Republican Sen. Charles Grassley has reportedly asked six Pentecostal ministries to give him every credit card receipt for the last five years.
While fully 16,000 corporations operate their own aircraft and 60,000 more have part ownerships as well as leases, Grassley’s investigation of the six ministries was prompted by the fact that they owned private jets.
He also has asked at least one of the ministries to give him the name of every musician or speaker who has ever stood in his pulpit in the last 40 years. But the jets were what provoked the investigation. The senator insists that true Christians should ride donkeys as Jesus did when he entered Jerusalem. (Google for the senator’s live comments.)
The senator, as a practicing Christian, surely does the same, for there is nothing in his theology that distinguishes between ministers of the gospel and practitioners.
The question is this: If it is inherently carnal, sinful and materialistic for a Pentecostal ministry to own a jet, why is it lawful and acceptable for other religions and ministries to have them?
Billy Graham and the Mormon Church are just a couple that come to mind. And if Jesus and his 1st century transportation is the point of reference, then should we expect Grassley to go after all those thousands of other ministries that lease jets? What about every major religious organization in America?
I once flew in a helicopter around town with a friend who was doing his daily chores. It so happens that my friend was a Catholic cardinal. Was the helicopter owned by the Archdiocese or leased or a loaner?
Grassley should be onto that one in a heartbeat. Indeed, we should expect the senator to boycott the imminent arrival of His Holiness himself, who has opted to arrive in America in an evil private jet rather than a sailing ship and donkey.
Actually, the leasing of jets can be even more expensive and wasteful of God’s money than the outright ownership of jets, depending on the situation.
Perhaps Grassley should call for a government agency to arbitrate such issues, that is, for those non Pentecostal ministries that the U. S. Senate decides should be allowed to own or lease jets. Meanwhile, the Grassley six had better buy up all the donkeys still out there. They actually could have done a little better than American Airlines did this past week.
With a shuttle of donkeys, Pony Express style, Joyce Myers, one of the targeted six Pentecostals, might be able to make the trip from Chicago to New York in a few weeks, dictating her next book on the way. Unless the senator uses his bully pulpit to prohibit books. Come to think of it, I don’t remember that Jesus ever actually wrote any books either. Uh oh.
There are thousands of ministries and religious organizations. Many of these organizations have leaders far more wealthy than Grassley’s six, and some enjoy lifestyles far greater. They all have homes large and small, owned by the ministry or owned personally by their pastors who get parsonage allowances.
Some have schools, some have jets, some have tennis courts and indoor swimming pools, some even have hotels. Some own large acreage in the middle of city centers, acreage that is worth more than all of the assets of all six of Grassley’s targets combined. Some have tapestries on the wall worth more than the homes that the networks will fly over in their helicopter videos when their attacks begin.
Why isn’t there a fair way to sort all of this out? To determine what is honest? To determine which salary is justified and matches the doctrines preached and which salaries and compensation packages don’t?
Ahh, but you see, there is. Such a system is already in place. And over the years it has been refined by the Congress and the presidents and the courts. It has all of this down to a fine science. It is the Internal Revenue Service. Now, evangelicals are not especially the favored targets of the IRS. When I worked in the White House, evangelical leaders were troubled over the fact that only one evangelical could be found in the top 300 positions at the agency. And the one we found was a “pseudo-evangelical,” a Catholic Pentecostal.
At the time, evangelicals numbered 39 percent of the American population and felt that the absence of evangelicals at the IRS was leading to unhealthy misunderstandings over doctrine and practice. Nevertheless, the IRS is tasked with all of this. It may confirm, for example, that salary to a religious leader be determined by a “compensation board” which is not influenced by those who receive the pay. And ironically, all audits of religious organizations are guided by rules that Senator Grassley authored himself.
So what’s the problem? Well, the problem is that two of the six ministries he is publically attacking have just experienced an exhaustive audit by the IRS and were given a clean bill of health! A third has recently hand delivered a letter to the IRS, asking them to conduct an audit of their organization.
Since the IRS cannot do what the senator wants, he has decided that as a one man, prosecutor, trial and jury he, himself, will take out the six ministries that have coincidently been the doctrinal nemesis of his own church for the last century. He has told us that he has been mulling this over for two years. The jets are what finally pushed him over the edge.
He knows that what the courts and prosecutors and evidence and fairness can’t do, demagoguery can accomplish. He knows this because he has a powerful ally, the media.
Grassley knows that the media hates all religions, except some selected white Protestant brands, traditional favorites of elderly stockholders now in their Connecticut retirement and still possessing some small influence on their investments.
The media tend to hate Catholics, Evangelicals, and Mormons too. So he will spoon feed the story to his media sidekicks, who are chomping at the bit over these few ministries who have been culled from the herd and are thus vulnerable to attack.
It is nothing personal for the media. They would just as easily pounce on Grassley’s own Baptists and eat them as well. He knows that and is willing to risk it to get rid of some doctrinal enemies. Besides the herd will just move on to the next watering hole, a little safer now that the media lions have been sated.
And how do the media feel about being used to settle a doctrinal score? They don’t even bat an eyelash. All religious belief is a blurr to them. And programming is just formula.
They have already sent helicopters over the house of one ministry touting it as a mansion from the sky, not pointing out to their viewers that the preacher doesn’t actually own the house they are showing, the ministry does, nor pointing out the obvious, that “the mansion,” which sits in steamy, sultry Texas, has no swimming pool and is built on acres of land that is worth less than a quarter lot in New York, Boston, or Los Angeles. But boy does it look awesome from a helicopter and it has lots of square feet.
So it will work for the story and the public will all feel the appropriate outrage because they will not know the other side of the story.
When he was 5 years old, Kenneth Copeland, the preacher whose ministry is the target of choice, saw his first airplane, he was smitten on the spot. He turned to his dad and said, “Someday, I am going to fly one of those things.” When he grew up he became a famous Pentecostal preacher and a champion of the biblical quotation that promises, “What things you desire, when you pray, believe that you will receive them and you will have them.”
Ahh, if he had only been a movie star, or a capitalist businessman, or a Saudi, or a Baptist, he could have had his airplane, any kind he wished. And Grassley would have only smiled benignly. Or if he had only paraphrased his Bible just a little, just for the sake of a cranky old senator. “What things you desire, when you pray, believe that you will receive them and you will surely lease them.”
Ahh, too bad, too bad. Kenneth Copeland just had to “have them.”
Doug Wead is a presidential historian and New York Times best-selling author. He was a religious adviser to two presidents. He served on the board of one of the targeted ministries and his son worked for one of them. See www.dougwead.wordpress.com.
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