Excusing Covetousness by Calling It Faith:
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A colorful commentary on the reaction of a diner full of people who watch the
Creflo Dollar interview on CNN.
Creflo Dollar Grilled on CNN
PHILLIPS: They preach prosperity, and their tidings are tax free. Mega riches
for megachurches. Now one U.S. senator has questions. And we speak to a reverend
forced to answer.
LEMON: And this beautiful, bright-eyed girl, born with an eye- popping deformity. Doctors say surgery to remove four extra limbs was successful, but little Lakshmi isn't out of the woods yet. We're following her recovery.
PHILLIPS: Like manna (ph) from heaven, vast amounts of donated money flow into the so-called megachurches each and every week, and none of it flows out in taxes.
Today, half a dozen of today's most popular ministries are under scrutiny by the Senate Finance Committee. At issue, whether or not they deserve their tax-exempt status.
CNN's congressional correspondent, Dana Bash, reports.
PAULA WHITE, TELEVANGELIST: Somebody's getting ready to get up. Get up! Get up in the name of Jesus.
DANA BASH, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Televangelist Paula White reaches millions of faithful from her 22,000-member without- walls church, one of the fastest growing churches in the country. She's been dubbed a prosperity preacher...
WHITE: Your family is going to look different. Your finances are going to look different.
BASH: ... telling followers the more they give, the more they'll be blessed. Now White's and five other media-based ministries are being investigated for alleged financial misconduct by Republican Senator Charles Grassley.
SEN. CHARLES GRASSLEY (R), IOWA: I'm just interested in not the personality and not the preaching of these people. I'm only interested: are the laws being followed?
BASH: He says he's following up on news reports and complaints to his office from whistleblowers about possible misuse of millions of dollars that go to tax-exempt megachurches.
GRASSLEY: Bentleys, Rolls Royces, corporate jets, $23,000 commodes in a -- in a multi-million dollar home. You know, just think of a $23,000 marble commode. A lot of money going down the toilet, you could say.
BASH: Federal law grants churches tax-exempt status and prohibits leaders from using donations to enrich themselves. But the law does not require churches to report how the money is spent.
Grassley wrote the six televangelists, asking for detailed information about their finances, compensation and amenities for executives. Ministries who responded to CNN insist they've done nothing wrong.
Creflo Dollar of World Changers Church said, "My life and my ministries have always been an open book, and that won't change now."
"World Healing Center Church complies with the laws that govern church and non-profit organizations and will continue to do so," said Pastor Benny Hinn.
GRASSLEY: My interest, as a public official, is that we have tax exemption for charitable giving. We want to be sure that that tax exemption isn't abused, because you, as a middle income taxpayer, are going to make up for abuse of somebody else.
BASH (on camera): Grassley says he doesn't know if churches are breaking any laws but says current tax law may be need to be updated to require stricter rules and transparency on how donations to churches are spent.
Dana Bash, CNN, Capitol Hill.
(END VIDEOTAPE) LEMON: And as Dana just reported, one of the churches being targeted is World Changers Church International, led by the Reverend Creflo Dollar, and we're pleased he made time for us, to join us today.
Reverend, you said that you are transparent when it comes to your finances with your members and your board of directors but not with the general public. Why not with the general public?
REV. CREFLO DOLLAR, WORLD CHANGERS CHURCH INTERNATIONAL: Well, I just believe that the people that make an investment into the ministry should be the primary ones that we respond to and that we open up our books to and we're transparent to, versus the watchdog people who just want to get the business to do whatever they do with it. I think that's just a waste of time.
PHILLIPS: You know, Senator Grassley is calling on this investigation now, your church among five others. He says that he sent letters to half a dozen of these media ministries, including yours, requesting answers by December 6 about expenses, executive compensation and amenities, including the use of fancy cars and private jets.
Are you going to answer those questions? Are you going to give him what he's asking for?
DOLLAR: We're going to give it to him if they're a valid request. One of the issues we're dealing with is, you know, the IRS has already been given the responsibility to do these things.
And now the question is, you take the Senate Finance Committee and you have to question, do they have a right to -- to invest themselves or to ingest [sic] themselves in a position to be tax examiners for exempt organizations when the IRS has already been given that responsibility?
And so we've always said, at the very beginning, that we have no problems if it's a valid request. And, you know, we -- we comply with the IRS. We have a board of directors and we have a compensation board, an audit board and an ethics board.
So, these are -- these things he's requested, we've given these things to the IRS. The government already has 1099 forms. They have information on our compensation. Congress, about a decade ago, implemented some things to make sure that compensation for ministers was not going to be excessive compensation. So, we're trying to figure out why are we going through this kind of public audit?
LEMON: If you're talking -- when you're talking about excessive compensation, and I think when it gets down to the general public, when people look at this, they see the wealth. They see all of the money poured into your organization from all of the number of people there.
And here's what -- and you have been criticized before. So you're not -- I'm sure this is no surprise to you, the criticism for having a couple of Rolls Royces, for having private jets, a multi- million dollar home in Fayetteville, $2.5 million apartment in Manhattan.
The question is, if you're a reverend for the people, and you're looking out for the people, and you're going by God's word and what the Bible says, why do you need so much wealth? Why doesn't that money go to the people who are sitting at the bus stop every day who can't afford a car, and who can't afford health care and are contributing to your ministry and to your wealth, as well?
DOLLAR: First of all, it's a miscalculated assumption that those things were purchased with the church's money. I've purchased over 100 cars for people in my congregation, homes for people in the congregation.
We don't have two Rolls Royces. We have one that the church purchased for us. And even though...
LEMON: Why a Rolls Royce?
DOLLAR: They bought it. It was a surprise. We had no idea. And the church owns a Rolls Royce.
LEMON: They meaning the members of the church?
DOLLAR: Members of the church.
LEMON: Why can't you, as a minister of the church, say, this -- regardless of how you feel about it, where it came from, "This looks bad for a man of God. Take this -- take this Rolls Royce back. Give this money to AIDS patients or to drug people on -- you know, in certain parts of the city, or people who really need that money"?
DOLLAR: Well, we don't believe it looks bad, because the Bible says in Psalms 35:27, "The Lord takes pleasure in the prosperity of his servant." And as far as those -- those groups you mentioned, we do give a lot to them.
LEMON: I understand prosperity. But prosperity is also -- it's not just money, as well.
DOLLAR: Prosperity is not just money.
DOLLAR: It's health. It's marriage.
LEMON: But if you have all this money and all these riches and you're a man of God, and all of these people, people of the cloth and of doctrines, why can't you give the bulk of that and live modestly, like many multimillionaires or billionaires do, and give this money to the folks who are in need?
DOLLAR: But you still have to understand that we give more to those things you mentioned than the value of those materials. So you'd have to take a balance to look at it fairly and not assume that, well, you've got a Rolls Royce that the church purchased and yet they give ten times to those different organizations.
LEMON: Do you agree, though, that it looks bad? I'm sorry, Kyra.
PHILLIPS: No, that's OK.
LEMON: Do you agree that it looks bad?
DOLLAR: No. In my opinion, it doesn't look bad, because...
LEMON: It doesn't look bad that you have a Rolls Royce and people who are contributing to you don't even have cars or can't pay their utility bills?
DOLLAR: Again -- again, I don't have a Rolls Royce. The church owns the Rolls Royce.
LEMON: But do you ride in the Rolls Royce?
DOLLAR: We mainly use it to escort guests around.
LEMON: Do you need a Rolls Royce to escort guests around?
DOLLAR: I really don't. In fact, the guests right now -- we're selling our Rolls Royce to put it in the children's ministry. But the assumption is without looking at what we do and see what we already put into those different ministries, it's easy to assume that, well you know, you're putting little into those things while you have these other things.
LEMON: I'm sorry (INAUDIBLE)...
PHILLIPS: No. That's ok.
Let's get back to the gospel for a minute. You quoted from Psalms and, of course, any time I read from the bible, I want it to be exactly right.
And that's why you do what you do, right?
You're a man of God. You studied the word of God. You want to bring people closer to the word of God, correct?
DOLLAR: Right. Right.
PHILLIPS: All right. So if we go to Matthew 19, OK, in response to what you said about Psalms: "Now a man came up to Jesus and asked, 'Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?' And this was a young rich man, as you -- you know the story.
"Jesus answered, 'If you want to be perfect, go sell your possessions, give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come follow me.' When the young man heard this, he went away sad because he had such great wealth. Then Jesus said to his disciples, 'I tell you the truth, it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again, I tell you, it's easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle for, then, a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.'"
DOLLAR: Respond to that?
PHILLIPS: Respond to that.
DOLLAR: Well, first of all, when the rich young ruler showed up and he said, you know, what you need to do is take the things that you have to sell, sell it and then come and follow me, it was about loving God with your stuff. If you keep reading down a couple of more scriptures, it says, "And he received a hundredfold everything that he gave, everything that he sold."
So we talk about, you know, is it -- is it impossible for rich people to get into heaven -- you know that's not the truth. You know rich people are going to go to heaven just like average people.
The issue there is will you be willing to take your things and share it with other people?
Again, we can't assume, just because you have some things, that you automatically are not sharing with the people who need it. We invest in people's lives -- not only in our community, but all around the world.
PHILLIPS: One other thought about the prosperity gospel. And the president of Morehouse was quoted, when he was talking about you and the prosperity gospel, that: "This movement is a threat to the historical legacy and core values of the contemporary black church tradition."
DOLLAR: He and I had a chance to meet about three weeks ago. And we sat down and we had a great conversation. And we both agreed that when most people hear prosperity, they instantly think money. But prosperity -- they're not incorrect, but they're incomplete. Prosperity is more than just money. We're talking about prospering people in their marriage, in their relationships. We're talking about prospering people in their emotions. And one of the things he and I talked about was the importance of trying to come together and prosper these young men on his college campus and go back to some of the grassroots things to begin to help these guys to understand what it means to be a man.
So because of his book, it brought us together to begin to talk about how can we use what we have in our ministry and what he has on his campus to begin to prosper those young men that are on campus.
LEMON: Can I just...
LEMON: I have one last thing that I want to ask. Even public and private businesses are accountable to the government and to the people -- Fortune 500 companies, multimillion, billion dollar companies that are private, as well.
What makes you think that you are any different or megachurches are any different in any way than any of these other companies or businesses?
DOLLAR: Well, we're not. We have an audit every year, Don, on our entire ministry. We also report employee taxes and payroll taxes. And we're responsible for sales taxes on items that you purchased in the State of Georgia. So we're not saying that we should not be accountable. In fact, we are very accountable. We have to follow and comply with the IRS regulations. And it's very important that you understand that the same goal that the senator has, we have the exact same goal. We want people to feel comfortable about their donations and their gifts that they give and to be able to know that it's being used for that purpose.
I think a miscalculated assumption, as well, is that you immediately think, well the preacher used the money of the church to get it. Nobody ever thought about well, maybe he had another business. Maybe he used his own money with his intellectual property. Maybe he got a great contract with a book. That needs to be put in consideration, as well. And I think If we could get more of the information together, we can add more balance so we won't be just one- sided.
PHILLIPS: Well, let me ask you about that balance, Reverend, because, you know, you talk about the fact that you've got these other businesses. You've been quoted before -- real estate and other businesses.
PHILLIPS: But how did you get the money for those businesses?
I mean I know you talk about growing up in the ghetto in College Park.
DOLLAR: I used to (INAUDIBLE) $150 an hour.
PHILLIPS: I tell you -- OK.
So you made a lot of money as a therapist?
DOLLAR: Yes, $150 an hour to sit there and listen to people. And, you know, you say you've been in this for almost 30 years. And so if you -- if you invest properly, if you save properly, if you manage your money properly, then, you know, you're able to do some things with it.
PHILLIPS: One question, too, with regard to Senator Grassley. He said that one reason he's investigating you is because you were raising a million dollars to give to another minister, Kenneth Copeland, to celebrate 40 years of ministry.
Why would anybody need a million dollars million to celebrate 40 years of ministry?
DOLLAR: Because we believe in the word of God that it is -- it is -- it is honorable to honor men of God who have done so much that we have the opportunity to practice what we believe. Nobody can say you don't have a right to believe in prosperity or you don't have the right to be in -- to believe in healing. But we -- because of the first amendment, we have the opportunity to take what we believe in the word of God. And we believe in strongly honoring these men of God.
PHILLIPS: Do you think Jesus Christ would have roared around in a Rolls Royce?
DOLLAR: I think he would have. He rode around on a donkey that no man ever rode.
PHILLIPS: Don, final thoughts?
LEMON: I'm out.
LEMON: No, I just -- I -- my final thoughts is that when someone -- there are so many poor people and people of need who give to ministries and megachurches. I think that this is a good thing that Grassley is doing -- if not just to look at it. I don't know what his motives are, but just to look at that. And you have to -- as someone who is an intelligent person, look at this and say if you're riding around in a Rolls Royce and in jets and people who, again, are poor and don't have those means and can't afford certain things, you understand where the public outcry comes from and why people want to look at your finances.
DOLLAR: Yes. But we also understand that we have a ministry to the poor and those people, as well. They're not being neglected as (INAUDIBLE)...
LEMON: And you can't give (INAUDIBLE) -- there are people who are, though. It seems like you could give more -- even more so, with all the wealth that you have.
DOLLAR: It would blow your mind if you knew how much money we gave per year to those (INAUDIBLE)...
LEMON: I don't doubt that. I really don't. But I'm saying with so much profit, it seems like some of that profit could go (INAUDIBLE)...
DOLLAR: Well, it's not as much as you think. You know, for example, I mean there are some times we actually don't meet our budget to be able to do some of the things that need to be done. But there's one thing we do. It's not like...
PHILLIPS: So if you don't meet the budget, then why...
LEMON: How do get a million dollars for (INAUDIBLE)...
PHILLIPS: ...did they approve to buy a Rolls Royce?
DOLLAR: Well, again, I didn't approve it. They -- the donors got together and did something that I didn't know about. And when I found out about it, I said I don't want this personally. Let's keep it in the possession of the church so that when you get ready to sell it, then that money comes back to the church. You've got to understand, they believe in honoring their pastor. I'm coming in from South Africa and, boom -- I'm just as surprised as anybody, you know?
PHILLIPS: You say we'll be blown way by the numbers that you give to your charities.
Will you make that public?
As Senator Grassley comes forward and asks for these documentations, will you say we give X amount to this charity, X amount to this charity...
DOLLAR: We've already done that. In fact, I left a document with the very man that you talked about from Morehouse of the amount of money that we have given thus far in ministering to people in the community.
LEMON: And you asked my final thoughts. I do have to say this -- because we have to move on.
LEMON: Everyone -- we asked everyone involved in this to come out and to have the opportunity to be interviewed on CNN.
PHILLIPS: And you're the only one.
LEMON: And you're the only one.
So I thank you for being candid.
DOLLAR: You're welcome, sir.
LEMON: And we thank you for...
DOLLAR: Thank you.
LEMON: ...for coming on here today.
PHILLIPS: Appreciate it.
DOLLAR: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: All right.
LEMON: Thank you.
PHILLIPS: And we're going to be talking live with Senator Charles Grassley on his probe of the megachurches' finances. He's going to join us in the 3:00 Eastern hour right here in the CNN NEWSROOM.
LEMON: We're keeping an eye on your money. And right now, the Dow is more -- oh, it's below 250 points. It's a negative there. We're going to keep checking on that. Susan Lisovicz, Ali Velshi, all our folks on Wall Street taking a look at that.
PHILLIPS: Creflo Dollar, do you remember what you were listening to in 1982?
PHILLIPS: Come on now, pastor.
PHILLIPS: You were listening to Michael Jackson.
LEMON: Is it "Thriller?"
DOLLAR: No, I think I was listening to the Ohio Players.
PHILLIPS: Twenty-five years have passed since Michael Jackson's "Thriller" and the king of pop is talking about it. I don't know -- he might need some of your cash, pastor.
PHILLIPS: We need to get him going to your church.
PHILLIPS: You're watching CNN, the most trusted name in news.
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