We reported in the Aug 11 Freedom's Phoenix on Sen. Chuck Grassley's probe of six prominent Televangelists and their ministries, and the excesses that were leading to the total control of all ministries and churches into the hands of the Internal Revenue Service. (See original article at http://www.freedomsphoenix.com/Opinion/094595-2011-08-11-senator-grassleys-probe-of-tv-ministries-spells-trouble-for-americas.htm
) This should be no surprise to anyone. It is the nature of government programs to breed corruption, and the not-for-profit religious scheme is just one more government boondoggle among thousands that has proven again not to work. What government gives, government will control at some point.
Tax exemptions, allowances and deductions are benefits; whether for businesses, para-church organizations or churches, they are still government handouts. As soon as someone figures out how to enrich themselves or their relatives from the program, they will do it. If it's in the name of God, so what.
All polls show that Americans want to keep tax exemption for religion in America and the tax deductible gift for those who give to religion. The polls also show that people do not want their religious guru endorsing candidates or legislation from the pulpit. In other words, they don't want to put their tax exemption and tax deductions in jeopardy. They also want the excesses and extravagances stopped, and they want to make sure that the financial records of their church or religious organization is in order. There is only one problem. Who is going to be powerful enough to control nearly a million churches and religious organizations in the U.S?
Many Televangelists and some churches use the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability to assure their congregations or donors that they are financially responsible. It is sort of a religious Good Housekeeping badge of honor to be able to receive an annual clean bill of health from ECFA. So Dan Busby, President of ECFA, has come forth and offered their services to act as a referee for Congress to see if they can solve the problem without legislation. In the Sept. 15, 2011 Christian Post, there is an extensive article explaining in great detail how they hope to accomplish his goal.
The first thing ECFA has done is to appoint three panels – representatives from religious groups, the broader nonprofit sector, and the legal community – to work with the Commission on Accountability and Policy for Religious Organizations.
The commission was formed following a report issued by U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) in January that focused on the financial practices of six high-profile Christian ministries, ECFA said. Allegations included perceptions of excessive spending on high-end travel, accommodations, and property, according to a commission member.
After Grassley released the findings of his three-year inquiry, rather than seek legal action, the senator asked ECFA to lead an independent national review that includes making recommendations on accountability and policy issues affecting religious and other nonprofit organizations.
Florida pastor and one of President Obama's spiritual advisers, Dr. Joel Hunter, who is a member of the ECFA commission, told The Christian Post that he would like to see the panels discover that new legislation is not necessary.
"We have been given the opportunity to gather this kind of information so that we could not just automatically go toward legislative resolutions, but rather we could do some self-examination and try to clarify what was reasonable and what was intended for religious exemptions by the IRS and by the customs we now have in the U.S.," Hunter said.
"Part of this idea [of tax breaks and compensations] is that the churches and other non-profits contribute so much to the public well-being. They contribute so many services, and so much benefit that they more than make up for any exemptions and taxes [breaks] that they have."
The ECFA stated that the issues before the commission include whether:
churches should be more accountable to the federal government;
legislation is needed to curb perceived abuses of the clergy housing allowance exclusion;
the current prohibition against political campaign intervention by churches and other nonprofits should be repealed or modified;
the rules for determining the reasonableness of nonprofit executive compensation should be tightened;
penalties should be expanded for nonprofits and their leaders who engage in prohibited activities.
Hunter said that the commission and panel studies should also include educating people on the positive aspects of giving faith-based groups and nonprofits certain tax breaks.
"Our responsibility is to continue to tell the story of just exactly how much churches, and mosques, and synagogues, and temples are providing in the way of goods and services to those in need in our communities," he said. "The good things that they are providing would otherwise fall upon the government to provide. We would like people to clearly see that this is a wonderful investment."
The ECFA Commission will also be receiving input from the Internal Revenue Service, town hall meetings and other informal channels. Two law firms will be providing independent technical analysis and research for the commission on a pro-bono basis.
According to ECFA President Dan Busby, a total of 66 members have been named to the panels by Commission Chairman Michael Batts.
Hunter continued, "In the end, there may be a mix of self-policing and some necessary legislation. We do not know that yet. It would be preferable to avoid legislation, but we are not that far along in the process, yet."
Our advice is very simple: is it not time for the pastors of New Testament churches, who want to be the servants of God and preach what God wants them to preach rather than what the IRS wants them to preach, which is called, "Federal Public Policy, to get off the sinking ship of statism before God has to judge.
The Biblical Law Center stands ready to help those churches to organize or reorganize as New Testament Churches in order to take advantage of their First Amendment guarantees. For further assistance please contact Dr. Greg J. Dixon at firstname.lastname@example.org
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