Tag Archive for: religion

Sell Shoes

In 1977 Carl Reiner directed the movie Oh, God! starring George Burns. Burns won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar in the role. I remember one scene in the movie where George Burns, cast as the Almighty, comes down hard on the lavish lifestyle of a religious leader: “If he wants to make money, tell him to sell shoes.”

I had read the concerns raised by Wall Watchers on the Joyce Meyer organization a few days back. The main concern was whether the Joyce Meyer organization should operate as a church or a public charity. Operating as a public charity affords more financial transparency to ensure appropriate governance and Wall Watchers believes that the Joyce Meyer organization is not operating a congregational church. They also challenge her excessive lifestyle and questionable ministry expenses.

I then came across the current mess with Clint Brown of Faithworld. Yet another story of lavish lifestyles and questionable expenses paid for by donations.

Clint Brown is a preacher and motivational speaker, and he is a successful songwriter. He has written and published over 250 praise and worship songs. He has released 14 albums and he has hit the top 10 list in Praise and Worship distribution charts.

He is the CEO of Tribe Music Group which owns and operates a recording studio as well as a publishing and distribution company.

He is also a pastor of a large church in Orlando, Florida. In less than 10 years Faithworld has grown to over 6,000 members.

This was the article that I came across at ReligionNewsBlog:

FaithWorld has bought a $500,000 parsonage for its embattled pastor, Clint Brown, in what the church’s attorney says was a vote of confidence in the congregation’s leader.

The church bought the house in the gated Park Springs development in southwest Orlando last month. Brown, a nationally known recording artist, has been the focus of media reports in the past two weeks related to a messy divorce case that revealed a lavish lifestyle.

Brown also is named in a suit alleging that $200,000 lent to the church was not returned. Both sides in that dispute agreed that the money was intended to purchase or build a new home for the church. But FaithWorld attorney Mark Matthew O’Mara said Monday that the money instead went into the church’s general fund.

O’Mara said the church’s Dec. 16 purchase of the four-bedroom, three-bath house for Brown on Park Springs Circle “was obviously a vote of confidence. More significantly, it was the appropriate fiscal decision for the church to own a piece of property rather than pay rent on one.”

He said the congregation also made “substantial improvements” on the property.

The church also is paying $7,000 monthly mortgage payments on a $1.4 million home in Alaqua Lakes, a gated Longwood community where Brown lived with his wife, Angela, until February 2003, when they separated.

O’Mara said the church is studying whether it is proper to make payments on two residences for their pastor. Also under examination are credit-card charges by Clint and Angela Brown that were paid by the church.

Neither the Browns nor their attorneys could be reached for comment Monday.

Angela Brown’s divorce filing provides a listing of the couple’s assets, including three Mercedes-Benzes, a Porsche Carrera, a Hummer, a Ford F-150 pickup, a Volkswagen Beetle and two Harley-Davidson motorcycles. Several of the couple’s vehicles were paid for by the congregation.

The court documents also shed light on the couple’s spending.

On a visit to Diamond Quasar Jewels of New York in August 2002, Clint Brown spent $8,800. Other purchases were recorded at tony shops and spas in Bal Harbour; Scottsdale, Ariz.; Las Vegas; and Beverly Hills, Calif. Angela Brown spent more than $1,000 at Victoria’s Secret and nearly $10,000 for shoes at a Dallas store.

Using his wife’s Platinum American Express card, Clint Brown spent $85 at a San Diego Hooters on Jan. 24, 2003, according to court documents. Tattoos and tanning-salon sessions also were charged, along with nearly $1,000 in wine from a Heathrow shop.

In the divorce suit, Angela Brown also said that in one year, her husband charged more than $70,000 in women’s clothes on an American Express card and that neither she nor her daughter received any of the clothing.

O’Mara said that if an examination of the pastor’s credit cards found that some of the charges were for personal expenses, they would be taxable as personal income.

In addition to the divorce controversy, Clint Brown has been sued by Deborah Mitchell, a former church member who said he failed to return a $200,000 loan she made to the church in 1999.

The church maintains the money was a gift to the congregation. Mitchell’s attorney, Howard Marks, acknowledged that there was no written agreement defining the transaction. There were no witnesses to the discussion between Clint Brown and Mitchell, according to the suit.

O’Mara acknowledged that the money originally was intended to buy or build a new home for the church, which was then in Apopka.

“They were looking at a piece of property and building to expand the church,” O’Mara said, until televangelist Benny Hinn decided to move from the Forest City property to Dallas. FaithWorld acquired the property by assuming the $5.8 million debt.

When that happened, O’Mara said, the $200,000 went into the church’s general fund “at a time when they were expanding and incurring a lot of expenses” after the move from Apopka to Forest City Road west of Maitland.

Despite the recent revelations, support for Clint Brown has remained strong among the estimated 6,000 members who fill FaithWorld’s seats.

Janet Thompson, a member of the congregation, said Monday that she supports last month’s purchase of the parsonage for her pastor.

“Great. I’m happy about that. He deserves it,” Thompson said. “I would go to the ends of the Earth for a man of God who deserves it.”

Perhaps Clint should focus on selling shoes.

I’ll Pay You Double

Last night I was playing at a church coffee house. During rehearsal, we joked about the rates for ministry service. “I’ll pay you double” is an old ministry joke. Of course, the base for ministry service is $0. The reward for service is priceless and most volunteers are not motivated by making money through service.

Sadly, this is not true for all types of ministry activities however.

Consider Joyce Meyer.

Joyce Meyer Ministries teaches Bible to a virtual congregation. She is a traveling road show with a multimedia connection to followers. Meyer, 61, offers a gospel of prosperity: God rewards tithing with his blessing. But her own conspicuously prosperous lifestyle includes a $2 million home and a $10 million jet.

Here is a segment from Wall Watchers:

Based on 2002 audited financial statement figures, JMM’s revenue was about $80 million and assets of about $72 million. JMM’s revenues seem to be witnessing a healthy increase and are now reported to be in the neighborhood of about $8 million dollars per month, and approaching $100 million annually.

Some potential troubling aspects about the financial situation include salary and perks, including housing and transportation (multiple vehicles, watercraft and a jet). JMM has generally kept these matters closed, except to that of their substantially family-run board, which are on the payroll and may be receiving some of the perks. Many donors want to know if salary and perks are reasonable when they give and especially if they are encouraged to give sacrificially. JMM is officially organized as a church for Internal Revenue Service purposes; however, it is likely that not too many average church members would view Joyce Meyer Ministries as a traditional congregational church.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch labels the housing situation as “The Meyer Family Compound.” The JMM organization purchased the five homes for Joyce Meyer and her family as the “parsonage.” However, this “parsonage” is worth about $4 million, and has a collective square footage of about 23,358 feet, according to the newspaper. In addition, the organization apparently continues to pay for all expenses, including landscaping, lawn care, property taxes and rehab work. If this situation is legal, it is at the very least giving a black eye to every congregational church in America, because this situation seems excessive and perhaps even abusive.

Others have seen other areas as troubling and they also have problems viewing this organization as a traditional congregational church. The Jefferson County Assessor has raised the issue and his view is that the 52-acre JMM $20 million headquarters is a business. He has said it consists of a 158,139-square-foot office building, a 35,020-square-foot distribution center and a 5,000-square-foot automotive maintenance center. The assessor seems to think that the purposes being held are not purely charitable, but are being held for private or corporate profit. The assessors’ – “commercial supervisor strolled inside the buildings and concluded, “the entire operation has the look and feel of a business – the business of selling religion and, specifically, Joyce Meyer religion.” (St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 11/15/2003, “Jefferson County, Meyer joust over tax exemption”).

Ranging from incredulous to indignant, Meyer responds that ministry expenses are not cheap, further explaining that her husband “just likes cars,” and that she cannot accept that God would expect His people to endure squalor while the ungodly enjoy wealth. Indeed, in response to question by a Post-Dispatch reporter as to whether or not her pay and perks, which are to be “reasonable” by IRS standards, were excessive, she said, “Ministers either have a parsonage that their ministry pays for – like the Pope lives in the Vatican, which is very nice – or they can take a housing allowance and own their own house.”

I’ll pay you double… indeed.

What Would Michael Moore Do?

Check out the debate at Crooked Timber. I’m pretty sure that this isn’t what Jesus would do. It appears that James Dobson’s socially conservative activist group, Focus on the Family, has included Michael Moore’s home address in their daily email to supporters sent out sometime last week. I have no idea whether this is true or not however there is quite the debate on Crooked Timber’s blog on the merits of such an action by a Christian organization.