As reported by Peter J. Reilly on Forbes, Pastor Frank Benson Jones recently wrote a book in which he endorses the idea that all churches should file the Form 990. According to the biography on his website, Jones served as an Air Force pilot in Vietnam, spent some time as a Black Panther, and briefly converted to Islam before becoming a Christian. For the past 25 years, Jones has been a pastor. Observing the ways in which some pastors have abused their congregation’s trust for their own gain has led Jones to begin speaking out against pastors of the “prosperity gospel.” Preachers of the prosperity gospel teach that gifts to them will result in God’s financial blessing on the givers. On his website, Jones writes:
I am now disappointed with many of my fellow ministers of the Gospel. It seems that the primary reason for many to enter the Christian ministry is to become wealthy, and the acquisition of wealth appears to have become more important to them than the saving of souls and the assisting of the poor and needy. I have written a book entitled $top the Pro$perity Preacher$ to expose some of the ungodly methods being used by preachers to exploit God’s people and to cheat the U.S. Government. In my book I also offer some suggestions about how the U.S. government should make some changes in the laws to make it more difficult for preachers to exploit their congregations and to make sure that rich preachers pay their fair share of taxes.
Those recommendations include requiring all churches to file the Form 990 and limiting the tax-free clergy housing allowance. In his book $top the Pro$perity Preacher$, Jones writes (as reported by Reilly):
The government has established legislative safeguards in many areas of finances in an effort to protect the American people from fraud and deception. Now it is time to establish some legislative safeguards that will force the Laodicean prosperity preachers to pay their fair share of taxes and to stop them from misleading and exploiting the poor.
I find it strange and appalling that the salary of the president of the United States is made public; the salaries of the members of the Senate and the House of Representatives are made public; the salaries of every state governor are made public; but the salaries of pastors and church employees are kept confidential and top secret.
Requiring churches and religious organizations to file an IRS form 990 would in no way impede the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion, but it would help to expose those greedy preachers who are using the constitution to conceal their improper accumulation of wealth at the expense of American citizens.
We heartily agree with those sentiments, and also with another recommendation on Jones’ website: that the members of every congregation should have the authority to elect trustees of the church.