Christian Megachurch in Foreclosure After Preacher Paid Himself Millions in Donated Cash
As it turns out, the story is about Munseyâs church, Family Christian Center, which claims to have a weekly attendance of 15,000, making it one of the largest churches in the country. According to an investigation by the NWITimes.com, a paper covering northwestern Indiana, the judge presiding over the foreclosure proceedings told attorneys in court, âWhen I saw some of the expenditures being made in this church when there was a mortgage not being paid, I was astounded.â NWITimes reports that even as the church owed close to $100,000 a month in mortgage payments (not to mention mortgage payments on condos the church claimed to use for visiting clergy, and other unspecified bills in excess of half a million dollars), Munsey and his wife Melodye raked in â$2.9 million in total compensation from 2008 through 2011 from organizations connected to Family Christian Center, IRS records show.â In all, âThe church annually spent $3.5 million in leadership compensation and had a $900,000 budget for travel and meals, a $500,000 housing allowance and $500,000 for jet fuel and other expenditures, according to the transcript. In 2010, the church paid $1 million for property in Illinois, the transcript states.â Thereâs more: an IRS investigation and tax liens, for starters. You can read the whole investigative story, for which Munsey declined to be interviewed, here.
Count me as not astoundedâwell, not surprised, anyway. This is an old story in the prosperity gospel world. Lavish spending, compensation through a web of for-profit and non-profit entities connected with a churchâthese are only some of the factors that provoked a Senate Finance Committee investigation, launched by Sen. Chuck Grassley, in 2007. The investigation took more than three years but ultimately produced nothing in terms of government oversight. Instead, after pressure from the religious right, the Committee opted for âself-reformâ within churches. How has that worked out?
I first became acquainted with Munseyâs shtick in that little Georgia studio when I was working on my book, when he was the opening act for another later-fallen prosperity preacher, Eddie Long. It was the TBN âPraise-A-Thon,â and Munsey was playing a prominent role in trying to rake in the bucks for network, which, along with its founders Paul and Jan Crouch, has been embroiled in its own controversies. Hereâs an excerpt:
Munsey, a middle-aged man (an âempty suit,â as described to me later by someone disenchanted with the movement) with a flop of a hairpiece that looks like straw, is imploring the audience not just to make a donation but to make a âPassover offering.â Seven is a biblically significant number, the number of completion and perfection, and in this spring of 2007 the Praise-a-thon began on Easter Sunday, the seventh day of Passover. If you make the Passover offering, Munsey claims, God will give you seven blessings: God will dispatch an angel to lead miracles; rid you of your enemies; bless you with prosperity; heal you; give you longevity; give you an inheritance you knew nothing about; and give you back everything the devil has stolen from you. In other words, these are the ways in which the TBN Praise-a-thon is about you and not about Paul and Jan Crouch or Steve Munsey or Benny Hinn or Eddie Long or anybody else making more money. Instead, if you give, you will be blessed in miraculous ways.
Passover has nothing to do with money, but in Munseyâs hands it is about little else. Gone is the biblical story of freedom from slavery, the journey through the desert with only the unleavened bread, or the parting of the Red Sea. Instead, a donation to TBN is like the blood Jews placed on the doors of their homes so that God would âpass overâ and spare their first-born sons from death. Lucretia, the woman sitting next to me, grabs my arm. âJesus was the Passover offering,â she says. âHis blood.â Munsey is getting more and more animated while he preaches; the audience also is animatedâalmost agitatedâover the possibility of the blessings. Munsey takes off running up the fake stairs on the set, but they donât go anywhere. âOh!â he exclaims, surprised. âThis is a dead end!â There is some uncomfortable laughter; itâs hard to imagine anyone not questioning Munseyâs brainpower in thinking the stairs went somewhere. Anyone in the room can see the stairs on the set are pretend, but Munsey was clearly hoping they led somewhere from which he could make a dramatic reentry onto the stage. Instead, he trots back down and resumes preaching, undeterred.
Munsey continues to implore the audience to part with its money. âGod said, donât come empty-handed,â he warns. In other words, give. The audience is shouting out praise, and people are filling out their envelopes. This seems far-fetched on television, but in person, many people are having genuine spiritual experiences. Munsey is working them up, and they are being milked for their money while in a euphoric state. Suggested donation for the Passover offering: $70 a month for ten months. Phone it in, and tell the operator itâs the Passover offering, and âprosperity is going to come into your life, . . . and everything that has been stolen from you will be given back.â
In TBNâs world, God is not compassionate to the poor, only to the faithful, and their faithfulness is measured by their offering. It doesnât matter if the audience might need their money for the rent, for medicine, for food. Munsey saysâto nods and murmurs of affirmationâthat God is not merciful to the needy. âGod is not moved by need,â he insists. âIf he was, there wouldnât be any poverty. What moves God is your faith,â as evidenced by your donation to TBN. If youâre poor and make the Passover offering anyway, Munsey promises, God will dispatch an angel to give your boss a nightmare in the middle of the night that will make him give you a raise. âGod takes your offering and magnifies it in the devilâs face.â
The Passover offering opens up sensational, awe-inspiring occurrences, wonders and miracles, which the revelation knowledge of a Word of Faith believer tells them can really happen. Munsey regales the crowd with a story of a woman in his church who gave the Passover offering. Her husband later needed a kidney transplant. She agreed to donate one of hers, and when the doctors opened her up, it turned out she had three kidneys. âYou can speak it into existence,â says Munsey. âLife and death is on our tongue.â People are walking up to the stage and placing their offering envelopes on it. âTBN is an altar,â says Munsey, as if people are making offerings in a biblical temple. âAnd when you give on this altar, God will meet you there, bless you there. . .â
How many people believed Munsey, and believed that giving him moneyâfor his familyâs salaries, the car, the jet, the other excessesâwould âblessâ them? How many dollars did he collect by telling people that God would bless them for giving him money, that their own poverty was caused by a lack of faith and a lack of giving to him, and that God would not be merciful to them unless they demonstrated their faithfulness by giving their money to him?