An Appeal To The SEB Community

I recently returned from leave in Texas where I was introduced to an alarming concept, the Megachurch. I was invited to attend the ceremony by a long time friend and although I had no interest given that I am an atheist, I thought it might be a way to kill a Sunday morning with a friend who I hadn’t seen in quite some time and I felt obliged to indulge his fantasy that I might convert from a godless heathen to a Evangelical “Warrior of Jesus”.

Anyway, after the ceremony was through and I said goodbye to my friend, I went to the first Barnes & Noble to see if I could find anything about the Megachurch. Although I was frightened by the experience, and possibly scarred, I was still intrigued. The commercialism of McDonald’s, the casual attire of the GAP crowd, the sheer mass of the audience both worried and confused me. As it turns out, I was able to find a hilarious book by Robert Lanham called, appropriately enough, “The Sinner’s Guide to The Evangelical Right”. I casually read a few pages, had a laugh or two, and thought it would be a good read for the long flight home to Sicily.

Well, after I finished reading and washing the remaining bile from my mouth (I laughed so hard I puked), I began thinking, “why hasn’t anyone said something before?” Finally, it dawned on me, no one cared. Well, to be more precise, it wasn’t that no one cared, it was that no one cared enough. Well, for some time now I’ve been looking for something I could do to make my mark on society. Something I could really work at and try and better both myself and those around me, and I found the answer in a non-profit. For years now, Megachurches have flourished under the shelter of tax-exemption. They’ve raked in millions per year without giving back to their respective communities and have enjoyed the endorsement of both the IRS and the Federal Government in lavishing their leadership with six-figure-salaries and homes worth millions.

For instance, Creflo Dollar of the Christian World Changers Ministries in Georgia flies to New York on a weekly basis in his private jet to seek donations from his congregation. To add insult to injury, the majority of his congregation comes from the poorest of the five burrows and his Ministry’s Outreach programs in the region are practically non-existent. As the head of the church and its five divisions, including Arrow Records, Dollar stands to gain from every penny donated to the church. Were this an isolated incident, it would be criminal, given that in Texas alone there are over 150 such Megachurches, and that Rick Warren’s Ministry in California took in a record 7 million in donations during a single Sunday, all while enjoying tax exemption, this is fraud of the worst variety.

With that in mind, several associates of mine and I have begun work on a non-profit organization, and I hate to pander, but given the nature of the SEB Community, I thought it best to appeal for support here first. Consider this a compliment. As for my request, I would appreciate any advice or expertise in web design, marketing, and research in the fields of tax law (including exemption), and the so-called “Megachurch Society”.

Surmise to say, several associates of mine and I are currently forming a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to expose the Megachurches of the United States for what they truly are; corporations operating under a thin veneer of religious imagery in order to exploit their congregations and the tax exemption laws of the United States. We’ve managed to secure a website which will be forthcoming as soon as our design is finalized and we hope to secure our status as a non-profit should the need arise. However, we lack a support network. We have recruited several volunteers willing to help us in marketing and research as well as staff writers, a photographer, webmaster, and legal aid. Given their voluntary status, however, we still need the support of anyone willing to help. If you would like more information, or should you have any advice or expertise you are willing to lend, please feel free to e-mail myself at .

69 thoughts on “An Appeal To The SEB Community

  1. OH NOES A CAUSE!!!  LES KNOWS MY WEAKNESS!!

    Sign me up in any way or form you can.  I am a sucker for helping causes and would love to get involved.  Granted I’m still a student so things are tied for me and I’m really only a specialist in molecular biology with a focus on proteomics.  I’m a good writer (damn good) and researcher however (was considering to become a PI if I couldn’t enter science)and am an excellent debator.  I’ll happily join your merry band.  Would prefer writing articles and such but I’ll dig around if you want, there are a few Megachurches around here.

    You have my E-mail, or at least one of them.

  2. The problem with Megachurches is that while they draw millions in donations, they typically fail to direct this money to social outreach programs where it is intended or they use the money for overtly political purposes which happens to be a big no-no for non-profit oganizations. Case in point, Rick Warren’s church sent out pamphlets prior to the 2004 election directing pastors of associate congregations to urge their followers to vote for Bush. As per US Law, no non-profit organization may endorse a political candidate or use its profits for the promotion of a political party. As of 2007, Rick Warren’s ministry still enjoys its tax-exempt status. Had his ministry’s profits been taxed, tens of millions of dollars would have been available for the government to disburse to social reform and outreach programs. Some have argued that the church already has these programs in place. While many of these ministries do have social outreach programs, their focus is directed towards conversion and or their budget suffers due to costs associated with the church’s extravagant spending. Surmise to say, information is the key. We have a voice, now we need something to say.

  3. I’ve heard reports of a Megachurch in Colorado Springs that labels the children in its daycare center with a barcode tag so that they aren’t “misplaced”. Seriously. Additionally, the focus of our efforts at present are Texas Megachurches. Primarily, Lakewood Church in Houston. Its attendance rate is so high that they purchased the former home of the Houston Rockets after which it underwent a 75 million dollar renovation to accomodate their congregation.

  4. As an aside, we are currently offering 30 charter memberships to anyone who is willing to participate. Membership does not require any fees or any obligations aside from contributions. Contributions can be one-time or more, it does not matter. Every little bit helps.

  5. Neo, on your application for tax-exemption does it require ‘a cause’, cos if it does and you’re honest and you say ‘exposing the wasteful expenditure [or pick another word or phrase] of mega-churches’ I reckon you’ll get a knock back.

    You may like to get in contact with the author who first awoke this passion in you.
    He, too, may feel rather resentful toward those scamming mother fuckers [sic] and have some ideas of his own – you could save some time.  wink

    By the way, watch out for the FBI or in this case the CIA seeing as you’re safely (?) outside USA – you’ll be on the anti Commie-in god we trust -xian nation-one nation under god, hit list and that won’t do your chances of promotion much good.
    How strongly do you really feel? wink

    Having said that, logic doesn’t seem to work when you’re argufying against established religions spending up big on their leaders – they’ll twist it and say you’re against the American god; don’t you think the American god’s worth it?
    In this case Benny, Pat, Gerry or Creflo, et al, is GOD (maybe all of them are – xianity is very accommodating).

    Even though I and many others agree with your sentiments don’t be too idealistic – never forget these mother fucking child abusers have been playing this game for hundreds of years.
    Don’t forget they convinced the most powerful leader in the free world that he could use justifications in their religion to make a pre-emptive strike on another nation, look like a crusading saviour (initially) and still make money outa oil – this is a very powerful meme.

    As a bit of strategic advice, collect lotsa generic data on all the mega-scammers and when one of the mother fuckers hits a wall go for the jugular but do not even consider striking this year, you won’t be ready.

    Ingersoll: The king owned the bodies, and the priest the souls, of men.
    One lived on taxes, the other on alms.
    One was a robber, the other a beggar, and each was both.

    Always remember: Information is power.

    Oh and good luck.  smile

  6. John,
    Our application for tax-exemption status won’t be for some time. Our purpose, while directed primarily at institutions such as Megachurches is not to attack these organizations because of their religious affiliations, but because they are amongst the most profitable non-profit organizations in the United States and, in general, appear to be the biggest abusers of this legal status. We intend to investigate other such groups, but these happen to be the most prominent. We neither endorse an organizations principles nor do support them. Our focus are their practices. If an organization exploits current law in order to circumvent taxation for the purpose of generating wealth for its leadership, it is fraudulent in its filing for tax-exemption status. As I said before, we do not attack principles, we attack practice. As for the issue of my status of living abroad, that will soon be rectified. Additionally, you are correct in your assumption that arguing against those who are guilty is fruitless, that however is not the purpose of argument. Our goal is not to convince them of any wrongdoing, but to convince the IRS and the public at large. We can accomplish this through viral marketing campaigns, and the very documentation provided by the NPO themselves. The issue here is money, as it always has been. If we assume that half of the Megachurches in the United States will be subject to taxation, we can assume that the federal government will profit in taxes will not be millions, tens of millions, but hundreds of millions of dollars. The almight dollar reigns supreme. Finally, when it comes to striking back, let me digress to discuss the American Evangelicals themselves. This group has been organizing for 30 years, they have managed to influens American culture to the point of influencing national elections. A single strike, no matter how small will have an effect. The real question is, will we as moderates or liberals have 30 years to organize? Any action, just so long as it is appropriate and soon will have an effect.

  7. The category is: Things that should be quoted.  grin

    We have a voice, now we need something to say.

    Membership does not require any fees or any obligations aside from contributions.

    Now, within the same paragraph-

    Our purpose, while directed primarily at institutions such as Megachurches is not to attack

    A single strike,

    Nothing finer than an atheist soliciting contributions to say something, they don’t know what yet, and that whatever is decided on to say, it won’t be an attack, but rather a strike.

  8. I suppose you have a point consigliere. I was a not only unclear, but in my caffeing-driven sermon, I misrepresented our intentions. Allow me to be clear.
    Our Message:
        Any organization which misrepresents its true purpose in order to operate under the financial shelter of tax-exemption is defrauding the Federal Government. Furthermore, any organization which claims tax-exemption should be subject to review, and if found to be at fault, should lose its exemption and suffer appropriate penalties in the form of retroactive taxation for the period in which the non-profit violated the terms of application. We believe that a large number of non-profit organizations in the United States may be violating the terms of their status are subject to review by the IRS. By providing a detailed review of an organizations spending policies and practices to the public, we believe we can provide support for those who rightfully enjoy tax-exemption while subjecting those who do not, to proper review by the IRS.

    As for whether any action would be an “attack”, I did not mean to confuse to distort our message. Let me be clear, any review of an organization that finds it to be at fault would be negative. A review which found an organization to be in line with the principles of a non-profit would a positive review.

    As for the first two quotes, allow me to give a more proper explanation for each.
    1. “We have a voice, now we need something to say.” Translates into, we have a purpose, but we require research data in several fields.

    2. “Membership does not require any fees or any obligations aside from contributions.” At the time, I thought I was fairly straightforward. Should you be willing to support us with research data, expertise, etcetera, we would be more than happy to list you as a member for filing purposes, but without support of some kind, even if only in name, we cannot reasonably claim you as a member. To do so would be dishonest.

  9. I think the cause is good.  And there is no need to shut down megachurches.  There just needs to be some defined limits of how they can operate.  But without a lot of evidence being collected this may be an uphill battle.

    If you are going to push a review by the IRS of these organizations in violation, make sure you do so once Bush is out of office…

  10. I have a better idea.  Instead of worrying about which companies might be tax exempt, why not campaign for the government to repeal income taxes on all corporations, for-profit or otherwise?

    The corporate income tax is probably the single most wasteful and couter-productive source of government revenue.  It’s estimated that upwards of $200 billion is spent by companies to reduce their tax burden.  That’s actually more than the $150 billion in tax revenues the government collects.  In other words, the majority of the corporate income tax’s cost doesn’t end up in federal coffers—it simply disappears.

    Having a corporate income tax creates a huge economic incentive to move manufacturing and production plants outside the U.S.  Companies like Intel build all their captial-intensive facilities in countries like Thailand where corporate profits are untaxed.

    American companies also carry significantly higher debt burdens than companies in other countries.  That’s no accident.  Interest on debt is tax-deductible, whereas the capital gains accrued from assets sitting on your balance sheet are taxed.  The rational thing for a corporation to do is pile up debt.

    Neodromos: Had his ministry’s profits been taxed, tens of millions of dollars would have been available for the government to disburse to social reform and outreach programs.

    Or, what’s more likely, tens of millions of dollars could have disappeared into the black hole known as “the Federal government”.

    Your concern for social outreach is touching, considering that secular liberals are far less charitable than Christians by just about any measure—monetary donations, hours volunteered, or even blood donated.

  11. it simply disappears.

    Doubit it. When’d they start eating money?

    Your concern for social outreach is touching, considering that secular liberals are far less charitable than Christians by just about any measure—monetary donations, hours volunteered, or even blood donated.

    And this has been knocked elsewhere on the site. Your preoccupation with people’s voting habits is as bizarre as Christians’ preoccupation with sex.

  12. Daryl, what the hell are you talking about?

    Intel doesn’t have to pay taxes on the specific operation in Thailand, yes.  But if that plant was in the US they would pay more taxes at a state level.  Which is why a lot of manufacturing jobs try to hook up in New Jersey.  New Jersey has no tax for plants in their state as do other states.

    But if you go here, you can obviously see from the PDF that Intel still pays taxes.  Corporate profits are not taxed by Thailand, because Intel registered as a corporation in the US. 

    Which, despite your irrational argument, many companies still do.  Most companies register in the US as a corp because of the limited liability they get, and other protections as a corp.  Other countries have different rules and some higher taxes than the US.

    This is about all I could go after in your incoherent diatribe.

  13. I’m kinda with LuckyJohn on how this should be carried out.  The CIA and FBI still sees the #1 enemy as the communists, terrorists are just small frys.  Push for an agenda that some communists can cling to and you will end up in trouble.

    If you really want to hit those scammed churches than be very cautious. Like John said, information is key so make sure that the argument is air tight before moving.  Remember that they can turn this into an “atheist” comspiracy and with their money, if they feel threatened they can really put on the hurt.  Maybe branch out to cover other subjects like psuedo-science and “mystic” con-men.  They are a much more disorganized institution that are just as much in need of some selective pressure as the mega-scam churches.  Good practise too.  Make sure that the methods employed are highly effective and through the correct streams, else the tables can turn on you and society will tar and feather you.  These guys are good at covering their tracks and you will need exceptional personal who are just as incorruptable as the bloody FBI.  Else everything will go to hell for the organization.

    The ideal situation is where all quacks using religious and mystic jargon to further their greed will have to spend so much time watching their backs that their ability to convincingly con is severly diminished.  Will take a lot of excellent sleuthing however to make the “observer effect” feared.

    With the right conditions and the right people, this could really work out.  It can also work out horribly wrong like John is hinting.

  14. Maybe branch out to cover other subjects like psuedo-science and “mystic” con-men.

    My issue with this is how do we handle the PR when we equated churches with con-men and “satanic” mysticism. They can flog it out much harder than we can, and such a perspective does not necessarily align with the values of the people we’re appealing to.

    I like the idea of hitting a spectrum of things, but specialization seems to be the better mode of operation.

  15. I am soooo down for this. I am not the most eloquent or the quitest nor am I very smart, but I make one hell of a rabal rouser when needed.

    “flectere si nequeo superos, Achaeronta movebo”

  16. The issue here is with any non-profit that exploits their status. Megachurches are a prime example of this. Of course, there is the distinct possibility that not every Megachurch operates in this fashion. In order to remain neutral, we would like to review and investigate secular and non-secular entities alike and issue a rating based up the evidence. Should a church or any other institution pass muster, we would be willing to promote their “clean bill of health” on our website. There is the distinct possibility that this could be construed as an endorsement, however, with a constant emphasis on a critique of practice instead of principle, we can hope to maintain a level of neutrality.
    As to the issue of fighting any corporation. I think it would be unwise. More to the point, I think it would suicide to lobby for the repeal of corporate income taxes. That is a fight that I cannot win. But to expose fraud in institutions that rob local economies of millions in tax dollars? Who would be willing to stand by and say, “It’s alright if our city’s schools are overcrowded, the poverty rate is above the national average, and our police and fire departments are underfunded so that men like Creflo Dollar can rake in millions in untaxed income while the people around them suffer.” That is my point, a non-profit organization such as a church is respected for its efforts in social outreach programs, when they not only fail in this regard, but exploit the poor they are supposed to be serving, this is fraud, and its an initative I think more blue-collar Americans would support than repealing taxes they can’t understand or care about.

  17. Have to enlist a guilter. A person who guilts people out of their money.  Count the money in the back…not enough bring out the guilter. Sinners all sinners need more only YOU can make it happen…guilt guilt guilt.

  18. Daryl: why not campaign for the government to repeal income taxes on all corporations

    How is it gonna benefit you personally? Are you a part ‘owner’ of a corporation.
    You made a lot of waaaaayy out claims there inya post with not a scrap of evidence.
    This is the way of the xian … you oughta join’em – you’d make a good xian.  wink

    American companies also carry significantly higher debt burdens than companies in other countries.

    That sounds terrible … butcha don’t really know. Got any proof?

    The rational thing for a corporation to do is pile up debt.

    No; the honourable thing would be to pay the due taxes (something about rendering unto Caesar) AND stay in the black.

    Or, what’s more likely, tens of millions of dollars could have disappeared into the black hole known as “the Federal government”.

    Betcha voted for the Shrub, dintcha? Yeah?
    Reckon he wasted a coupla bucks in Iraq? Yeah?
    Reckon the Halliburton CORPORATION got some? Yeah?

    Your concern for social outreach is touching, considering that secular liberals are far less charitable than Christians by just about any measure—monetary donations, hours volunteered, or even blood donated.

    You’re guessing, aren’t you? You don’t know how many atheists are out there.
    I’ll tell you what though, many xians are paying lip service to xianity so they can: get a job, keep a job, run for and win public office (in many states you can’t do so unless you’re ‘a person of faith’)), keep families together, stay part of a family and too many other things to mention … you sure as hell couldn’t become the president unless you were ‘a person of faith’.
    By the way, per capita in USA there are more ‘people of faith’ in your prisons than atheists.
    Guess their ‘people of faith’ moral compass went awry. Yeah?

    Aw yeah and, the main reason corporations go overseas is the low wages they can get away with paying the workers.
    Didn’t you know that, ya goose?

    [/rave]

  19. Your concern for social outreach is touching, considering that secular liberals are far less charitable than Christians by just about any measure—monetary donations, hours volunteered, or even blood donated.

    Wait a minute. I thought Daryl was against charity. At least where federal money is concerned…

  20. I have no idea what the hell bobo was talking about, but as for the gracious offers for help. Anyone having experience or expertise in drafting a set of articles of incorporation would be nice.

  21. Additionally, I wouldn’t want to become an unwelcomed guest and use Les’ bandwith so you can expect our organization’s site to go live within a the next couple of weeks so your questions, comments, concerns can be directed there where I’ll be paying for it. grin

  22. I’m just curious—is it the thesis that you guys are the geniuses and the churchgoers poor deluded fools just waiting for you to rescue them? Get over yourselves.

    Are the megachurches rounding up and compelling people to attend? Do they extort money from the people they trick into coming to the church? Some people find joy in the worship of God. They enjoy it so much they happily fork over funds to the charismatic perhaps-charlatans who preside over the megachurches. Is that so wrong?

    Do you honestly believe that Planned Parenthood, Amnesty International, ACLU, PETA, Habitat for Humanity, and any of the other pet lefty charities are politically neutral organizations? That they don’t attempt to influence US politics? Wake up!

    The only difference between these organizations and these megachurches you hope to expose is the presence of God. I’ll trade you Rick Warren and his megachurch for all these nitwit lefties.

  23. No – and that was never the question. The point to be made was that these megachurches, some of them, have very questionable spending practices and whose “charities” are often dubious or nowhere to be found – which is the principal reason for their tax exempt status.

    I don’t have objection to people throwing money at their church. I do have objection to that money not benefitting the public at large, but being spent on things such as stadiums and private jets.

  24. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Case in point, Lakewood Church in Houston Texas. The Houston AISD is over budget by almost 30 million dollars every year and has even initiated a bond drive to repair its dilapidated facilities. Were Lakewood to lose their tax exemption privilege, the taxes earned by the city of Houston would pay for the annual deficit with plenty of spare change. I have no problem with with churches sucking every penny out of their followers, but applying for tax exemption for doing it is outright fraud. Not only that, but a large number of these organizations are exempt from publicly filing spending reports and accounting data because they are protected organizations.

  25. Brendon: Do they extort money from the people they trick into coming to the church?

    Well, yes.
    The poor IDiots are sucked to the xian and muslim (there’s little difference, is there?) temples cos they’re told from everywhere that if they don’t take Jaysus into their evil heart they’ll spend eternity in a burning lake of fire.
    Yes. I know it’s a childish and silly idea but there are sections of the community, even here in Oz, who believe that shit.
    Personally, if I didn’t tend toward fanatical apathy, I’d spend the rest of my life trying to save those poor miserable frightened victims from those professional scammers you seem to worship but … fuck ‘em.  wink

  26. Brendon Carr: I’m just curious—is it the thesis that you guys are the geniuses and the churchgoers poor deluded fools just waiting for you to rescue them?

    I was going to reply with something along the lines of, “When an idiot asks a genius if he thinks he’s smart, the genius can only respond, ‘Duh.’”,  but you answered your own question:

    Brendon Carr: The only difference between these organizations and these megachurches you hope to expose is the presence of God.

    Here’s another difference – Habitat for Humanity is an ecumenical christian charity that actually helps people.  If you don’t believe that, come on down here to the gulf coast and pick up a fucking hammer, ‘cause we’re still building houses for Katrina victims.  Haven’t seen anyone from a Texas megachurch help pitch in.

    Conclusion: They’re poor deluded fools and you’re an idiot.  Q.E.D.

    Also, here’s an interesting read about some of the characteristics of megachurches, that’s made more relevant to this discussion in that the word “charity” doesn’t appear at all, while there’s a whole section on Spiritual Entepeneurship.

  27. Actually, I think Brendon threw in Habitat for Humanity simply because it’s associated with Jimmy Carter, who’s one of us evil Satanic Democrats.

  28. More than willing to help, im no legal expert, but many, if not all of us here, find a common enemy in the church.  dkaries1@yahoo.com, let me know what all I can do.  Btw, put something showing youre from here, cause i get spammed all to hell.

  29. An update for those who have offered their support; I have assmebled a board of directors in accordance with Texas state law and I will file with the state our Articles of Incorporation. Accordingly, once we have passed this first hurdle, we will file with the IRS for tax exemption status so that we can purchase office space in Texas as well seek monetary donations to cover the expenses associated with the creation of our group. This, however, does not mean to say that we offer salaries or compensation to our members. I am a firm believer that any organization such as our should focus its efforts and its budget on its cause. Although I intend to file as the director, I will not recieve compensation for my work. Everything we do for the present is voluntary. We currently need a design for our site. We have a provisional site for now, but it is still in its infancy.

  30. assmebled

    I’ve done a bit of assmebling myself in years gone by … so Texas state law expect you to assmeblify a board of directors – hope you have a professional assmeblifier cos amateur assmeblificationists are a bitch to get up to speed cos they spend a lotta time just standing round assmebling to themselves.

    Okay – I’ve had me fun and picked meself up from the floor.
    I’m serious again now.  LOL
    Sorry, that was a residual spasm; it won’t happen again.

  31. My fault, I didn’t spellcheck. But then again, I do have the foresight to have another review my work when it comes to legal matters.

  32. you’ll have to forgive me.  i rarely post here, but this caught my attention… my being from texas… and houston.

    Additionally, the focus of our efforts at present are Texas Megachurches. Primarily, Lakewood Church in Houston. Its attendance rate is so high that they purchased the former home of the Houston Rockets after which it underwent a 75 million dollar renovation to accomodate their congregation.

    i’m just curious here and perhaps i’ve misunderstood.  you say you just returned from leave in texas.  so i assume you are not from here?  and you are currently targetting lakewood church in houston?

    IF i’ve understood that correctly, i’m curious as to whether or not you know anything about lakewood church, other than they’re positively HUGE?

    to my knowledge, lakewood has an exclusive lease with the city to use compaq center….and it was lakewood that spent the $75 million on the renovations, not the city.  please research that further, as you seem to be starting off without all the facts.  (it’s also possible that i’m unaware of a “purchase” taking place, i’ll admit.)

    i feel compelled to also point out that f there is one church in houston that gives back to it’s community, that’d be lakewood.  when tropical storm allison hit us, lakewood went above and beyond what any other churches in the area were doing. shelter for people and pets, food, clothing, you name it… along with monetary aid. (for those who don’t know or may not remember: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tropical_Storm_Allison )

    i may not agree with joel osteen and his views; however, i think he, unlike his father, is fairly sincere.  yes, he owns a $1M home.  he also has turned down his salary as pastor in the past.

    i think perhaps there are much better “conmen” to target… say, oh…that crazy pink haired lady and her husband on tbn.  😐  jan crouch and whatshisface?  *those* people are shysters.

    i *do* completely understand that people want to remove tax shelters and stuff from churches and on that i can agree…i think.  i’d have to consider the ramifications.

    anyways, there’s my concerns.

  33. I returned from leave in Texas, yes. I was visiting my home. I was born and raised in Texas. In fact, prior to my assignment overseas with the USN. I spent my entire life in Texas. Secondly, I never claimed that the city of Houston paid for the renovations to the Compaq center and yes, the lease of the Compaq center expired at which time Lakewood Church officially purchased the building. Third, while I agree the Church’s efforts in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Allison were noble, their refusal to disclose their financial records is troublesome. Any non-profit organization enjoys tax-exemption status because their purpose is not to financially enrich their directors, board of trustees, etcetera, but to further a cause that is in the best interest of the public. That being sad, I applaud the Lakewood congregation for their efforts. Our concern are those ministries which violate their respective Articles of Incorporation and use their tax-exemption status for financial gain. As I said before, the reason why I spoke of “Megachurches” in the first place was because they appear to be the biggest violators as a group. That, however, does not mean that we do not intend to focus our efforts on other groups as well.

  34. yes, the lease of the Compaq center expired at which time Lakewood Church officially purchased the building

    do you have a source for that by any chance?  i was under the impression that they signed a 30-year lease with the city, with option to renew at the end of that.  additionally, http://www.hcad.org (harris county appraisal district) still lists the city of houston as owner of the compaq center.

    as to their “refusal to disclose their financial records”, i’m also curious on this point.  who have they refused to disclose them to?  is there a source on this?  my lack of an ability to find them on the internet doesn’t equate to their refusal, so i’d like to see something which backs that up.

  35. Here in Minnesota there’s been some investigation into one of the local MegaC’s, and Pastor Mac Hammond.  Last fall, he endorsed Michele Bachman for Representative, having her speak at the church in Brooklyn Park and stating that he would be voting for her, even though he doesn’t live in her district.  There’s a watchdog group looking into their tax-exempt status.  The Minneapolis Star Tribune did a big write-up on his ministry http://www.startribune.com/462/story/993598.html which has sparked quite a bit of back & forth in the editorial pages. 

    Apparently, according to the folks running these deals, Jesus wants his followers to be wealthy.  Everyone is required to “tithe” from their before-tax earnings.  This particular outfit also owns a big no-booze christian rock nightclub in downtown Minneapolis, that they also tried to claim as a church when a couple of strip joints moved in across the street and around the corner.  Just because they hold prayer sessions in the bar.  City Pages did a bit on that place http://citypages.com/databank/27/1358/article14982.asp and on the church as well. 

    If they could get the bar designated as a church, I wonder if they could get the strip joints designated as gynecology clinics?

  36. do you have a source for that by any chance?

    Looks like someone may have been caught with their pants down.  Suddenly this thread became interesting to me.

  37. Looks like someone may have been caught with their pants down.  Suddenly this thread became interesting to me.

    Says the man who tends to keep his perspective to himself. Tell me (and inadvertantly, everyone else, if you would), why it became interesting.

    No, really. XD

  38. Consigliere has a point. My original source was author Robert Lanham but it seems he was mistaken. I made a few phone calls and the church has not “purchased” the center but has signed into an exclusive lease with the city of Houston. The church was awarded the lease for a period of 30 years, in favor of Crescent Real Estate, and was required by the city to
    “Pay the city $12.2 million up front and in cash. They must also make $69 million in improvements, including a parking garage and give the city free use of the facility 20 days a year.”
    The deal was later challenged in court by Crescent who argued that
    “Deed restrictions are enforceable, and they do not allow for a church at the Compaq Center site”

    Sources include the following:
    KPRC News Houston
    Tom Kirkendall of the Houston Clear Thinkers
    CNNSI.com “Compaq Center Lease Awarded to Church” from Associated Press Houston

    I have to admit, Consigliere has a point. Any claim with no source is about as fruitful as the claims made on timecube.com. That, of course, is why I have enlisted the help of an old friend of mine at Hardin Simmons University in Abilene. He’s a political science major and Southern Baptist who I think will help keep our organization on track. As an atheist, I admit that I have a tendency to find fault in any religious organization, but with the help of a social conservative, I think we can create a balance of sorts so that our organization can’t be accused of political or religious bias. Then again, accusations are inevitable. I would appreciate your help consigliere. While I think the point of your question was not simply to disredit me but to make me look like an ass, those questions are exactly the type we will have to field and I would appreciate your help.

  39. I made a few phone calls and the church has not “purchased” the center but has signed into an exclusive lease with the city of Houston.

    ok, now we’re on the same footing.  thank you.  i believed that was the case, but thought maybe i’d gotten my own information wrong.  it happens, hey? 

    and that’s why i asked for a source.  so many claims are made, it’s always nice to see supporting evidence.  i’d still like to see something on lakewood church’s refusal to disclose financial records, as i’ve read articles about the houston chronicle’s obtaining their financial records, etc.  so again, while i believe one thing to be the case, i recognize that i may not have all the facts.

    I would appreciate your help consigliere. While I think the point of your question was not simply to disredit me but to make me look like an ass, those questions are exactly the type we will have to field and I would appreciate your help.

    it wasn’t consigliere who asked.  it was me.  and the point of my question was not to discredit you OR to make you look like an ass (though admittedly, you seem to be doing a fine job of that yourself).

    here is why i posted: i’m from houston, i’m from texas.  the entry caught my eye.  it stated things that i believed were not the case, but i’m aware that i can be wrong.  quickest way to find out…ask.  which is what i did and which is why i asked for a source.  if i’m wrong, i want to know it and correct it.  smile  i think i stated much the same in previous posts.

    and yes, these are exactly the type of questions that you’ll need to field.  if you are going to “attack” any organization, belief, etc, then you’re going to have to have supporting “evidence”.

    you’ll pardon me if you find me leery of your new endeavour as you seem to be starting off on entirely the wrong footing; however, i wish you luck.

  40. I have contacted Lakewood by phone, fax, and e-mail. Each time I recieved the same answer “We do not disclose our financial records to anyone outside of our accounting department.” “We are not required to release that information and we will not do so at this time.” I also had two associates of mine request the same information to which Lakewood flatly refused. As for attacking any organization, I do not plan to attack any organization without evidence. I listed what I knew thus far and requested assistance in finding more. What I have found thus far is troubling, but is not an indictment. Were I to assume that Lakewood is currently exploiting their tax-exemption status before doing any research in the matter, I would inevitably find fault in their practices where there are none. We only see what we want to see. After doing some research on the Lakewood Church, I had probable cause to believe that something was indeed wrong. I, however, can’t rightfully make that claim without supporting evidence which is why I’ve asked for assistance. As for off on the wrong footing, I admit the distinct possibility that I am biased. We all are to some degree, that is why I do not have the final say in the matter. The findings of each investigation we assume are reviewed by an independant third party; in this case, the IRS. Our goal is to provide them with evidence, if it exists, of any wrongdoing. If not, we say nothing.

  41. I have contacted Lakewood by phone, fax, and e-mail.

    joe blow calls me from out of nowhere, asking for my financial records, i’m apt to say the same as lakewood.  i give them credit for not saying “and who the f*ck are you?”.

    taken from this article:  “According to a copy of the church’s most recent audited financial statement obtained by the Chronicle and a review of public records including court documents, Lakewood is a sophisticated and successful business operation.” 

    so it would appear that *someone* is able to obtain those documents.

    it did indeed sound as if you were assuming that lakewood church was exploiting their tax exempt status, without doing any extensive research on the matter.

    it is not my intention, however, to say that they are ~not~.  i haven’t reviewed their records, myself.

  42. In this case, credentials do not matter. In accordance with US Law any non-profit organization must make publicly available its Annual Information Return (Form 990), churches are exempt. Churches, however, are still required by law to make available their Form 990-T for unrelated business income taxes which Lakewood failed to do. In this matter, the law is quite clear, the request must be honored no matter who made the request. So in this case, the church does not have the authority to question my request. I can only assume that because I made my intentions clear, were they hesitant or unwilling to comply.

  43. ok, you’ve stumped me.  i really do not know tax laws or how lakewood church is set up as an entity and how that affects what they are required to release and what they are not.

    i have only two newspaper articles ( here and here ) which reference their release of such documents and that they are always “notable for their accountability”.

    i’ve attempted to contact them, myself, and was unable to get anyone by phone, so have emailed them.

    i do know this:  i have family which works for a non-profit organization (not a church), so i called them and asked them what the response would be to “the general public” calling them and asking for their financial documents.  they, too, are required to release those documents; however, their response would be (regardless of contact in person, by phone, or in writing) that you would need to contact their accounting department and most likely, the accounting department would forward your request to their board of directors. 

    this is done not as a means to “cover up fraud”, but to ensure that all legalities are met, since the secretary you are likely to speak to is not going to know all the laws and requirements that go along with such a request.

    i’m curious as to the response that i’ll get from lakewood church…

  44. Their refusal to release the information to me, or the secretary’s response is not an indictment in my mind. It was troubling that when I pressed the issue they refused to direct me to their accounting service. That being said, Lakewood itself is not the issue here, but rather, non-profits as a whole. The IRS publishes a monthly report of non-profits that have had their status revoked and the numbers are staggering. As for the current focus on megachurches. The ability to commit fraud within these particular organizations is much more profound given the size of their budgets, lack of accountability, and history of dubious practices.

  45. …Lakewood itself is not the issue here…

    let me remind you:

    Additionally, the focus of our efforts at present are Texas Megachurches. Primarily, Lakewood Church in Houston.

    yes, the issue ~here~ is lakewood church.  it was you who named them specifically and it was you who made false statements regarding them (their “purchase” of compaq center) and it was this, specifically, that i was addressing. 

    i, myself, am usually skeptical of religious institutions and corporations.  when i find myself biased in favor of one, i’m therefore open to evidence to the contrary.

    but…the only supporting evidence, at the moment, that lakewood church refuses to disclose financial documents… is basically hearsay.  you are your own supporting evidence.

    hrm. 

    there is ~other~ supporting evidence that they have and do release financial records (and are said by the new york times to be among the most exemplary in doing so). 

    so colour me a skeptic.

    …Lakewood itself is not the issue here, but rather, non-profits as a whole…

    hrm, but i thought…

    …several associates of mine and I are currently forming a non-profit organization whose primary purpose is to expose the Megachurches…

    non-profits as a whole?  …or megachurches?  are you sure you’ve worked out what exactly your focus is?

    i fully support organizations, such as http://www.charitynavigator.org, which try to alert people to those charities which are mismanaged, etc.  i think ~fraud~ should be exposed. by all means!

    which reminds me…

    The Houston AISD is over budget by almost 30 million dollars every year and has even initiated a bond drive to repair its dilapidated facilities. Were Lakewood to lose their tax exemption privilege, the taxes earned by the city of Houston would pay for the annual deficit with plenty of spare change. I have no problem with with churches sucking every penny out of their followers, but applying for tax exemption for doing it is outright fraud.

    that the houston school district is in poor shape is fairly evident to anyone who lives here.  laying that at the hands of lakewood church, tho…hrm.  you neglect to point out that HISD spent $6M in 1970 (that was BIG money) to build it’s administration building, which became known as the “Taj Mahal”.  it then considered cutting kindergarten programs due to financial reasons (and had many of it’s board members voted out).  and THEN, up until 2006, sat on property that was worth $38M (that IS big money), while the district bemoaned it’s financial difficulties.

    but you say lakewood church is responsible?  and is committing fraud for asking for donations and applying for tax exemption status? 

    …as you want to do with your new organization? 

    i’m sorry, but i find something to be entirely ~wrong~ with this picture and i find myself more and more leery of your “organization”.  i’m not sure that i could trust a single judgment that it made on ~any~ institution.

    i’ll stick with people like http://www.opensecrets.org and http://www.charitynavigator.org.  they don’t go off half-cocked making judgments and false accusations against institutions without having supporting evidence.

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