Someone needs to get a good in-depth interview with the staffer (or staffers) on Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley's staff who is heading up the investigation of televangelists, which seems to be picking up lately. A couple of meager stories trickled out last week about a couple of ministers/evangelists who are responding to the senator's inquiries. One televangelist is not submitting to the tax-exemption inquiry without fuss. The Washington reporter for the Des Moines Register focused on the accusation that Grassley was in the process of taking apart "the wall between church and state."
At some point this may become a bigger story nationally, but for now, it's up to the regional papers to follow the letters that are making up this story:
Washington, D.C. -- Televangelist Kenneth Copeland, in a letter to his supporters, is accusing Sen. Charles Grassley of attempting to tear down the wall between church and state as the Iowa Republican pursues an investigation of Copeland's ministry.
"The enemy is not going to steal what the Lord has won through this ministry, and he is not going to use this attack to bring harm to the rest of the churches and ministries in America," Copeland warns in the letter dated this month.
Aides to Grassley said about three dozen supporters of Copeland, who has a television-based ministry, have called Grassley's office to complain, though none appear to have been Iowans.
The letter is the latest chapter in the escalating war between Grassley and televangelists unhappy he is questioning spending practices in their tax-exempt churches.
The story rightly points out that Grassley is merely investigating whether Copeland and his organization are following the law. The accusation that Grassley is somehow battering down the supposed wall between church and state falls apart upon closer examination, but the Register articles does little to break it down other than mention that Thomas Jefferson used the phrase in stating his profound belief that state should not interfere with church.
The argument breaks down when you ask whether Jefferson would have stood by and allowed churches to be used as organs to wrongfully avoid paying taxes. Everyone is innocent before found guilty, but that doesn't mean churches are exempt from investigation if there is probable cause. This of course raises the question of why Grassley's staff is doing the investigating. Typically the Internal Revenue Service handles this type of job.
As an aside, how ironic is it that a televangelist is raising the church-state wall argument?
The Register story also appropriately points out that Copeland preaches the "prosperity gospel," but there is little explanation of what that doctrines stands for other than that "adherents will succeed financially."
The Tampa Tribune had a much shorter version of the story that focused on the local Florida ministries caught up in the investigation, but there is even less information on the more interesting aspects of the story.
There are many ways this story could be followed up on. The two big angles are the actual people behind Grassley heading up this investigation and the theology of the characters being investigated.