Tax exemption under review
Star-Telegram Staff Writer
The tax-exempt status of faith healer Benny Hinn's $6.5 million
world headquarters in Grapevine is being examined by the Tarrant
Appraisal District after a televangelist watchdog group this week
questioned whether the property should be considered a church.
The review of the property at 3400 William D. Tate Ave., triggered
by a request of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, is considered
somewhat unusual, appraisal district officials said. But any request
for a review is investigated as a matter of policy.
The ministry's 58,000-square-foot facility, with 235 employees,
passed muster with the district in July 2003, when it was granted a
property-tax exemption, according to the ministry and appraisal
Hinn is known for worldwide crusades in which believers are promised
miracle healings. But Trinity contends that the ministry hides its
spending from donors and uses donations to provide Hinn with a
multimillion-dollar California parsonage and a seven-figure salary.
Ministry spokesman Ronn Torossian said that the Grapevine facility
meets all requirements for its tax exemption and that the organization
spends all of its money on spreading the gospel and providing for the
needy. He lashed out at Trinity President Ole Anthony, calling him and
his organization anti-Christian and anti-religious.
"They are on their crusade ... to harm Christianity, to harm
religion," Torossian said in a telephone interview from New York. "And
we find no credence in anything they say or do."
Anthony said that Trinity, a nonprofit religious organization,
brought the matter to the district's attention because he wants to
bring "integrity to the body of Christ."
But Anthony also said he opposes ministers "becoming fabulously wealthy on the backs of God's people."
The Grapevine building is used to handle the mail and phone calls of
Hinn's ministry, according to Anthony and appraisal district documents.
In a Wednesday letter, Anthony asked chief appraiser John Marshall to
re-evaluate the gated property, in part because no public worship
services are held there and only those with access cards or permission
are allowed entry.
"Designating this organization as a church would be tantamount to
naming Interstate Batteries, General Motors, the Dallas Cowboys and
other for-profit corporations as churches because they hold periodic
Bible studies on their premises," Anthony wrote.
Vinita Tribble, the district's support services director, was part
of a team that initially examined the property for tax-exempt status.
"What we're doing at this time is re-examining the evidence that we
have," Tribble said. She said the district has an obligation to
investigate any allegations that an exemption was granted in error.
"It will stay under continual review as the situation develops," she said.
By law, a religious property-tax exemption may be granted if a
property is regularly used as a place of worship, she said. That can
mean anything from individual meditation to a group ceremony to
The district approved the ministry's 2003 request for an exemption
only after asking for several documents, including the ministry's
bylaws and its authorization from the secretary of state to do business
in Texas. District officials also asked for a detailed explanation of
how the property is used primarily as a place of regular religious
In April 2003, the ministry responded that:
• All employees are Christians
and have "some form of organized worship, fellowship, prayer and
biblical study at the Grapevine property on almost every business day."
• The property has a sanctuary devoted to religious worship.
• Call-center operators pray with callers and take tithes and offerings.
In addition, Tribble said, the property was granted a certificate of
occupancy from Grapevine that described the facility as a church.
"The evidence that I was provided with the application was
sufficient ... to bring it within the property-tax exemption statute,"
The ministry's attorneys acknowledged to the district that the
building does not offer public worship services. And in 2000, a
ministry spokesman told the Star-Telegram that the building
would be "a traditional corporate office facility. ... There will be no
facilities to accommodate the general public."
But not every inch of a property must be devoted to worship to qualify as a church, Torossian said.
"Our underlying religious purpose at our property in Grapevine is
that of a church religious organization with religious beliefs and
religious services, which are performed," he said.