it, but they
                                                    follow fairly liberal tax laws com-
                                                                                                           former member of Coastal CathedralGhurch of God                                                                                              Sunday.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             But Swindle has a problem With
     because they have found it to be a             pared to the rest of us. They are                                                                                                                                                                . the structure, the hierarchy, the innu-
     profitable business,"said Hal                  allowed a deduction for their hous-                                                                                                                                                            ' tnerable demands for money at his :
     Fulmer, an expert on Southern reli-            ing expenses, utilities and business                                                                                                       Religious overviews                                      church and many other churches like
     gion at Georgia Southern University.           expenses;which might include a car                                                                                                         The Global Evangelization                                it Miller's Temple is part of the First
    "Everybody who stands up and                   allowance."              . -                                                                                                                Movement predicts that,                                 Bom Church of the Living God, a
    preaches the gospel isnt sincere.                    But some think these tax laws are                                                                                                     Christians will continue to be                          hierarchical holiness church based ,
    Some people start out that way and             outdated, originating at a time when                                                                                                        the largest and richest religious                       in Waycrpss that has 5,500 members
    get overwhelmed by the avail of                religious leaders earned meager                                                                                                                                                                     nationwide. -
    money and temptations. We've seen              incomes and depended on places of                                                                                                           group in the world The future
                                                                                                                                                                                               also brings an increased risk of                 . At First Born and many other
    that a lot in the pa^st 20 years."             worship for living expenses.                                                                                                                                                                   ' churches, thefinancialdemands can
        But church management experts                   "I can see why more and more peo-                                                                                                      theft.      . " " . . .                                 be tough. There are tithes and offer- '
    say those who donate to religious .. ple are becoming ministers when you                                                                                                                                                                           ings; gifts of money to show love for a
    institutions need to care about where dont have to pay taxes," said                                                                                                                        Population             .                                specific person, such as. the pastor or
    their money is going. They should              Elizabeth Whitley, a former member                                                                                                          Although the percentage of
                                                                                                                                                                                               Christian growth doesn't mimic                          his wife; and taxes that must be paid
    ensure their religious leaders make            of Coastal Cathedral Church of God.                                                                                                         the wortd'Si It is forecast to                          every Ume there is a district assem-
   goodfinahcialdecisionsandques- ,                "Preachers are getting richer and                                                                                                           remain the largest religious body.                      bly or a church anniversary, a mis-
   tion any inconsistencies.                       richer and richer at the expense of                                                                                                                                                                 sionary meeting or a revival..
        "We ought to be the beacon onthe          the taxpayer, and I dont think it's                                                                                                                                                                       "If you cant afford to pay it, you're
   hill, the pace setters, the highest            right I dont think that's pleasing to                                                                                                                                                               frowned on, especially if you're a.
   standard," said Rex Frieze, a church ,. God."                                                                                                                                                                                                      minister like me," said Swindle, 49."
   management consultant from                           But dont look for more regulation                                                                                                                                                             "You can expect not to move up.
   Orlando who has helped some 4,000              of churches or pastors anytime soon,                                    HOLINESS CHURCH                                                                                                             People will deny that, but that's the
   churches with their operations and             experts said.                                                                                                                                .03
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      wayitis.''                •              .
   finances across the country.                         "Does Max Cleland want to be the                                                                                                               Mld'99                 '25                           Swindle has no problem with the
   "Businesses ought to be coming to              senator who forced all these church^                                                                                                                                                                tithes and offerings. It's the taxes that
  church and saying 'we want to run               es to report?" Larson asked.                                                                                                                Donations to their church                               get him. He pays $1*500 in meeting
   our business the Way the church runs "Churches would turn around and                                                                                                                       The median Individual donation to                       taxes each year. Ttfe money ends up
   its business.'"          •           -     • tell all their parishioners not to vote                                                                                                       churches by denominations in                            in the hands of high officials. To
                                                  for him." .                                                                                                                                 1996.                                                   Swindle, too much money is going up
  TOONGTHEUNTAXAOZ                                     Besides, maybe it's nobody's busi-                                                                                                     Catholics                                               and not enough is coming down.
      At Coastal Cathedral Church of .            ness, he added.                                                                                                                                       ]$300                                              Swindle's observations come at a
  God, it may have seemed like Ken                     "To be perfectly honest, I tend to                                                                                                                                                            time when most churches are trying
  Hall didn't control the money. There           view churches as voluntary organiza-                                                                                                         Born again. Christians                                 to make do with less. A survey of pas-
  was a counting committee, a secre-              tions, a bunch of people, like the Elks                                                                                                                                    $074                    tors by George Barna Research
  tary, a bookkeeper and a church                 Club, getting together," Larson said..                                                                                                                                                             showed that church attendance
  finance committee — all with sepa-              "As long as what they do only affects                                                                                                                                                              dropped 9 percent in 1996, resulting
  rate responsibilities for making sure           other members, let them do what                                                                                                                                      $547
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                     in a 15 percent drop hi the average
  the church's $1.5 million annual              ' they want to do. These are churches                                                                                                                                                                annual church operating fund to
  income from tithes and offerings was            and if.they want to overpay their min-                                                                                                      Income and theft                                       $106,000 a year,         ,
   "ared for properly.                            ister, that's their choice and if mem-                                                                                                      As churches'-Income Increases so                        . And Americans arent giving as
       But somehow, Ken Hall charged •".; '•'• bers dont like it, they can leave."                                                                                                            does the amount of theft. Below                        much of their income as they once
       ersonal expenses on church credit                                                                                                                                                      are figures In billions of dollars for                 did, according to research by empty -
      cards and Instructed the church to           MOICYMMHEM                                                                                                                                 churches and estimates for the                         tomb, inc., a Christian research and 3
     withhold taxes from employees —                  The Rev. James Bailey.wont hesi-                                                                                                        21st century.                                          service organization in Champaign, "[
     some $90,380 over a four-year period         tate to tell you that Beth Eden                                                                                                                     $12.2 billion                                  111. The organization found that : 'j '.
     "T~ without actually paying that money        Baptist Church's money is nobody's                                                                                                                                                                Americans donate 2.6 percent of                »
     to the Internal Revenue-Service.              business but his congregation's.                                                                                                                                                              . their income to churches, down fromi
     • Meanwhile, Coastal Cathedral                Baptist churches are sovereign, he                                                                                                                                                                32 percent during the depth of the y
    descended into debt during Hall's '           said, and answer to no one but the                                                                                                                                                                 Great Depression. •                 •       1
    seven-year reign* borrowing $850,000          people who belong to them. -                                                                                                                                                                             Obviously, not many people actual-f
    to cover a previous $550,000 loan that            "If one Baptist church says a jani-                                                                                                                                                        , ly tithe. Research shows that while 17 •
    church members did not approve.               tor can take every penny of money                                                                                                                                                                  percent of those who give to churches'
        Where all of that money Went is           and go bury it in the Savannah River,                                                                                                                                                              claim they tithe, only 3 percent actu-. •
    still a mystery. Some $15,500 went to         then there's no other church that has                                                                                                       2025                                                   ally do so.                "                  :
                                                                                                    .        '                                        Brian laPeter/Savamah Morning (lews
    pay Hall's personal bills, including          any say in what 'can be done at the . •                                                                                                                                                                 "A lot of churches live week to '
    his attorney and his accountant, that         church," Bailey said.                          Jtjny SwMto ttarted his own church, tiw New Hope HoAwss ChOreh on Hanson                    Source: Global Ev««e<bation Movement,                  week," said Fulmer, the religion
    much is known. The rest is gone, sup-     . But William H. Brown, one-time                   Stroet, In August 1998. It It the Mifajtet of a lawsuit hi Chatham County and at            Barna Reiearch Group, ltd                              expert " it on the backs of '.
    posedly for bills and other debts.           chairman of the deacons at the                  tf» center of a power stratf* In «MRrrt Bom Church of the Living God.                                     Drew Martin/Savannah Morning News
                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    peoples'willingness to tithe The ' •'
     - "To understand how this happened;          church, filed suit on behalf of Beth                                                                                                                                                              management of that is really impor-H
   you need to know a little bit about           Eden in September, claiming Bailey            churches are not immune either.              Coastal Cathedral it would shut the                right here. They will ask questions."                tant because you're dealing with peo-
    churches. Typically, they dont report        violated the church's bylaws by tak-             tThere are a lot of checks and bal-       church's doors if the congregation                     In Savannah, some of the recent                  ples'financial sacrifice."
    to anyone but themselves. They can           ing out, a loan for $33£60 without a          ances within the hierarchical organi-      , didnt pay $75^000 in employee taxes,               church disputes have been brought                          When churches take advantage of;..
    take in millions of dollars and go           required vote of the congregation.            zation, where as an independent set-         Bennett said.                                      to light by individuals who asked                    that generosity, they will lose the cortT
   ye'ars without an audit Their '               The church was used as collateral for         ting is not responsible to anyone,"        * . A special collection was taken and               questions about church finances:                     fidence of a generous American pub*
    finances are private, sometimes even         the loan, court records show.                said Milton Cerny, a tax attorney and           members reached into their own                      • Leotis Blpodworth, a member of                  lie, experts said.' ,                        «
   (b their own members.          ',                 Brown, who declined to comment            former head of the Exempt'                     pockets for more than $50,000. The               Christ Memorial Baptist Church at                         For example, when Coastal               •
     ; -Although nonprofit organizations         on his lawsuit, claimed that the .            Organization Ruling Area at the IRS.           rest came from existing accounts, and            1402 Harmon SI, asked his church's                   Cathedral Church of God was up to '
    for the most part are not required to        money is almost all gone and few of              It's tough to question a church             the IRS forgave some of the penalties            deacons in July 1996 for the church's                its stained glass windows in debt, \
   pay federal or state taxes, churches          the extensive renovations at the 109-        leader, even harder to shine the light          and fees. , ; •            .',                   minutes and financial accounting                     Ken Hall accepted a $10,000 pastor ;'
   Hold the unique position of not even          year-old church have been per-               on a negligent or perhaps Immoral                  The church still owes on the                  records. Two months later, he was                   appreciation day offering tliat was '*
   having to file any paperwork with the.        formed. He also pointed out that the         act by the same person everyone                $850,000 loan.                                    excommunicated from the church,                     not approved by the congregation or                .
   government showing what they did           " church clerk issued Bailey a check            looks up to. Most folks dont believe           . "We're slowly but surely coming                 according to the civil suit he filed . '            the administrative elders, according;
   with their income.                            for $11,000 drawn from the loan              it The books have been cooked, they            out of it," Bennett said. "Right now .            against church deacons earlier this                 to a church trial board's minutes. It T
        "How do I feel about churches            money.                                       say. It was probably a mistake.                we Ve got $300,000 in short-term debt             year.                                               was given to him by the churchls • • " ,
    reporting?" said Frank Bennett, a                Bailey said the church did not               "There are churches that are out of        that's just about paid off. But we dont              • Bennett, the retired FBI agent,                finance committee, which he
   member of Coastal Cathedral Church            authorize Brown to file the lawsuit          control, where the pastor is the top           know where the $15 million in tithes              called attention to the haphazard                   appointed.
   Of God. "My gut reaction is no, they          He provided documents showing that           dog and he's got all the control, writ- '      and offerings went in 1996 because                finances at his church, Coastal                          A panel of pastors from other
   shouldn't report On the other hand,           a majority of the church dismissed           ing checks, and that's a sure-fire             the records are damaged or lost The               Cathedral Church of God, by writing             . states chastised Hall for that, as well
   why not? Let's see what these church-         Brown in June and authorized Bailey          recipe for disaster," said Jeff Berg,          auditor has told us we'll probably                several letters to the church's state               as a $3,000 love offering he accepted
   $s Deceive versus what they do with           to use the remainder of the loan for         co-author of The Debt-Free                     never know where that money went"                 offices last year. In May, he served as          .at the same time, according to the >•'
   H, because some churches have no              his defense in the lawsuit                   Church."                                          Frieze, the church management                  prosecutor in a church trial of Ken                trial minutes.                  .          .
   ministries at all."                               "If there was any kind of wrongdo-           But Berg said church members               consultant, said he sees more and                 Hall, which resulted in the pastor's                     Typically if pastors seek love offer-
    I 1J» 1993, about 6,700 congregations        ing, as Mr. Brown has claimed, then          need to be concerned about their               more misappropriation of funds by                downfall.                                            ings— tax-free gifts from congrega- '
   and religious groups and another              the church would have gotten rid of          finances, because they could be held •        various church officials, simply                      • Businessman Jackie Sommers                    tions—more than once a year, they 1 .
   io,OQO faith-based organizations filed        me," Bailey said. "We hope Mr.               personally responsible for debts the           because many churches have not set               questioned spending and salaries at                 are taking advantage of the generosi-
   Fofin 990s listing their income with          Brown and his family will join anoth-        church incurs.                                 up the proper checks and balances                Calvary Baptist Temple in January                   ty of the jr congregations, Fulmer
   the, iRS. But they were not required          er church and leave Beth Eden                    "Typically you'll have a dynamic           for managing their money. Often a                1996, suing in court for the then-4,000             said. .The exception might be if the                !
   to; tljey did it voluntarily.                 alone."                                      senior pastor who wants to build an           church official starts but taking                 member church's' financial records.                 pastor has an accident or some other
   . This lack of oversight can be detri-            The Beth Eden lawsuit is one of at       edifice to himself, so they borrow            money with the thought of paying it                 The Rev. Len B. Turner had                        downfall or if the pastor works only
  fnehtal to many churches, but there            least six cases involving places of          tons of money and then the guy                back, but soon it becomes a habit •               resigned in December 1995, citing a                 part Ume for little pay.
  h nd willingness in this country to           worship now pending in Chatham                leaves," Berg said. "When the pastor              "So much of a church is built upon            stress-related illness. But Sommers                      Swindle, the First Born elder, '
  change the status quo, experts said-          County courts. These are touchy               leaves, attendance, goes down, you           .the tenets of faith, meaning love and             thought there was more to it                        believes that folks should only have
   ' • The reason for this independence         cases for judges.                             get a new pastor, and the church goes         trust, and when you shift over to an              Hearings were held, and Sommers                     to pay what they can afford. He start'
  ts rooted in history: the separation of            "The courts are sometimes forced         through a period of reduced offer-            area like dealing with money, many               accused the minister in .open court                 ed his own church, independent of
  church and state. It's written in the         to get involved, even though they             ings. Now it's run by the bank, which         times churches overly trust people,"             of being a Peeping Tom and taking                   the First Born Church of the Uving
  Constitution: "Congress shall make            don't want to because of the separa-          is saying *you owe us millions, pay           Frieze said. "They have faith that               money from the church. He also                      God, in August 1996. Swindle bought
  bo law respecting an establishment            tion of church and state," said               this off.'"                                   nothing will happen or they love                 questioned a $24,000 raise Turner                   his New Hope Holiness Church on
  of religion or prohibiting the free           Chatham County Superior Court                     Berg said wore than 00 percent of         someone in the church because                    had received.                                       Hanson Street from the First Bom
' exercise thereof."                           Judge Charles B: Mikell, who has               all churches have borrowed money to           they've been there for 40 years, and                 When the church finally turned                  church for $23,000. It now has about
       "The argument has always been           handled some of these cases. "If we            expand their ministries and one in 20         they think that qualifies them to han-           over the records, Sommers said he                   10 members, including a few home-
  that the state should not have any           do, most Of them involve properly              can't meet their financial obligations       dle money."                                       learned his pastor made $165,000 a                  less people and some children who
 connection to the church, and there-          and money."                                    with the money coming in: His                     Typically, if someone Is found to be        year. Sommen said his should have                    attend Sunday School.
 fore making them report would                      And since church finance prob-            research showed that the Southern             embezzling church funds, it is never             been provided the information with-                      It is also at the center of a power
 Infringe on their rights, hut no court        lems tend to be big news, they affect          Baptist Church, the largest Protestant        reported. The person is fired or told            out the court battle. •                             struggle in the First Born Church
 hat $ver upheld that view," said Ed           all churches, no matter the denomi-            denomination in the United State*,           to handle another duty, but the police                Today, Calvary Baptist is still try-            that has been disputed in court cases
 Larson, a University of Georgia law           nation or the location.                       owes $2 billion.                               are never brought in. When it is                 ing to recover from the turmoil,
professor.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                       in Georgia and Florida. Last
                                                    "I mean when Jim Bakker got into             "Sometimes when churches go               exposed, ills usually done by a compe-           Sommers said. The new pastor has                     February, Albert Hill, the First
       A few communities have imposed          trouble a few years ago, local church         bankrupt, creditors get together and          tent church official who is a profes-            no control over the money, and                       Rom's senior bishop before he was
 municipal fees on churches success-           collections went down because peo-            send a bill for the amount owed               sional, such as a lawyer or an accoun-           members get monthly financial                       supposedly ousted in 1994, sued
 fully, and churches do pay state sales        ple lost faith in church finances,"           evenly divided among every member             tant, Frieze said.             ,                 reports. But the scars of the very                  Swindle and W.L Johnson, who was
 tax. But no places of worship must            said Jim Nelson, pastor of Epworth            who voted on the bond Issue," Berg                "Church members are much more                public controversy remain.                          elected to replace Hill. Hill contend-
 pay federal or state income taxes or          United Methodist Church and Palen             said. "So one day you get a bill for          competent now than they used to                      '"Anytime a church divides, it
 local property taxes, according to                                                                                                                                                                                                             ed that he was still the senior bishop,
                                               United Methodist Church in                    $3,000 and you're responsible for that        be." Frieze said. "They used to be               hurts the church," Sommers said.                    and Johnson had no authority to sell
 Rob Boston, a spokesman for                  Savannah.                                      amount This kind of thing is devastat-        farmers and good oP boys. Now you                "Anytime a preacher leaves the                      the church to his friend, Swindle.
 Americans United for Separation of                Congregation-based churches tend          ing families all over America, but no         have church members who are attor-               church, it hurts the church. We lost
Church and State in Washington, D.C                                                                                                                                                                                                                  Swindle said the church's execu-
                                              to have more financial controversies           one wants to talk about it because            neys or CPAs or directors of human               30 families, and these were a lot of                tive board sold him the building, not
      There is very little sentiment in       than churches in hierarchical struc-           everybody's really embarrassed."              resources. These people will pick up             the people in charge, very active
the country for taxing churches               tures, experts said, but hierarchical              Karlier this year, the IRS told           immediately that something's not                 members."                                                               See RUTH, Page 13A

To top