By Michal Ortner
Research conducted by Livesteez has reported that an estimate of $420 billion in tithes and donations has been accumulated by Black churches since the 1980s. An ongoing investigation into the spending of mega-church leaders was first initiated by Senator Charles Grassley around 2008.
The investigation took place in many churches that proclaimed what is known as the “Prosperity Gospel,” which is a practice saying that providing donations to Christian ministries will result in personal financial blessings.
Among many mega-churches that were investigated, New Birth Missionary Baptist Church was one. The church and their leader, Bishop Eddie Long, have received criticism from inside and outside the Black church. Long says he was “relieved” by the inquiries made on their financial legitimacy.
Henry E. Felder’s study of financial patterns within Black Christian places of worship reported that donations made to Christian ministries were around $508 per year, per person, in 2009. Tyler Media Services estimated that Black churches received revenue of $17 billion in 2006 alone. One prosperity church, the Reverend Creflo Dollar’s World Changers, received $69 million in 2006.
While many politicians and Black community leaders are demanding accountability for the churches that accumulate high amounts of funding, devoted followers of the church are defending the institutions and the leaders. Many loyal members of the flock claim that there is a double standard when it comes to black mega church leaders and wealthy white church leaders.
“The church has gotten caught up in materialism and greed, a lifestyle. Many ministers today want to live like celebrities and they want to be treated like celebrities. In other words, instead of the church standing with the community, the church has become self-serving. It has strayed away from its mission,” stated Dr. Love Henry Whelchel, professor of church history at The Interdenominational Theological Center.
While many churches that were investigated did not face any criminal charges, Calvary Baptist Yorba Linda Church’s leadership pleaded guilty to grand felony theft and fraud charges. Richard Cunningham and his son, Philip Cunningham, admitted to stealing funds from the church to buy timeshares in Hawaii and Palm Springs.
Some legitimate questions that are being asked are: How often and much do church leaders take advantage of the faith of Black people? How are these larges sums of money improving the state of our communities? Why do some churches decline to participate in the Grassley Congressional Investigation?