Cover Story

Lone sentry on the wall

"Lone sentry on the wall" Continued...

Issue: "Big bucks ministries," July 28, 2007

But media reports have given some indication of where the organization's money goes. NBC's Dateline reported in 2002 that Hinn lived in a ministry-owned home in California worth $10 million. In a letter to supporters Hinn defended the oceanfront mansion, calling it a "parsonage." He added that the property was a wise investment and noted that it had quadrupled in value.

The segment also reported that Hinn drove a Mercedes SUV and a convertible, both valued at about $80,000. The report documented hotel stays for Hinn ranging from $900 to $3,000 per night, all charged to the ministry. Hinn called the hotel stays "international stopovers" designed for rest.

Hinn says an independent accounting firm audits his organization's finances each year, but he refuses to make the results public. The organization hasn't responded to Wall Watchers' requests for audited financial statements, and Hinn officials did not return calls from WORLD seeking comment. Creflo Dollar Ministries, another nonprofit that would not release financial statements to Wall Watchers, also did not return phone calls from WORLD.

Wall Watchers knows more about the finances of TBN. The network does file public tax returns, and Leonard says the documents reveal some striking information: According to its 2004 filings, TBN's cash and short-term investments totaled more than $340 million. Leonard calls that "a huge cash hoard" for a nonprofit ministry: "They have the profit margins of Microsoft."

TBN's March newsletter announcing the network's spring fundraising telethon included 15 separate links to donating options. Crouch wrote: "If you have a need-'GIVE GOD A SEED!' . . . Fill out your pledge on the flap of your envelope."

In a two-part investigation of TBN, the Los Angeles Times noted that in a past telethon, Crouch encouraged viewers to pledge $1,000, even if they didn't have it. "Do you think God would have any trouble getting 1,000 extra dollars to you somehow?" Crouch asked. The report added that Crouch told viewers: "If you have been healed or saved or blessed through TBN, and have not contributed . . . you are robbing God and will lose your reward in heaven."

TBN spokesman Colby May defends the organization's substantial cash holdings and its appeals for more donations. He points out that television is expensive and says TBN incurs costs of "tens of millions of dollars a month" to broadcast around the world. He also says new FCC regulations will require the organization to make changes that will cost millions more.

May also defends the salaries reported on TBN's tax returns. Paul and Jan Crouch take in a combined total of nearly $800,000 a year, another figure Leonard calls high for a nonprofit ministry. "I'm not saying that people in ministry should be poor," says Leonard, "but you do want to see some degree of sacrifice." May counters by saying that the Crouches built TBN from scratch and that their salaries are small compared to television executives.

Wall Watchers has asked TBN to disclose more financial information, specifically a consolidated audited financial statement that would give a clearer picture of how money flows between TBN and its related corporations. Leonard says TBN has consistently rejected the requests.

May contends that TBN sent Wall Watchers audited financial statements from its individual stations around the country. He forwarded to WORLD a copy of a March 2004 letter to Wall Watchers that said financial statements were enclosed, but did not forward the enclosures.

Leonard says Wall Watchers has never received financial statements from TBN, and showed WORLD an April 2005 letter on TBN letterhead that said: "As stated in past letters to your organization our policy restricts us from including any audited financial statements."

Leonard rejects TBN's assertions that he targets the organization because he disagrees with its theological bent. He does acknowledge his disagreements with so-called "prosperity theology" that emphasizes personal health and wealth as a sign of spiritual blessing: "It's turning the gospel on its head."

But Leonard says he reports fairly on organizations that emphasize prosperity, and points to the St. Louis-based Joyce Meyer Ministries (JMM). In 2005, Wall Watchers issued a "donor alert" for JMM, noting that the ministry did not make financial records public.

The alert also noted a series of reports from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that revealed Meyer and her four children lived with their families in a five-home compound owned by the ministry. The homes were worth a combined total of more than $3.7 million. Meyer's home included a putting green and an eight-car heated garage, according to the report.

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