Prosperity Gospel Preachers Under Pressure

Morris Cerullo to Face Tax Trial

Two decades on from the infamous events of 1987, this year looks like it’s shaping up as a bit of an annus horribilis for those US evangelists who practice and preach the Prosperity Gospel. WCNC reports:

The onetime leader of the Inspiration Network, now based in Fort Mill, S.C., is in court next week in San Diego on tax evasion charges.

…Cerullo’s attorney says “Dr. Cerullo is extremely disappointed that the charges were filed and believes they are without merit (and) the charges will be proven false.”

But, the federal prosecutor said that the money in question came from offerings at breakthrough rallies and speaking fees. The feds tells us Cerullo used that money as his own.

Cerullo’s previous legal difficulties were reported in Christianity Today last year:

…he was sued twice in 2000 by employees who said they were punished for raising questions about fundraising. The more prominent of these came from John Paul Warren, who said he was fired for confronting Cerullo about “unethical and fraudulent fund raising techniques.”

A California appeals court in December 2001 said that the courts could not get involved in the case since it involved employment at a religious organization, and that state involvement would violate both the Free Exercise Clause and Establishment Clause of the First Amendment. (The Supreme Court in 2002 decided not to hear an appeal.)

Meanwhile, February saw Kenneth Copeland coming under scrutiny:

The Copelands are regarded by many as the most successful televangelists in the world, and they certainly look the part these days—jetting about in their new Cessna Citation, operated, they say, in exact accordance with federal tax law and used solely for ministry purposes.

But flight records News 8 obtained raise questions.

…According to flight records obtained by News 8, the Copeland jet, on its way to an evangelical seminar in Australia last October, made a two-day layover in Maui. Then it was on to the Fiji islands for another stop.

After seven days in Australia, the Copelands headed to Honolulu for another three days of what they called “eating and rest.”

Last December, amid other evangelical stops, there was a jet ride to the Yampa Valley Airport in Colorado, just a few miles away from Steamboat Springs Ski Resort.

This was announced as the Minnesota Star Tribune published its investigations into the finances of another Prosperity preacher, Mac Hammond:

Last week, a Washington watchdog group filed a formal complaint with the Internal Revenue Service against Hammond’s Living Word Christian Center, which now has nearly 10,000 members, broadcasts weekly services to local and national television audience, and runs an array of businesses.

The group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, says the church gave loans to Hammond at favorable rates and created a sweetheart deal on a plane lease, possibly violating federal tax law that forbids insiders from benefiting from a charitable organization. But church officials said they are confident that they are complying with tax laws.

Hammond’s church’s board of directors includes Copeland’s son and “Texas minister Dennis Burke.”

The very idea of the Prosperity Gospel has also recently come under attack in a new book:

Dr. Robert M. Franklin, author of newly released Crisis in the Village, says the achievements of the African American community are losing ground, especially among church leaders who have shifted more focus onto individual achievement.

…”I am convinced that the single greatest threat to the historical legacy and core values of the contemporary black church tradition is posed by what is known as the ‘prosperity gospel’ movement,” he writes, explaining that the black church has assimilated into a culture that is hostile to marginalized people, such as the poor, the HIV-infected, homosexuals and immigrants.

According to Franklin, one-fourth of the black community lives in poverty. But many churches are devoting more time to “building their local kingdoms” and less time aiding and uplifting the poor.

Last month, Cerullo was in Nigeria for a rally. The Tide reported:

An American Evangelist, Morris Cerullo, has urged Nigerian leaders to ensure a sustainable economic empowerment for all Nigerians

“God is in control of politics, oil, education and other facets of the economy,” Cerullo said. …He said Nigerians needed honest and upright men of integrity to move the country forward, noting that “the church provides men of integrity, but the greed of some won’t allow credible people to rule”.

UPDATE: Commentator Jason Spaceman notes another case, that of the Prayer Palace in Toronto:

…the three white pastors – Paul Melnichuk and his 40-year-old twin sons, Tim and Tom – lead lavish lives in contrast to the mainly working-class black families that make up the bulk of the church.

Between them, the pastors have amassed a real estate fortune worth about $12 million. Each owns a multi-million-dollar country estate north of Toronto (Tim’s is worth as much as $5.5 million), they share a Florida vacation villa, and the pastors and their wives drive luxurious cars – among them a Porsche Cayenne SUV, a Lexus RX 330 SUV and a Mercedes-Benz CLK 320 convertible.


…charitable works, like a promised orphanage in Brazil, either dried up or never materialized.

6 Responses

  1. I should have also mentioned the case of The Miracle Channel, a charismatic TV station here in Canada. They’ve also recently come under fire for some of their fundraising efforts.

    Faith and Snake Oil and also Miracle Channel’s expansion questioned

  2. Evangelist going on trial for tax evasion charges 7:24 AM
    07:24 AM EDT on Wednesday, March 14, 2007

    By ANNA CROWLEY / WCNC E-mail Anna: ACrowley@WCNC.COM

    Video On Demand Watch this story

    NEW video at this hour SAN DIEGO, Calif. — The onetime leader of the Inspiration Network, now based in Fort Mill, S.C., is in court next week in San Diego on tax evasion charges. Dr. Morris Cerullo raised the Inspiration Network up from the shambles it was in when owned by Jim Bakker’s PTL Ministry…

  3. […] This discussion of Muwanguzi appears in the context of the prosperity gospel; as it happens, the BBC World Service has just broadcast a documentary on the phenomenon on the other side of the continent, in Ghana. It can be heard here. I blogged on some recent woes for the movement last month. […]

  4. […] Hammond is another figure I blogged recently – he’s linked with Christian Zionist/prosperity preacher Kenneth Copeland, and he’s […]

  5. […] penchant for luxurious hotels. Morris Cerullo, Mac Hammond, and (from Canada) Paul Melnichuk have also faced negative publicity over the use of money. Grassley clearly has a personal distaste for the […]

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