(Photo: Pastor Planes tracked 13 aircraft on November 20, 2022.)
For eighteen months Pastor Planes, a project of Trinity Foundation, has published daily tracking maps of televangelist, ministry and Christian university jet flights to bring transparency to religious non-profit use of private aircraft.
Private jets are often examples of poor stewardship and a waste of donor funds.
And then it happened! Twitter suspended Celebrity Jets, a popular account well known for real-time tracking of jets owned by Hollywood celebrities. Celebrity Jets was accused of “doxing” — which is a word that typically refers to revealing the address of a person’s home. In this new context it refers to posting real-time location of an aircraft.
(Photo: In the 1970s, televangelist pioneer Oral Roberts acquired mansions in Beverly Hills and Palm Springs, CA, leading his Tulsa, OK-based ministry from afar.)
Oct. 31 was the day Martin Luther posted the 95 theses on the Wittenberg Church door—October 31, 1517—which began the reformation, also called by some the 2nd wave of Christianity. He critiqued expensive church real estate along with many other practices of the Catholic Church and the Papacy. Today, Luther’s anger would probably be directed at the aberrant activities of the megachurches. The reformation is over 500 years old and we still struggle with some of the same problems.
To expand their reach and receive larger donations, televangelists and megachurch pastors are planting churches hundreds and sometimes thousands of miles, from their base of operations. Some pastors appear to be motivated by pursuit of wealth, planting churches in wealthy communities. Others are drawn by the allure of Hollywood, taking up residence in Beverly Hills.
The investment in long distance ministry frequently produces extravagant housing expenses and over-the-top travel costs. Why fly first class when your donors will finance a jet?
The late televangelist Fred Price illustrates the trend of long distance ministry by planting a church in New York City while his home was located over 2100 miles away in California.
In 2007, Business Jet Traveler asked Price, pastor of Crenshaw Christian Center, “How much do you fly for the church?” Price responded, “A couple of years back, when we were first establishing the church in New York, my wife and I flew every single week-52 weeks-Los Angeles to New York and return. Now the least we’d go is once a month and recently we’ve had to go twice a month.”
Joseph Prince, the Singapore-based televangelist, has launched two churches in the Dallas-Fort Worth area and acquired a large plot of land in Colleyville, TX for future expansion. If there is one city in the world that doesn’t need another televangelist, it is Colleyville, the home of Robert Morris, pastor of Gateway Church, James Robison, head of LIFE Outreach International, Matthew Crouch, head of Trinity Broadcasting Network, and Joni Lamb, head of Daystar Television.
Church members and donors to the churches and ministries cited in this article should ponder critical questions. Can a pastor effectively lead his congregation from afar? Are million-dollar mansions good stewardship?
In two recent Sunday sermons Televangelist Creflo Dollar preached against tithing based on fear and guilt. On July 3rd, Dollar told his congregation, “I would argue that tithing isn’t required or even encouraged for believers in Jesus Christ…”
Instead, Dollar is now preaching that Christian giving should be based on gratitude.
Dollar made a surprising announcement in his June 26th, sermon titled “The Great Misunderstanding” about how his beliefs on tithing changed.
“I want to start off by saying to you that I’m still growing and that the teachings I’ve shared in times past on the subject of tithing were not correct. And today I stand in humility to correct some things I have taught for years and believed for years, but could never understand it clearly because I had not been confronted with the Gospel of grace, which has made the difference.
I won’t apologize ’cause if it wasn’t for me going down that route, I would have never ended up where I am right now. But I will say that I have no shame at all saying to you throw away every book, every tape and every video I did on the subject of tithing, unless it lines up with this.”
While Dollar’s rejection of fear-based giving is welcome, a lot of questions remain, and Trinity Foundation investigators wonder if Dollar is simply changing his message to appeal to a larger audience.
Yes, consider us skeptical. If a preacher is unwilling to apologize for leading people astray, does he really “stand in humility” as Dollar claimed?
(Photo: Former home of faith healer David Turner, from Realtor.com)
Donors, where is the money going?
When a televangelist’s ministry or pastor’s church owns a private jet, you can almost be certain the leader lives in a mansion. That is one of the lessons Trinity Foundation has learned from investigating religious fraud and excess for more than 30 years.
In April 2021 the Houston Chronicle’s Jay Root asked Trinity Foundation for assistance on an article series about church parsonages in Texas. Trinity Foundation compiled a list of megachurches and large media ministries in the state and then searched for parsonages and homes of pastors and ministry leaders.
Meanwhile, the Houston Chronicle examined the state tax code and filed open records requests with county appraisal districts seeking lists of parsonages.
If you are keeping track, that is at least 24 parsonages in Texas worth more than $1 million.
Trinity Foundation also investigated pastor and ministry housing in other states, discovering multi-million dollar homes of several televangelists and pastors who have received little media scrutiny. It’s time to present some of our findings.
December 6th was a busy day for ministry aircraft as Pastor Planes (Instagram and Twitter) tracked 12 aircraft making 24 flights.
Seven ministry aircraft, of which six were jets, flew to airports in the Dallas-Fort Worth area carrying televangelists to pay last respects and attend the memorial service of Marcus Lamb, the founder of prosperity-gospel promoting Daystar Television Network, who died of Covid on November 30th after staunchly advocating resisting the Covid vaccine.
Trinity Foundation investigator Pete Evans observed limousines picking up two celebrity preachers after their jets landed.
Photo: A close-up view of the Dallas-Fort Worth area shows two ministry jets and a Beechcraft King Air F90 landed at Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, three jets landed at Fort Worth Alliance Airport and one jet landed at Fort Worth Meacham Airport.
Ends of the Earth is a new documentary about Christian missionaries. It tells a captivating story while showing the work of Mission Aviation Fellowship (MAF) pilots serving in Papua, Indonesia.
Seventy-five years ago, following the end of War War II, pilot Betty Greene formed MAF to take the Gospel to hard-to-reach places. Greene’s missionary vision lives on as MAF serves in 27 countries.
The documentary introduces its audience to Liku, a Bible study teacher from the Wano people group, who has an infectious smile. Filmmakers accompany MAF pilots Joyce Lin and Nathan Fagerlie on their flights. The pilots provide critical support for missionaries Rebecca and Tim Ingles who moved to Indonesia with the goal of taking the Gospel to an unreached people group.
Lin and Fagerlie used small single-engine aircraft to reach remote areas, landing on unpaved runways, bringing medical supplies, food and the Gospel. MAF planes also transport people needing emergency health care.
Villagers slowly build a landing strip with primitive tools. Dirt is moved with wheel barrows rather than bulldozers. When the landing strip is complete, a trip from one village to another will be reduced from days of walking down to a ten minute flight.
The MAF missionaries serve with humility, in stark contrast to America’s televangelists that own private jets. None of the missionaries promote the prosperity gospel. They are motivated by a sincere desire to serve, rather than the accumulation of wealth.
For the amount of money televangelist Kenneth Copeland spent on purchasing Cessna Citation X and Gulfstream G-V jets, MAF could operate a fleet of small planes in Asia, Africa or South America.
Trinity Foundation president Pete Evans found the documentary to be “moving and exciting” and in awe of pilots landing on risky runways.
The documentary’s title comes from a famous Bible verse. Acts 1:8 says, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
The final night to catch a theatrical screening of the Ends of the Earth is October 21, 2021. The film will be screened in 700 theaters. Tickets are available through Fathom Events.
MAF is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability and publishes an audited financial statement on its website. In 2019, the mission agency’s pilots flew 19,525 hours.
On September 26th, ADSB Exchange tracked televangelist James Robison’s Cessna 560XL jet making six trips. The jet is registered to Zoe Aviation, a shell company owned by LIFE Outreach International.
ADSB Exchange uses Universal Time Coordinated (UTC) rather than an American time zone to determine the date. The first flight, which left from Destin, Florida, began on September 25th UTC.
The jet traveled from Destin to Fort Worth, Texas, then to Centennial, Colorado, then to Fort Worth again, then to Austin, Texas, then Santa Fe, New Mexico, and finally to Eagle, Colorado.
Questions an investigator might ask:
Was there a ministry purpose for each flight?
If the flights included personal, non-ministry travel, are the trips reported as a fringe benefit and taxed? The Internal Revenue Service has established a tax rate that includes both a terminal fee and a tax based on mileage for such flights.
If Zoe Aviation is leasing the jet to other organizations, should LIFE Outreach International report the revenue as unrelated business income and file a Form 990-T to disclose the revenue to the IRS?
Let’s take a look at one of the most expensive days so far in 2021 for church, ministry and Christian university aircraft trips. We tracked eight aircraft on March 19, 2021. It is possible that more than $100,000 could have been saved by flying commercial rather than using privately-owned aircraft.
List of aircraft owners:
A. Mt Gilead Full Gospel International Ministries B. Mighty Horn Ministries C. Liberty University D. Liberty University E. Faith Life Church. F. Assemblies of God Financial Services Group G. Philadelphia Church of God H. Harvest International Ministries
Trinity Foundation has compiled a database of more than 50 church, ministry and Christian university aircraft, but have been unable to identify aircraft that several televangelists are using. If you know the N-numbers of such aircraft, please contact us. Thank you for supporting our work. Confidential informants are always welcome.
If you thought televangelist shoes and watches are expensive, let us introduce you to the extravagant world of ministry aircraft. From the mundane to the exotic, we are tracking trips to ministry events and vacation destinations.
Trinity Foundation recently launched Pastor Planes, an investigative project, with the objective of bringing financial transparency to churches, ministries and Christian universities using privately owned aircraft.
Trinity Foundation is currently tracking 50 aircraft.
By our calculations, there are days when more than $100,000 is spent on private-jet and charter-jet travel by televangelists, ministry executives and Christian university personnel. In addition to the cost of purchasing or leasing aircraft, jet fuel, pilots’ salaries, inspections, repairs, insurance, landing fees, and hanger fees result in higher travel expenses.
Christian leaders are commanded to be good stewards of resources entrusted to them. 1 Corinthians 4:2 says, ”Moreover, it is required of stewards that they be found trustworthy.”