I've been checking out the website Christian News Headlines as of late to read some of the bigger stories going on in the Christian world. They recently started a new series on their blog looking at an overview of religious financial fraud. This is their first article in the series. According to the article, the International Bulletin of Missionary Research reported that Christian religious leaders will commit an estimated $34 billion in financial fraud in 2011. Researchers from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimate that Christian religious leaders will commit $90 million in financial crimes daily and the fraud is growing at a rate of 5.97% each year. The three most common funding sources are:
- The Offering Plate — In 2002 NBC Dateline aired an exposé on Benny Hinn. Mike Estrella, a former Benny Hinn Ministries employee responsible for counting the money given at Hinn’s crusades, said that he observed Gene Polino, Hinn’s CEO, embezzle thousands of dollars from the crusade collection buckets.
- The Ministry Checking Account and Credit Card — Jason Reynolds, the finance director of National City Christian Church, used the church credit card to acquire a Lexus SUV and Land Rover. He also embezzled over $200,000 by writing himself checks.
- Investments — In 1999 the Baptist Foundation of Arizona filed for bankruptcy after accumulating $530 million in liabilities. Dishonest administrators engaged in a cover-up to hide bad investments. William Crotts and his associates set up more than 90 dummy corporations to hide financial losses and used a ponzi scheme to cover old investments. New Church Ventures was the largest dummy corporation formed by the BFA and held $173 million in debts. New Church Ventures had zero employees and provided no funds for building new churches even though that was its stated objective.
I am glad to see that more and more outlets are starting to investigate and report on this stuff. I know the people who give are just as problematic as the people who steal, but it's no secret that Christians are gullible people. If you present something with a claim that "God will bless you more by doing it," and attach a few Bible verses with testimony about how it changed someone’s life, countless sheep stand up ready to participate. The liars who preach this stuff have to be more accountable then the followers who get sucked in. Let’s hope 2011 is a year of change in the Christian world. As these stories of fraud reach more and more people hopefully there will be a huge shift in the amount of money that is actually given to the corrupt organizations. And once the rivers of money stop flowing, maybe, just maybe these crooks will be forced out of their evil ways.