Trinity Foundation: Who We Are
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Trinity Foundation began in 1972 as a religious, charitable and educational non-profit foundation for promoting the public interest in the State of Texas by producing Christ-centered communications projects.
An early skepticism about the way religious programming was bought and sold prompted Trinity to conduct a controversial research project on the audience demographics and ratings of religious broadcasting. This preceded the scandals that rocked the religious television industry in the 1980’s. In 1987 after supplying testimony to congressional hearings about the religious TV industry, the foundation began full-time monitoring of religious programming and reporting abuses of the public trust. By the 1990s Trinity had become the leading “watchdog” of religious media, conducting investigations and providing information used to expose fraud and abuses committed in the name of God.
The foundation regularly provides assistance to print and electronic journalists investigating suspected fraud or other abuses of the public trust by members of the religious media. The foundation has worked with news organizations such as ABC News Prime Time Live, CBS News 60 Minutes, NBC News Dateline, CNN Special Reports, ABC News 20/20, British Broadcasting Corporation, Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today, The Economist, London Independent, The Washington Post, The Los Angeles Times, and The Dallas Morning News (among many others).
The foundation has regularly provided testimony and investigative reports to various state and federal agencies.
Currently, the foundation is working with the Senate Finance Committee on their investigation of religious non-profit organization abuses. The committee sent letters to six ministries in November 2007 seeking to determine if they were abusing their non-profit tax status. In a letter to the committee, Trinity Foundation President Ole Anthony told the committee, “During the 20 years of investigating these organizations we have noticed an ever increasing trend of the leaderships becoming very wealthy and more specifically a trend toward conversion of the donor funds to either inurement or conversion to for-profit activities. In some cases it is difficult if not impossible to tell the not-for-profit from the individual’s personal piggy-bank or from the for-profit entity.”
Others have agreed religious fraud is a growing problem. Deborah Bortner, former president of the North American Securities Administrators Association, told the committee, I’ve been a securities regulator for 20 years, and I’ve seen more money stolen in the name of God than in any other way.”
The usual government oversight procedures have not been able to keep up. In a 2005 letter to Senator Grassley, IRS Commissioner Mark W. Everson admitted even the IRS has not been able to properly confront the problem: “For those organizations that need not file for exempt status and do not file annual returns, such as small organizations and churches, the problem is compounded because we have little ability to monitor their operations against diversion of assets.”
Unfortunately for the public, many of the huge organizations Trinity investigates are legally disguised as churches. And even as the problem has increased, news media across the country have reduced their investigative budgets, allowing many of these abuses to continue unreported.
Although Trinity’s main focus has been on exposing abusive behavior, the foundation has also been active in trying to right some of the wrongs we’ve discovered over the years. In the late 1980s Trinity Foundation launched the Dallas Project, a challenge to religious organizations to help the homeless. The spark for this effort came from what we saw as neglect and exploitation of the needy by the same religious organizations we were investigating. Hundreds of lives were touched as a result. Direction of the Dallas Project has since been taken under the wing of Community on Columbia (The Block), a church where many members of Trinity Foundation attend.
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