The Pulpit And the Bling-Bling

Sen. Charles Grassley has requested that Bishop Eddie L. Long of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church detail direct donations from members. (By Gene Blythe -- Associated Press)
By Michelle Singletary
Sunday, November 18, 2007

Is it okay for a minister to live large?

A new probe by Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee, will certainly call into question whether it's appropriate for some leaders of multimillion-dollar ministries to live in majestic homes, drive luxury cars and earn CEO-like salaries.

There's a popular term used to satirize the bling-bling of some prosperous pastors -- "pimps in the pulpit."

I find it a hateful phase. But I'm afraid the perception that there are a lot of these types of preachers will only increase in light of Grassley's probe.

Grassley has asked six high-profile ministries to detail their expenses, compensation and perks. He announced that he was undertaking the investigation to determine if any donations were misused. He said that his request is part of a long-standing look at tax-exempt organizations.

"The allegations involve governing boards that aren't independent and allow generous salaries and housing allowances and amenities such as private jets and Rolls-Royces," Grassley said in launching the inquiry. "I don't want to conclude that there's a problem, but I have an obligation to donors and the taxpayers to find out more. People who donated should have their money spent as intended and in adherence with the tax code."

In letters to the six nationally known ministries, Grassley demanded reams of documentation to back up ministry activities and the use of tax-exempt monies, including certain transfers of church assets to for-profit companies run by the ministers. The letters were sent to:

¿ Randy and Paula White of Without Walls International Church in Tampa. Among other things, Grassley demanded that the Whites explain why the church allegedly bought a Bentley convertible for Bishop T.D. Jakes, who runs the Potter's House in Dallas.

¿ Benny Hinn of World Healing Center Church in Grapevine, Tex. Hinn has been asked for details of his personal use of assets owned by the tax-exempt organization.

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