Remember the response from Jim Bakker when his extravagances were called into question? You know, the Rolls Royces that he and Tammy Faye rode around in, the $5,000 dollar air conditioned dog house, Tammy’s opulent jewelry and their mansions? He famously asked, “should God have junk?”
Jim has a new rival in the extravagance department, Pastor Steven Furtick of the Elevation Church in Charlotte, North Carolina, who lives in a $1.7 million dollar home while his church rakes in over a half million dollars a week in tax-free donations.
Pastor Furtick also keeps his salary and indeed the entire ministry’s finances a deep dark secret, even from those who finance the church through their donations. Interesting from a ministry which says, “We’re all about the numbers.”
They mean that literally, they keep track of everything. They count the number of people who come through the doors of their eight current locations around the city every Sunday. They count the number of “salvations” and baptisms and they even assign each member of the congregation a number denoting what position they became a member of the church in.
All church employees who have access to the financial records must sign a confidentiality agreement, promising never to release the figures to anyone and acknowledging that they understand that if they do they will be sued.
This is amazingly not illegal as a church is under no obligation to disclose its finances to anyone, although most do.
Pastor Furtick’s salary is a secret, as is his tax-free housing allowance and the money that he makes from his for-profit ventures such as speaking fees and book deals.
He says that the church discloses everything, “through external audits, as well as audited income and balance statements we make available to everyone who is a part of Elevation Church”.
Rusty Leonard of Ministry Watch a watchdog group which he founded for those who donate to church groups says of the pastor’s claim,
“That’s not even close to full disclosure. First of all, it’s not the full audited financial statement. It’s just some pretty pictures and a portion of the audited financial statements.”
A full financial statement would include formal notes from an independent outside auditor which would disclose what is referred to as “related party transactions” and are intended to show potential conflicts of interest. What Elevation releases to its congregation does none of that.
Leonard is not an anti religious agitator out to bring down ministries, he is a devout Christian who founded Wall Watchers with his own money because he saw that no one was watching over what the many televangelists were doing with the money that their followers were sending them and felt that it was damaging the many honest ministries.
Leonard becomes upset when he hears Furtick assure his flock, “I promised that this would always be a ministry of integrity.”
Leonard’s reply to that “promise”?
“Unfortunately, that’s just not backed-up by the facts. If he was to be truly full of integrity, he would reveal all this information.”
He admits to an admiration for Furtick and the ministry that he has built but says, “It’s sad, it’s a great church. Pastor Furtick is a great preacher. He has brought blessings to many. And unfortunately he allowed this situation to get out of control right from the get-go of the organization of the church.”
He worries that non-Christians will see this and wonder why we are giving a tax exempt status to these churches. Every property that this church purchases is removed from the tax rolls costing the city of Charlotte money while the church and Pastor Furtick grow richer by the day.
There was very little questioning about the church or its finances until Furtick bought his palatial new home on 19 acres. When the $1.7 million price tag became known the questions began and the fact that even those who were contributing the money were kept in the dark as to just how much the church was worth made people start to wonder what was going on.
Leonard told the local NBC affiliate,
“If Pastor Furtick had bought a house that was four or five-hundred thousand dollars we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. And that’s a big house; that’s a very big house. Unfortunately he went way over the top…. and he fell into this hubris situation and he’s trapped.”
The Church’s Chief Financial Officer, James “Chunks” Corbett, told the TV station in reference to the document that they had obtained, “While the numbers are accurate they represent far more than our church is undertaking…. Other projects identified in the report you have come into possession of represent potential opportunities we are looking at in the future…. Furthermore, to total these projects assuming they are all going to happen would be categorically false as many are options for the same project and some may never materialize.”
This statement only sounds like a further attempt to conceal just how much the church and pastor are amassing and makes it appear that they have something to hide. It is very well possible that they do not have anything shady going on which would embarrass either the church or Pastor Furtick, but the appearance of malfeasance is often just as bad as actually doing something wrong.
While there is no law requiring the church to make its finances public, for the sake of maintaining the goodwill of the community toward his church Pastor Furtick might want to rethink his policy of secrecy.
Watch the report from WCNC Charlotte below.
h/t: Freak Out Nation