Keeping Secrets from Donors: Investigating the Trend of Evangelical Ministries Hiding Financial Data

(Photo: Pixabay)

Since 1998, evangelical ministries with combined assets of more than $700 million have stopped filing the Form 990 which discloses critical financial information for donors.

Media ministries are merging with churches or requesting the IRS reclassify themselves as churches or church integrated auxiliaries to avoid disclosing compensation of key leadership, legal expenses, and travel expenses because churches and similar organizations (synagogues and mosques) are exempt from filing.

In 2005, IRS Commissioner Mark Everson sent a letter to Senator Chuck Grassley claiming that because churches were not required to file an informational return, “we have little ability to monitor their operations against diversion of assets.”

The following spreadsheet features a list of 21 non-profits and trade names that are still operational along with the last fiscal year they filed a Form 990.

(Photo: Spreadsheet compiled by Trinity Foundation)

The trend may have begun with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries which merged with Family Worship Center Church in 1997. The ministry’s 990s from the mid-1990s are not available online.

After the merger, Swaggart’s church registered Jimmy Swaggart Ministries as a trade name. This allows the church to perform business and to have a bank account in the name of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries.

More recently, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) filed for a group exemption which was granted in 2014. The BGEA’s final 990 covering 2014 reported $258,677 in compensation for the ministry’s president Franklin Graham. BGEA no longer discloses Graham’s compensation. Also, in 2014 Graham received $629,821 in compensation from Samaritan’s Purse, another non-profit where he serves as president.

For donors concerned about excessive compensation, it is impossible to make informed decisions when compensation information is not available to the public.

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Prophecy for Sale: “Prophets” Mimic Psychics, Charging up to $555 for Phone Call

(Photo: Prophet Passion Java preaching in Atlanta)

2,700 years ago, the Prophet Micah warned that “prophets tell fortunes for money.” (Micah 3:11 NIV) The business of prophecy selling still continues in 2024.

Panganai Java, the flamboyant Zimbabwe-born but Maryland-based preacher, better known as Prophet Passion Java, finances his lavish lifestyle by preaching the prosperity gospel and charging his followers $555 for phone calls.

Passion Java is well known for wearing expensive designer clothing and driving high performance sports cars while attracting scrutiny from Prophets and Watches. His Instagram account has 7.9 million followers.

On his website Passion Java promotes one on one phone calls for $555 and discloses there are no refunds. Testimonials on the website sound similar to ads for psychics: “I had a one on one with Papa Prophet Passion in August. He prophesied that within 6 months you will have your visa. My VISA has been approved by Canadian authorities.”

According to the prophet’s website, there is a long wait to receive a call from Passion Java: “Please be advised that after registering – one on ones are based on Prophet’s schedule. The average waiting time is 5-6 weeks but can fluctuate… Thank you for waiting in a timely manner as we are experiencing high volumes of registers.”

If Passion Java makes four calls a week, he will generate over $100,000 from phone calls in a year.

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Estimate: Christian Religious Leaders to Embezzle $86 Billion in 2024

The January issue of the International Bulletin of Mission Research (IBMR) reports that Christian religious leaders are estimated to embezzle $86 billion in 2024.

The disturbing statistic, which is easy to overlook, appears in Table 5 of the article “World Christianity 2024: Fragmentation and Unity” under the description “Ecclesiastical Crime.”

This estimate was compiled by data scientists Dr. Gina Zurlo, Dr. Todd Johnson, and Peter Crossing at the Center for the Study of Global Christianity (CSGC) at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.

IBMR has been publishing the annual estimate of ecclesiastical crime for decades. The statistic was born from the pioneering research of the late David Barrett, an editor of the World Christian Encyclopedia.

In 1983, Barrett authored the journal article “Silver and Gold Have I None: Church of the Poor or Church of the Rich?” which explored the financial state of Christian missions giving.

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Investigating the Parsonage Exemption: What Would Televangelists Pay if Houses Weren’t Tax Exempt?


(Photo: Inside Edition shows the outside of televangelist Ron Carpenter’s luxurious Fremont, California-parsonage.)

Background

Inside Edition recently investigated the topic of tax-exempt parsonages. The news report featured drone footage and pictures of some of America’s largest church-owned mansions.  Investigative reporter Lisa Guerrero attempted to interview televangelist Jesse Duplantis regarding his residence, but he refused to answer questions.

Associate Pastor and Political Scientist Ryan Burge told Inside Edition, “If you have a multi-million-dollar house, your property tax bill could be thirty, forty, fifty thousand dollars a year. But if it’s classified as a parsonage, now you don’t have to pay property taxes on that home. That $50,000 could pay the salary of an elementary school teacher in your local public school.”

The property-tax exemption on church and ministry-owned homes is governed by state laws. It differs from the parsonage housing allowance which was created by Congress and involves a tax exemption from the federal income tax.

In 2021, a Houston Chronicle investigation identified 28 parsonages in Texas worth more than $1 million.

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How Two Non-Profits Paid Over $103 Million to Companies Owned by Jay Sekulow and Sister-in-Law


(Photo: Jay Sekulow interviewed in ACLJ Chief Counsel Biography)

Attorney Jay Sekulow, who represented former President Donald Trump during his 2020 impeachment hearing and has argued religious liberty cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, seems to be playing a shell game with his financial dealings by using confusingly similar corporate names and leaving out big chunks of information in his non-profit 990 reports to the IRS.

In fact, in fifteen years, two non-profits Sekulow is associated with have paid over $103 million to for-profit companies owned by him and his sister-in-law.

Same Name Game

Jay Sekulow serves as president of Christian Advocates Serving Evangelism (CASE), a non-profit organization with 13 employees, that fundraises with aggressive direct mail solicitation.

Jay Sekulow also serves as CEO for the American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ).

Adding to the confusion, CASE uses the trade name/DBA “American Center for Law & Justice” and conducts fundraising with the trade name. Trinity Foundation describes this practice as the Same Name Game.

There is a very slight difference: The trade name contains an ampersand “&” while the ACLJ’s legal name doesn’t.

(Screenshot: from Page 1 of CASE 2022 Form 990)

When two different non-profit organizations use the same name, this can be problematic for donors, especially if the organizations have a different purpose.

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The Cost of Traveling by Private Jet: Televangelist Jet Circles the Globe

(Photo: Pixabay)

Joyce Meyer Ministries’ Gulfstream G4 jet flew to Nepal in January for a mission trip celebrating the grand opening of a church building in Attarkhel, Nepal which was funded by its donors.

Hand of Hope, the disaster relief organization and mission outreach of Joyce Meyer Ministries, also funded the drilling of a water well and provided a health clinic for the community.

Hand of Hope operates as an integrated auxiliary of Joyce Meyer Ministries, and for this reason, is not required to file a Form 990 which would disclose salaries and financial information that religious watchdog organizations are interested in reviewing.

During the mission trip the ministry jet accumulated approximately 35.5 flight hours as it circled the globe.

The jet departed on January 14th from Spirit of Saint Louis Airport and landed in Manchester, England. The first leg of the trip to Nepal took 7 hours and 50 minutes.


(Photo: First travel day)

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Assets of Ministry’s Holding Company Increase by $501 Million, CEO and Family Paid Over $11 Million

(Photo: David Cerullo, president of The Inspirational Network)

The Inspirational Network’s latest Form 990 Information Return is filled with bombshells for anyone interested in following the money of religious and secular TV broadcasting. Two bombshells stand out: Extravagant compensation for executives and massive assets buried in fine print.

David Cerullo, CEO of The Inspirational Network which operates the western-themed INSP cable TV channel (religious programming airs in the middle of the night), is ranked as one of America’s highest paid religious non-profit CEOs.

In 2022, Cerullo received $9 million in compensation, doubling the income he received in 2021.

In 15 years, from 2008 through 2022, David Cerullo received $59 million in compensation from The Inspirational Network and related organizations.

For four consecutive years David Cerullo has ranked at the top of MinistryWatch’s annual list of highly paid ministry executives.

David Cerullo’s wife Barbara and son Benjamin also appear on the MinistryWatch list by serving as executives at The Inspirational Network.

The following screenshot shows 2022 compensation for the three Cerullo  family members. The total compensation paid to the Cerullos for 2022 is $11,116,432.

By comparing compensation reported in 2021, shown in the screenshot below, it is clear that Benjamin Cerullo’s compensation also doubled and Barbara Cerullo’s compensation dramatically increased.

David Cerullo also serves as president of Morris Cerullo World Evangelism (MCWE) which was founded by his father. MCWE does not file a Form 990 as it claims to be a church. Therefore, it is unknown if MCWE also pays David Cerullo a salary.

The second highest paid executive at The Inspirational Network is general counsel and corporate secretary Dale Ardizzone who was paid $3,227,671 in 2022.

Most compensation for Ardizzone and David and Barbara Cerullo come from related organizations of The Inspirational Network.

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$1.7 Million Missing: Is This Embezzlement of Funds or Terrible Accounting?

More than $1.7 million in financial surpluses have mysteriously disappeared from two religious non-profits led by prophetess Juanita Bynum.

Annual financial surpluses generated by the organizations were not reported as assets. This failure to report total assets should serve as a red flag to potential donors.

The following screenshot from Juanita Bynum International Inc.’s 2021 Form 990 shows a surplus of $592,324 in 2021 and $336,926 in 2020 on line 19. None of these funds were listed in Total Assets on line 20.

The following spreadsheet reveals $1,764,427 in surpluses (net income) not reported as assets from 2016 to 2021. Juanita Bynum International Inc. converted from a for-profit company to a non-profit entity in 2020, which explains why the organization did not file a 990 prior to 2020.  In other words, when an organization takes in over half a million dollars in one year and spends less than $40,000 WHERE DID THE MONEY GO if there are no assets.

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When Was Jesus Born?

 

By Barry Bowen and Pete Evans

“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter; to search out a matter is the glory of kings.” – Proverbs 25:2

Prophecies in the Bible have provided important clues for understanding the purposes of God. However, some of these clues are easily overlooked.

Trinity Foundation’s late founder Ole Anthony was fascinated by the question, “When (what time of year) was Jesus born?”

After studying the Bible and major events in Jesus’ life occurring on Jewish feast days, as well as the writings of biblical scholars and first century AD Jewish historian Josephus, Ole concluded that Jesus was born on Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year.

Ole believed that God created the biblical holidays as a liturgical calendar to reveal God’s redemption plan for humanity.

The Bible provides a clue in the Book of Luke regarding when Jesus was born. An angel appeared to Mary, informing her that she was pregnant with Jesus and that her relative Elizabeth was six months pregnant. Therefore, Jesus would have been born about six months after his cousin John the Baptist.

The time of John’s conception can be estimated because his birth was prophesied during the time his father Zechariah the priest was serving in the Temple.

Assuming John was conceived within the week after Zechariah returned from his temple service, that would yield a date for the conception of Jesus six months later in mid-December (on or close to Hannukah), with his birth in the fall, around mid-September (Rosh Hashanah).” Community on Columbia Bible study

Christian researchers have also searched for the Star of Bethlehem believing it could provide a clue for the birth of Jesus.

The Book of Matthew in the Bible tells of a group of astronomers searching for the baby Jesus after seeing a star that announced Jesus’ birth.

Scholars and researchers have reached conflicting conclusions about the Star of Bethlehem with some believing it was a star that went supernova in the constellation Coma representing a woman with a baby in her lap, others that it a was a shooting star (comet), and still others believing the Magi observed an alignment of planets.

While the accounts of Jesus birth in Matthew and Luke focus on creating a historical record, the Book of John provides a theological foundation for understanding this key event:

“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.” – John 1:14

 

Jesse Duplantis’ Instant Gratification Theology

Jesus taught his followers that sacrificial obedience would be rewarded, but  prosperity gospel preachers exploit these verses for fundraising.

Televangelist Jesse Duplantis promotes a theology of instant gratification, creating unrealistic and unbiblical expectations. During a September 20th telethon, televangelist Jesse Duplantis told his audience:

“I always believe for the now. I mean when you want something, you want it now. Listen, we are Americans. We created fast food. You understand? We don’t like it if they spend 30 seconds more on a hamburger. We want it now. Well, let me tell you something. You need your harvest now, don’t you? Certainly, you do. Why not? That’s not being greedy. I mean it’s called growth.” (We call it greed.)

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