Most would expect a minister of a church to lead a sparse life. He or she would have the basics – car, house, food on the table – but a majority of donations would go back into their church to support its mission.
There are some ministers of what are known as mega-churches who throw out that notion of a humble preacher who is only in the preaching business to proselytize.
Rob Boston, in the latest issue of Church and State, highlights a US Senate inquiry of several mega-churches and their business practices. The inquiry is being led by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa). Yes that’s right, a Republican is questioning the finances of mega-churches. Boston writes:
The New Testament reports that Jesus rarely used fancy modes of transportation to get around. He walked most of the time, although Matthew and other gospels mention that he once rode a borrowed donkey into Jerusalem, where he burst into a temple and tossed out the money changers.
Nearly 2,000 years later, some who claim to speak in Jesus’ name are taking a different view. Consider Bishop Eddie Long, who pastors a mega-church in Lithonia, Ga. With a salary approaching $1 million a year and a nine-bathroom mansion situated on 20 acres, Long’s choice of vehicles reflects his opulent lifestyle: He drives a $350,000 Bentley.
Far from casting out money changers, Long is likely to join them. In a 2005 profile in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, he defended his high-flying ways, insisting, “I pastor a multimillion dollar congregation. You’ve got to put me on a different scale than the little black preacher sitting over there that’s supposed to be just getting by because the people are suffering.”
Long’s lack of humility has probably done him no favors. At the time, U.S. Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), expressed dismay.
“When I hear about leaders of charities being provided a $300,000 Bentley to drive around in, my fear is that it’s the taxpayers who subsidize this charity who are really being taken for a ride,” he quipped.
Prophets, Profits And Federal Tax Law: Iowa Senator’s Inquiry Into Mega-Church Millions Sparks Church-State Showdown
In the US, churches don’t pay taxes as long as they stick to religious activities. But if a church, or any non-profit, is not following the law then it can lose its exemption.