In our May 2022 newsletter (article here) we suggested a simple way to curb religious fraud and excess. It would hold moderate and large religious organizations more accountable and provide donors with more transparency allowing them to make more informed decisions.
Month after month, we show our (small) mailing list and website visitors, how much religious fraud is going on and how much donor money is being wasted on extravagant, luxurious lifestyles.
Nothing will change until the U.S. public is fed up with the disparity between religious non-profit organizations and all other non-profit organizations. Non-profits such as the Red Cross and World Vision show the world how much and where their money goes. Religious non-profits… well, most don’t.
It’s too easy to claim marvelous, wonderful charitable works publicly on the one hand, while wasting donor’s money on frivolities and extravagance on the other.
TELEVANGELISTS, PLEASE STOP AND COMPARE:
We dig water wells for the thirsty. Sure you do; but what about the Perrier, Smart Water, and Champaign served to you chilled in First Class or on your private jet?
We build and finance orphanages for the fatherless. Sure you do, but compare the mansion you live in to most orphans’ stone walls, uncomfortable cots, meager meals, and dirty bathrooms.
We feed and clothe the homeless. You must feel good about this, but compare your daily rich diet and the expensive suits you wear as opposed to the bean and rice staples and worn hand-me-down rags of street people in your own community.
This sheep’s-clothing disguise will always wear thin and wear off, eventually exposing the insatiable, self-seeking core of corrupt religious leaders— evident for all to see.
Following The Real Jesus
Did Jesus demand special treatment? Did he say, “you can’t crucify me, I’m the son of God!” Did his disciples demand rights or accommodations, such as freedom from paying taxes to a totalitarian government? Of course not. Jesus said render to Caesar what is Caesar’s; i.e., pay the government what is due the government and Jesus said, “not my will but my Father’s”.
It’s time to actually start following the real Jesus and not some wealthy, suave, well-dressed role-player… only a caricature of (a fake, plastic) Christ.
Why do televangelists exist in the first place (our apologies to the few sincere ones if there are any)? They exist as a mirror so we can see our own self-seeking apart from the cross and repentance.
To Christian Leaders Who Quietly Suspect Something is Wrong…
Consider the Pharisee Nicodemus who went to Jesus by night. Repent. Be transparent. Take the lower seat. Stop paying lobbyists to lobby congress for special treatment. Stop paying lawyers to devise shell-company and limited liability company smoke-screens and to otherwise obfuscate reality.
Stop demanding your rights. Begin to admit your weaknesses and stop guarding your lives publicly. When people point out your hypocrisy, it’s not religious persecution. It’s about accountability and transparency. The majority of the American public is quite forgiving.
The simple solution (again)
Require wealthy religious organizations to file some sort of IRS form 990 and show how much and where the money is going.
The following is an reprinted from our May 2022 newsletter:
New Reporting Requirements to Create Transparency & Accountability
We are proposing legislation that would increase transparency by religious organizations without putting excessive burdens on smaller ministries.
All non-religious non-profits in this country have to file the public form 990, 990EZ, or the “postcard” 990-N (which is not really a postcard, but only a brief online notice of gross income less than $50,000), depending on size and income. The 990 and 990EZ reveal the incomes of the highest paid employees and general contractors as well as how the money is spent in general.
It would be easy to continue to give religious organizations special status, while still promoting transparency and accountability. Similar forms 990REL, 990REL-EZ, or postcard 990REL-N, could be created and instituted depending on size and income, while allowing much larger income requirements.
Suggested dollar amount requirements for these forms…
In order for non-religious non-profits to qualify to file Form 990-EZ, organization need to have a gross income of more than $50,000, but less than $200,000 during the past fiscal year and the total valuation of all assets should be less than $500,000. These are already IRS requirements, but not for religious organizations. This might be particularly burdensome to some ministries and churches, so these amounts could be raised significantly for our proposed 990REL-EZ and 990REL.
The IRS 990 and 990EZ are not particularly easy to fill out (I know, I’ve filled out ours quite a number of times); however, these proposed corresponding church forms could be simplified.
Churches, synagogues, mosques, and church-related organizations having to file our proposed forms: in order to qualify to file form 990REL-EZ, the religious organization should have gross income of more than $3 million, but less than $10 million during the past fiscal year. Religious organizations with over $10M must file the more extensive 990REL but religious organizations with less than $5M in gross income, could file a simple newly designed “postcard” 990REL-N.
Any church with $3 million or more income should be able to hire a CPA to fill out and file the form. This would eliminate any onerous burdens on smaller churches with no means to hire a qualified CPA or bookkeeper with ability to file the form.
The asset valuation requirement could be increased proportionately as well. For example, religious non-profits qualifying for the 990REL-EZ could have assets valued at less than $5 million instead of less than $500,000.
Would this ever pass congress? Not until the general public gets fed up with the fraud and excess committed in the name of God. With this article, we are attempting to start a serious conversation about legislative changes to bring greater transparency and accountability to the church world.
The implementation details can vary from what are proposed here. But the time for action is now.
North Texas Giving Day Support …
Our finances have shrunk lately and we could use your help.
From the folks at Trinity Foundation