As if Christian ministers don’t have enough bad press to contend with, between financial scandals, extramarital dalliances and the sexual abuse fiascoes of the Catholic church, Kenneth Copeland is falling into a predictable stereotype for media-savvy evangelists.
Known as one of the fathers of Prosperity Gospel – the idea that God wants us to prosper not just spiritually, but also financially – Copeland has come under recent scrutiny by The Associated Press, Congress and the Internal Revenue Service for questionable financial dealings.
Personally, it’s enough for me that he has an eight-figure personal net worth, though this is not a crime by our legal standards.
Though under investigation for some time, however, it should be pointed out that no specific charges have been levied against the preacher or his ministry.
Some of the evidence speaks for itself, though. A recent article in the Chicago Tribune reports that members of Copeland’s board of directors have been paid hundreds of thousands of dollars in speaking fees by the Copeland Ministry.
We in the nonprofit world call this a conflict of interest; it’s widely known that those governing a nonprofit should have arms-length distance from any financial gain.
Though it’s not law to do so, Copeland would have a hard time raising funds for his cause from foundations and the like because of this enmeshment.
However, he gets around this by accepting money principally from individuals who either don’t know about this or who don’t see anything wrong with it.
Another nonprofit no-no is nepotism – the practice of those in positions of power passing on goodies to close friends or family members.
Copeland seems unconcerned with this, handing over six- and seven-figure salaries to family, along with property belonging to the ministry.
There’s also the philosophy of separation of powers, which says that the staff in charge of running the organization should not be the same folks as those managing the vision for the organization on the board.
Though Copeland technically is not on his own board, he maintains veto power over every single decision its members make, causing them to be entirely beholden to his will.
Finally, Copeland avoids plenty of taxes by placing things like his $6 million house and $17 million jet in the nonprofit’s name, which doesn’t pay taxes.
While I’ll grant that the guy’s savvy as a businessman, I wonder how it is that anyone with even a superficial understanding of his holdings can possibly keep sending him money.
So why does it work for him?
Because he offers the kind of Gospel message people want to hear: Jesus honors your consumer-driven lifestyle. Though he lived in poverty, as did his followers, the plan all along was to set you up for excessive material wealth.
Sounds good, right? It allows us to be greedy and still call ourselves good Christians. But when we sit down with the Gospel books and really look at them, how can we use God as our excuse for how we live?
None of us is perfect, and I honestly don’t begrudge anyone – ministers included – living a comfortable lifestyle.
Congress and the IRS may or may not discover impropriety, but ultimately, the power lies in our hands.
If we truly want to use our abundance to make the world a better place, and if we honestly believe that our charitable giving is effectively giving to God, maybe it’s time to ask ourselves if we really think God is concerned with whether or not the Copeland family has another jet.
It could just be that there’s someone else a little more deserving of our generosity.