Where’s the Tax Man When You Need Him?

The Trinity Broadcasting Network is an untaxed empire…

The prosperity gospel preached by Paul and Janice Crouch, who built a single station into the world’s largest Christian television network, has worked out well for them.

Mr. and Mrs. Crouch have his-and-her mansions one street apart in a gated community here, provided by the network using viewer donations and tax-free earnings. But Mrs. Crouch, 74, rarely sleeps in the $5.6 million house with tennis court and pool. She mostly lives in a large company house near Orlando, Fla., where she runs a side business, the Holy Land Experience theme park. Mr. Crouch, 78, has an adjacent home there too, but rarely visits. Its occupant is often a security guard who doubles as Mrs. Crouch’s chauffeur.

Is it uncharitable to wonder why they can’t live in the same house? There are supposed to be checks and balances on businesses that abuse the tax exemption granted to religious groups and charities. But when a church owns a huge media mouthpiece and claims God’s endorsement politicians are timid…

Rusty Leonard, an independent tax expert and the leader of Wall Watchers, a charity watchdog group that has long criticized TBN for financial secrecy, said televangelists often escape penalties for extravagant spending because the definition of taxable “excess benefits” is subjective, and authorities are reluctant to challenge religious groups.

Marcus S. Owens, a tax lawyer with Caplin & Drysdale in Washington, said that lavish spending by nonprofit organizations could raise red flags for tax officials. “The law says that any compensation must be reasonable, and the value of a house is part of that,” he said. “Dinner on the company every night could be an issue too.”

At the same time, Mr. Owens said, churches have considerable latitude under the First Amendment. Regarding the ordination of untrained workers, he said, “absent clear fraud, the government is not going to touch that.”

Ordination has its uses, financial more than spiritual…

Ms. Koper and the two other former TBN employees also said that dozens of staff members, including Ms. Koper, chauffeurs, sound engineers and others had been ordained as ministers by TBN. This allowed the network to avoid paying Social Security taxes on their salaries and made it easier to justify providing family members with rent-free houses, sometimes called “parsonages,” she said.

These ‘ministers’ had better trust that The Lord will create Prosperity. They’re going to get a rude awakening when it’s time to apply for Social Security and a hunk of their working years have nothing put in. The Crouches will have gone on to their reward by then, laughing all the way no doubt.

I’m not against tax exemptions for religious organizations, or non-profits, or charities– but there’s clearly too many loopholes when megalomaniacs who think God talks to them can buy houses for their dogs. That’s the kind of thing you expect from Donald Trump…

“Prosperity theology is a false theology,” said R. Albert Mohler Jr., president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. Between its message and its reputation for high spending, Mr. Mohler said, “TBN has been a huge embarrassment to evangelical Christianity for decades.”

Maybe some day Mr.Mohler will take time out from fighting the gay peril and voice a mild public reproof to TBN and other moneychangers in the temple. These people prey on the lonely and the needy, broadcasting to elderly and shut-ins. I see it all the time. The neighborhood church that might offer some real human contact is neglected in favor of the TV. But those widow’s mites add up when they’re funneled into a few greedy hands.

Christians, there’s plenty in the New Testament about money, scams and fakers. Feeding them only makes them bigger. Remember that Jesus said to give to the poor, he never said for the poor to give to the rich.

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