Recently, I interviewed a man who flies as a corporate pilot. Several years ago, he worked as a contract pilot for Paul and Jan Crouch,
who are the founders of the Trinity Broadcasting Network, a 24-hour Christian religious television network. It is the most watched ‘faith-based’ channel in the U.S. and is the sixth largest over-the-air broadcaster, according to Broadcast & Cable’s 2010 report, with an estimated world-wide viewing audience of 100 million households. According to Wikipedia’s sources, with their associated satellite and internet programs, they reach over a billion viewers.
The pilot, who I’ll refer to as Tim, flew for them about eight months, in a Bombardier Challenger plane, which costs between $25 and $30 million new. Their primary base was in Orange County, CA but they had several other homes: a ranch near Sugarland, Texas; Fort Lauderdale; and Conway Twitty’s former compound in Nashville.
Tim said a typical flight would be taking the Crouch’s to various “stations” – places where their program was aired – around the world, but he said they seemed mostly to be having vacations. Paul would later take the log books and make notes such as “Haiti for Children trip.” Tim flew for them less than one year, and during that time took them to Cairo, Dubai, London, Azores, Nice, Costa Rica, and the Bahamas. They each traveled with a ‘bodyguard’ who Tim described as young men, not beefy guys you would expect for this job. In Monaco, they stayed at the Hotel du Paris. You will notice the prices of the suites. Corporate pilots often make hotel and car reservations for their passengers. He reported that when they landed, the Crouches would ask the airport for ‘the best hotel in town’ and that they got separate rooms. Unlike some corporate gigs, Tim said that the Crouches would let the pilots stay in nice hotels – a Hilton instead of a Motel 6 – and gave them a decent meal allowance. He emphasized the pilots were always treated well, and he never saw any signs of them being other than nice people.
However, he also saw very little signs of charitable or church work. During the Gulf Coast hurricanes and the tsunami that hit Indonesia, there was never any talk about going to the impacted sites or sending relief. He never saw any signs of religion: no crosses, no religious jewelry, no Bibles. They never prayed on the plane or at meals. However, they were savvy business people. On one trip, he listened to them discuss purchasing a new letter-opening machine, which could slit open envelopes, discard them and automatically separate cash from checks from letters. Although the machine cost hundreds of thousands, they estimated it would pay for itself by reducing labor costs and by earning more interest by getting the deposits into the bank more quickly. Cash flow is king!
Tim told me he reached his tolerance threshold while on a trip. He was in his hotel room, flipping channels on the TV, and happened upon Paul’s live broadcast that evening. He heard Paul say “If you’ve spent up to only $100 left on your credit card, you should send that in. God will return it to you ten-fold.” This is a “ministry” who urges people, in debt, to contribute their last resources to a group that had net worth of over $800 million last year. TAX FREE. If you’ve read James Randi‘s book The Faith Healers, you will know that the majority of donations sent to these organizations are small ones, sent by people who are the least able to afford it.
Note: This interview was conducted two years ago. Since then, TBN has been in the news. Again. Stories of a $100,000 motor home for their dogs, private planes, mansions, and hush money to pay off people who have appeared with stories of sexual liaisons. They do not publish their financials, even though they are listed as a 501-c-3 charity, and do not participate in several evangelical oversight organizations that rate ministries on transparency and overhead costs.
- What does a tax-free, worldwide fraud… er, religious media empire look like? (warmsouthernbreeze.wordpress.com)
- NY Times: Lavish TBN Ministry Raises Tax, Self-Dealing Issues (taxprof.typepad.com)
- Religious leaders making bank, say faith creates wealth (lsureveille.com)
- The Holy Land Experience (fearandloathinginorlando.wordpress.com)
Categories: James Randi Educational Foundatioin - JREF, Skeptic
Reblogged this on My Life is really in the Garden and commented:
Hmmm… food for thought, eh?
FYI, Churches maybe 501-C-3 organizations, but they do not have to file Form 990 with the IRS each year, or give them any other information. The IRS rarely audits churches or pursues investigations against them. For the IRS to do so, alleged tax code violation(s) must be very obvious and a senior official at the IRS must sign off on it.
Yep. Tax free and completely unaccountable.
I’m so glad I live in a country where we are generally too laid back to worry about an afterlife! I find the American obsession with religion and the commonly held view of Christianity fascinating, but scary…..
As always, very thought-provoking from the Two Different Girls.
It IS scary. Religion has been a big part of the discussions leading up to this year’s presidential election, when it shouldn’t be a topic at all. For this week’s Crazy, just google ‘Chick Fil A’.
I’m not going to be nearly as nice in my comment! Scary is when you jump in your seat watching a good horror flick. What these religious groups are doing to the fabric of American politics and American society as a whole is actually a travesty of the worst kind. And when you point out that a fundamental (anything ( add your own religions here)) is the worst of the worst then be prepared to run for cover 🙂 …
I’ve always thought that the wings need to be clipped of any organization (I do mean any) under the 501-c-3 banner. There should be hard evidence produced yearly on where the monies go. There should also be a % line they must be across, say 60% used for charitable work, under that and the 501-c-3 is pulled. Like this real 501-c-3’s will survive easily, like community theatre, radio, real charities, real giving religious bodies and all the scam artists will be forced to fold. We (the people) should not be propping up these organizations with our tax dollars and that is precisely what we are forced to do.
I agree completely.
As a Christian I find it extremely difficult to have any Christian love towards this couple and others like them who promote the so-called ‘Prosperity Gospel’. Yes, we can be prosperous as Christians but that prosperity, according to the Bible, is to be used to sow into ‘every good work’. [2 Corinthians 9 v8] The problem for genuine men/women of God who are prosperous, and deal with their finances according to the Bible, is that they still get linked with people like this couple and their organisation.
As far as the UK is concerned, for any organisation to maintain its charitable status it has to submit an annual financial and activity report to the charities regulator. It has to indicate the areas that it will be active in for the coming year and it has to declare the previous year’s income and how it has been spent. The accounts have to be signed off by an independent accountant and the appointed trustees are legally responsible for those accounts. All this has to happen where the annual income is greater than £25,000 which is about 39,000 USD. As far as I am aware, an Annual General Meeting of a charity can be attended by anyone and I think many churches mistakenly think that their AGM is restricted to only their members.
It surprises me that there is not a similar set up in the US.
Good blog by the way!
Good to know. Used to watch these guys in horror.