By Michelle Boorstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, July 31, 2009
The pastor of a Sterling church says the IRS is investigating his control of church finances, which include $8.5 million in church real estate and hundreds of thousands of dollars' worth of vehicles that he and his wife use in a "racing ministry."
The IRS does not publicly discuss investigations. But Pastor Star R. Scott told members of the 400-person Calvary Temple at a July 12 church discussion that eight IRS agents spent five hours interviewing him July 9. The agents told him that he, not the church, is the subject of civil and criminal probes, he said.
Calvary posts a large portion of its services and weekly pastor-led discussions on the Loudoun County church's Web site. Formerly affiliated with the Assemblies of God, the church became independent in 1986 and now follows its own version of evangelical fundamentalism.
Scott did not respond to several messages left at the church and his home this week and last week. He told congregants that the agents are looking at whether he is misusing money or illegally letting church members write off as donations money that should be taxed. He said the agents referred often to an article about Calvary published in The Washington Post last fall.
He said agents asked about the church's small K-12 year-round school, which Scott years ago directed congregants to call "discipleship training" -- theological guidance supported by "donations" that are tax-deductible, rather than tuition, which is not.
"I don't know how many times we've gone over it. To clarify one more time, we do not have tuition," Scott said on the July 12 audio recording, during which he speculated that church members might be interviewed by the IRS. "We don't have a school." He went on to say that members "can't have been coached" but told them to remember that the payments for discipleship training are "offerings" for "training our children, caring for our children."
Some former members have said that sending children to the school is mandatory. If families fall behind on tithing the amount Calvary pastors believe they can afford, children are sometimes suspended from school, they say. The school, which is limited to church members, is not accredited -- an optional procedure in Virginia -- but it is listed with the College Board, and its graduates' transcripts are accepted by many colleges.
Calvary theology has a strong anti-government current, and in 1991, a Post article quoted Scott as saying he had sent letters to the Environmental Protection Agency saying he would not comply with federal asbestos control rules because Calvary did not run a school. "We believe in the separation of church and state," he told The Post then.
In the July 12 discussion, Scott said the IRS is also focusing on what he calls "the order of Aaron," comparing the clergy in his church to the priests of the Old Testament. Former members said Scott teaches that this means priests control the community's resources. They said that is how he explains using church-paid credit cards for vacation homes, travel and entertainment.
"Talk about you and you alone, and what you know, and not what you don't know," he told congregants. "You can confuse things, and it can be not good consequences. . . . Use as few words as possible." This may be hard for people "who like to feel important," he warned.
Michelle Freeman, who left Calvary in 2007 after 12 years, during which her family split apart over disputes with church leaders, said: "All these people are writing this off on their taxes, and he's using it to raise his standard of living."
Calvary's finances and theology are a painful topic for many former members, who meet on support-group-style e-mail lists and in coffee shops. Some raise financial questions, but the focus is more on how church leaders urge family divisions when there is a dispute about church theology. Married couples are encouraged to divorce, and parents are told to shun children who rebel, they say.
Speaking to The Post last fall, Scott shrugged off the criticism, saying it comes from people claiming to be Christians who were happy to live by Calvary's rules when it suited them.
"I'm at perfect peace with them being gone," he said of the former members. "You'd think they'd be happy because they're not here anymore. We're happy with what we believe, so why aren't they happy?"