This is how televangelists beat the IRS. 

It might be surprising for some of you to learn that televangelism is still thriving in this country. According to available records, companies like Daystar, Trinity, and Inspiration Ministries are worth more than a quarter of a billion dollars and all of these companies are growing at a rate faster than ever before. But their lack of transparency is questionable at best and their nonprofit status exposes a legal/fiscal weakness in this country.

Daystar, which is the largest of the three brings in about $233 million in assets per year. It is self described as a church and is one in the eyes of the law, but in the court of public opinion facade quickly fades. Lisa Anderson, a former executive assistant to Daystar CEO, Marcus Lamb and his wife, recently told NPR

"When the lights are on and the cameras are on, we’re a ministry. When those lights are off, cameras are off, it doesn’t feel like a ministry, it is a business making money.” Their recent IT director said, "I mean, there's no Sunday sermon, no Wednesday night meeting. It's all business. It's not a church. It's a television broadcasting company, that's what they are."

The ministers who appear on these networks often ask for large amounts of money in addition to the regular tithing to buy themselves grandiose and unnecessary things. These items include airplanes and parsonages which are multimillion dollar homes and tax exempt under the veil of the church.

Why have there been no questions about the ethical and moral implications of this topic? There needs to be accountability for these churches and some kind of rule standard. There are reportedly no standards of practice when it comes to transparency and accountability of these churches. The people who tithe are often vulnerable and poor and have even neglected medical attention so that they can tithe more. But there is no evidence showing that their money is returned to them in any way either material or not.

Becoming a church in the eyes of the law is shockingly simple. According to the IRS tax codes, the term “church” is not specifically defined.

“The IRS makes no attempt to evaluate the content of whatever doctrine a particular organization claims is religious, provided the particular beliefs...are truly and sincerely held…”

It is so easy to be a church in fact, that John Oliver legally turned his show into a church under the IRS guidelines.

Although he did this for entertainment purposes and his show was well received, this issue needs to be taken seriously. Real people with real lives are being affected by something that is clearly intended for profit and is hiding behind the elusive door of belief. It is time for these companies to be exposed and held accountable for their actions. 

-Bronte P.

The views and opinions expressed herein are those of the authors alone and do not necessarily reflect the views of Ora Media, LLC its affiliates, or its employees.

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