Correction to This Article
ยท A May 24 Religion Page article misspelled the first name of Mathew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law.
  

Probe Biased, Televangelists Say

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By Jacqueline L. Salmon
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, May 24, 2008

Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who is investigating six televangelists for alleged lavish spending, is facing growing criticism from prominent conservatives and evangelicals, some of whom question whether Grassley is biased against the Pentecostal televangelists because of his Baptist faith. Many are also concerned that his probe intrudes on the churches' constitutional right to practice their religion.

Kenneth Copeland, a Texas-based televangelist who is a subject of Grassley's investigation, recently launched a Web site, http://believersstandunited.com, to fight the probe. Copeland said the investigation is "aimed at publicly questioning the religious beliefs of the targeted churches, their ministers, and their members while ignoring televangelists of other denominations."

Copeland's stance is supported by almost two dozen leaders of conservative secular and religious organizations, who criticized the inquiry in a letter sent this month to the Senate Finance Committee. The letter suggested that the ministries were targeted for sharing "the same branch of evangelicalism."

The letter's signers, including Paul Weyrich, Moral Majority co-founder; Ken Blackwell, chairman of the Coalition for a Conservative Majority; and Anthony Verdugo of the Christian Family Coalition, said the probe also infringes on churches' First Amendment rights.

Matthew Staver, dean of the Liberty University School of Law in Lynchburg, Va., who signed the letter, warns that the probe "sets a terrible precedent that . . . should be a concern to all houses of worships across the board -- Christian and non-Christian."

"It may be that Senator Grassley has some kind of personal opinion with regards to the doctrines of these churches," Staver added.

Grassley, who is the top Republican on the Finance Committee, dismisses such criticism, saying that he bears no ill will toward Pentecostals.

"Doctrine is not a part of this committee's review," he said.

The investigation has pitted Grassley against six of the most popular televangelists in the country. All are Pentecostals who preach the "prosperity gospel," which teaches that God will grant financial and spiritual wealth to the faithful. Their ministries include hundreds of thousands of worshipers who watch their TV shows, buy their products and donate to their churches.

For years, the ministries have been the subject of complaints by watchdog organizations and media reports alleging that the charismatic leaders fund extravagant lifestyles with their followers' donations.

Some evangelicals caution that the probe's impact could extend beyond the televangelists and alienate some of the Republican party's religious supporters.

"You've got a Baptist senator attacking six Pentecostals," said Doug Wead, a conservative blogger who served as President George H.W. Bush's liaison to the evangelical community and was an informal adviser to the current President Bush. Wead has appeared on Copeland's national television show, "Believer's Voice of Victory," to defend him. "The timing is not good for the Republican Party."


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