Christian television is big business. The networks are multi-million dollar enterprises that claim billions of viewers around the world.
They also claim to be churches. As we’ve discussed elsewhere, churches do not have to publicly disclose their finances as required by other non-profits.
NPR’s John Burnett recently took a close look at the previously undisclosed financial dealings inside one of these behemoths—Daystar—for an excellent All Things Considered story. Burnett used financial statements that were part of public court filings from a 2011 lawsuit filed against Daystar by a former employee.
Daystar, one of the largest Christians television networks, took in $208 million in tax-deductible contributions from viewers between 2005 and 2011. Although Daystar points out that it is generous to other causes, the ministry gave away only $9.7 million during that period—a charitable giving rate of about 5 percent of donor revenue. Those findings contradicted statements by the ministry that it had given away $30 million.
Daystar is headed up by its founder and chairman of the board, Marcus Lamb. Although the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, the IRS, and other experts consider it a bad governance structure, the organization’s five-member board is composed entirely of Lamb family members and their lawyer.
The two-part NPR story also covers some well-trodden ground on the extravagant lives led by other television preachers such as Kenneth Copeland, who lives in an 18,000-square-foot “parsonage” and whose ministry owns a $10 million private jet.
We believe a lack of transparency in governance and financial matters can lead to an abuse of the trust implicit in these organizations. If these NPR stories trouble you, we ask for your support in advocating increased transparency for churches. Please follow us on Facebook and share your concern about this issue with others.