Pastor kills transgender woman, goes to work then calls police one hour later!
A Detroit pastor was charged this week in the shooting death of a 36-year-old transgender woman found dead on the street Friday.
Albert Weathers, 46, was charged with open murder and use of a firearm after an investigation into the death of Kelly Stough, who was found by a police officer in the Palmer Park neighborhood, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office said.
No motive was given, though prosecutors said they have evidence to be presented in court that Stough’s status as a transgender woman played a role in Weathers’ alleged actions.
Weathers is a pastor of the Logo’s Church, and until this week, was an employee at the Great Lakes Water Authority.
A spokesperson for the company confirmed to the Daily News that Weathers’ employment has since been terminated, and that he was off-duty at the time of the alleged shooting.
Weathers, who is reportedly married with children, allegedly left the scene of the crime, clocked in at work, and called police an hour later claiming he’d been the victim of an attempted robbery and had shot someone, according to local ABC affiliate WXYZ.
His bond is set at $1 million, though his lawyer David Cripps told the outlet that he will petition for a lower bond on the argument that his client has strong ties to his community.
Stough, meanwhile, was remembered by mother Jessica Chantae Stough as a beloved member of the community who was very loved, and hoped to one day work in the fashion industry as a designer and buyer.
“She has a family who cared about her, who loved her, and I want them to know that transgender ladies – expressly those of color – they’re not just throwaways,” she told NBC News. “People care about them.”
A GoFundMe page launched in memory of Stough has raised more than $4,500.
As noted by NBC, Stough once weighed in on the police’s inadequate treatment of transgender people in Detroit in the wake of a 2015 murder of a local transgender woman.
“The police are unaware with our struggle, so they have no sympathy for us,” she told the Guardian, using her stage name Keanna Mattel. “Nobody ever asks, what happened to the person to get here? Unelss you’re just in the middle of the street, dead bleeding, you can flag down a police officer, and they’ll just ride past you like you never flagged them down.”
Fair Michigan Foundation President and Michigan Attorney General-elect Dana Nessel said in a statement that Stough’s murder “reflected the excessive brutality that members of Detroit’s transgender community constantly face.”
One should know where their tithes and offerings are going to!
Two weeks after drawing praise for allowing congregants in need to take cash directly from his offering baskets, Pastor John Gray of Relentless Church in Greenville, South Carolina, is drawing flak for gifting his wife a Lamborghini Urus for their eighth wedding anniversary celebration that left her screaming on Saturday.
The Urus, with prices starting at about $200,000 in 2017, according to Fortune, has a 4.0-liter V8 twin-turbo engine that produces 650 horsepower. It also boasts an automatic eight-speed transmission, can travel 0 to 62 miles per hour in 3.6 seconds and reaches a top speed of 189 mph.
In a clip of the moment posted on Instagram by Sue Mayweather, Gray is shown leading his wife, Aventer, to the luxury vehicle and once she realizes what the gift is, she breaks out in screams. Her husband is seen holding her hand before declaring to the crowd “Lamborghini Urus.” Mayweather noted that Gray’s wife also gifted him the “‘green box’ Rolex,” a term used to describe the Rolex Explorer II which comes with a price of approximately $8,000.
In an Instagram post on Sunday, singer Tyrese who attended the celebration wrote: “Honored to have been there to see and witness every moment…..Pastor John Gray and his beautiful First Lady renewed their vows after 8 years of marriage….fairy tail grace and magic….Honored and honored again to have been in the room and apart of you guys magical evening. From the #Gibsons to the #Grays May God KEEP you covered in his blood…//Amen!!!”
While some people praised the preacher for splurging on his wife, others were angry that a preacher would indulge in such display of opulence. Modesty should be demonstrated from ANYONE claiming to be a pastor and I believe that the only reason he allowed his congregation to “take as they needed” from the offering prior to this big splurge was to lighten the blow. Oh, he’ll say that it didn’t come from the tithes and offerings that it came from some book sales or other business that he is engaged in outside of his church business. The structural church is a very lucrative business indeed!
Chairman of the National Peace Council, Prof. Emmanuel Asante, is unhappy with the trend that seems to point the involvement of Christians in corrupt and negative acts.
Speaking at the climax of the 60th anniversary of the Church of Christ Spiritual Movement in Cape Coast, the Chairman of the Peace Council said the development is unfortunate and urged Christians to change in order for the country to develop.
“70 percent of the people in Ghana claim to be Christians but in spite of this fact, the police have a very hard time. 70% of the country’s problems are Christian problems because we pay lip service. That’s why we are where we are,” he averred.
He is worried about the crime rate and related corrupt activities in the country but is certain that once Christians change their ways, things will improve.
Most Rev. Prof. Asante was, however, full of praise for the Church of Christ Spiritual Movement in the achievement of their 60th-anniversary milestone.
The National Peace Council Chairman also admonished Christians to be wary of pastors who preach about themselves.
Stephen Johnson portrayed himself to be a selfless missionary helping orphans in Cambodia while in reality he was a sexual predator!
A Coos Bay, Oregon man, who was a Christian missionary running an orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, was found guilty by a federal jury of six counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place, traveling with the intent to engage in illicit sexual conduct and aggravated sexual abuse.
Acting Assistant Attorney General John P. Cronan of the Justice Department’s Criminal Division, U.S. Attorney Billy J. Williams of the District of Oregon, and Special Agent in Charge Loren G. Cannon of the FBI, Portland Division, made the announcement after the verdict was accepted by U.S. District Judge Michael J. McShane of the District of Oregon.
Daniel Stephen Johnson, 40, was charged in December 2014 after serving a one-year sentence in Cambodia for sexually abusing some of the same victims. According to evidence at trial, Johnson was a Christian missionary who traveled between the United States and Cambodia, along with other countries in Southeast Asia. He started an orphanage in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, that housed several Cambodian children. Over a period of years beginning in 2005, Johnson engaged in sexual abuse and attempted to sexually abuse at least nine children who resided at his orphanage. The victims ranged in age from eight to 17-years-old. The sexual abuse continued until December 2013 when Johnson was arrested by the Cambodian National Police. Based on disclosures made by children at the orphanage, Cambodian officials charged Johnson and detained him pending trial. In May 2014, Johnson was convicted by a Cambodian judge of performing indecent acts on one or more children at the orphanage and sentenced to one year in prison. Following his release from prison, Johnson was escorted back to the United States by the FBI. He will be sentenced on Aug. 22 before U.S. District Court Judge Michael J. McShane.
“While Stephen Johnson held himself out as a selfless missionary helping orphans in Cambodia, in reality he exploited that cover to sexually abuse the children entrusted to his care,” said Acting Assistant Attorney General John Cronan. “Today’s conviction is a testament both to the courage of the victims, who traveled to the United States to provide critical testimony against their abuser, and to the steadfast commitment of our prosecutors and law enforcement partners to seeing that Johnson be held to account for his terrible crimes.”
“The despicable nature of this defendant’s conduct is beyond understanding,” said U.S. Attorney Williams. “Whether you are abusing children in this country or abroad, you will be pursued and held accountable in a court of law. The fact that this defendant abused children under the guise of being a missionary and orphanage operator is appalling.”
“Daniel Johnson’s promises of charity and a better life were nothing more than lies as he dragged these children into his dark world of abuse,” said FBI Special Agent in Charge Cannon. “This case should serve as warning to those predators who believe they can hide their crimes – whether here at home or half-a-world-away. We will always stand with the victims, and we will always work to bring justice in their names.”
According to evidence presented at trial, while in custody awaiting trial, Johnson made multiple efforts to tamper with witnesses and obstruct justice. Johnson contacted his victims online, encouraging them to lie and offering money and gifts. One message, sent via his relative’s Facebook account to an adult in Cambodia, discussed visiting a victim’s family and encouraging them to convince the victim to retract their statement, potentially in exchange for $10,000. Another message explains the need for a victim to say they were under duress and “pushed by police” to thumbprint a document.
The FBI investigated the case. Trial Attorney Lauren E. Britsch of the Criminal Division’s Child Exploitation and Obscenity Section (CEOS) and Assistant U.S. Attorneys Jeffrey S. Sweet and Ravi Sinha of the District of Oregon prosecuted the case with assistance from Assistant U.S. Attorney Amy E. Potter for the District of Oregon. The Criminal Division’s Office of International Affairs also provided assistance in this case.
This case was brought as part of Project Safe Childhood, a nationwide initiative to combat the growing epidemic of child sexual exploitation and abuse launched in May 2006 by the Department of Justice. Led by U.S. Attorneys’ Offices and CEOS, Project Safe Childhood marshals federal, state and local resources to better locate, apprehend and prosecute individuals who exploit children via the Internet, as well as to identify and rescue victims. For more information about Project Safe Childhood, please visit www.justice.gov/psc.
A White Missionary Man 21, who sexually abused neglected children as young as five in Nairobi is sentenced to 40 years in prison.
Missionary Matthew Lane Durham, 21, was convicted on four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in a foreign place. He was sentenced to 40 years in a federal prison and must also pay more than $15,000 in restitution. Durham sexually abused children as young as five while doing missionary work in Nairobi in 2014.
A former missionary from Oklahoma convicted of sexually abusing children at an orphanage in Kenya has been sentenced to 40 years in a federal prison.
U.S. District Judge David L. Russell handed down the sentence on Monday to Matthew Lane Durham, 21, who had faced up to 30 years on each of four counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places. He also ordered Durham to pay restitution of $15,863. Durham showed no emotion when the sentence was issued.
‘These were heinous crimes committed on the most vulnerable victims. He was their worst nightmare come true,’ Russell said. Durham asked the court for mercy prior to the judge’s order.
‘All I wanted was to follow God’s plan for me,’ he told the judge.
Prosecutors alleged Durham targeted orphans while volunteering at the Upendo Children’s Home in Nairobi between April and June 2014. Durham had served as a volunteer since 2012 at the orphanage, which specializes in caring for neglected children.
He also molested several other children and forced others to perform sex acts on him, according to court documents.
In the alleged confession, he detailed forcing one young girl to have sex with him several times. ‘Any time I try to read the Bible or pray, this image comes to my head,’ he allegedly wrote.
Durham’s lawyer Stephen Jones, who has previously defended the likes of Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh, says Mrs Menja forced a false confession from the Durham with ‘pseudo-tribal psychological voodoo’ and accused her of running a cult out of her orphanage.
He told the Oklahoman newspaper that the criminal complaint filed by the U.S. Attorney was ‘shot through with inaccuracies.’
‘The events that occurred in Kenya the last maybe five six days that Matt was there frankly reveal some sort of pseudo-tribal psychological voodoo practiced on him, including confiscating his passport, false imprisonment, keeping food from him one day, delay in allowing him to depart from the country, misleading his parents,’ Mr Jones told the newspaper.
‘I don’t think Hollywood could make up what happened at this so-called orphanage. We’re on the ground in Kenya now. We’re finding out a lot about these people. This place is right on the outskirts of Nairobi. It’s like some cult over there.’
This was Durham’s third mission trip to the orphanage in recent years and Mrs Menja had previously praised his compassion and eagerness to work with the troubled children at the shelter, according to a criminal complaint filed in federal district court in Oklahoma City.
Durham helped raise money for the orphanage in his Oklahoma hometown, including giving a presentation at the Edmonton Rotary Club.
Mrs Menja and her husband – both Kenyan immigrants who live in Oklahoma – founded Upendo Kids International, a Christian charity, that looks after troubled, unwanted and neglected children in a community on the outskirts of Nairobi. Every year, young Christian missionaries from the United States travel to the orphanage to work with the children.
A 12-member jury convicted Durham in June on seven counts of engaging in illicit sexual conduct in foreign places, but Russell acquitted Durham on three of the charges in January.
The letter reads: ‘I took her to the bathroom and forced her to have sex with me. This has happened on more than one occasion.’ This is one of the horrific confessions that Durham allegedly wrote out.
The same jury cleared Durham of accusations that he planned in advance to abuse the children before he left the United States. Defense attorney Stephen Jones has said Durham plans to appeal his convictions.
Orphanage officials and five of the children traveled from Kenya to testify at the trial. The children, who speak Swahili, testified through an interpreter only after Russell cleared the gallery and closed the courtroom to the public and media.
In a sentencing memorandum, federal prosecutors asked Russell to sentence Durham to 120 years in prison — the maximum punishment he faced. Prosecutors also asked that Durham be placed under supervision for the rest of his life in the event he is ever released from prison.
Excerpts of Durham’s confession were read in court by Assistant U.S. Attorney Don Gifford, including a section pertaining to the alleged assault of a 12-year-old girl
‘The defendant’s offenses were undoubtedly serious. He raped or sexually molested by force or threat four children ranging in ages from 5 years to 14 years — some multiple times — in a span of just 33 days,’ prosecutors wrote in the memo.
Prosecutors also said Durham’s actions have had a chilling effect on the lives of dozens of foreign volunteers in Kenya and elsewhere ‘who must now live under the cloud of suspicion, distrust and apprehension when they volunteer their time, talent and resources for the betterment of children in East Africa and beyond.’
‘There is a real perception among Upendo’s local Kenyan community that more pedophiles lurk among the volunteers, especially the young male volunteers,’ prosecutors said.
Evidence produced by prosecutors included handwritten, signed confessions that Durham gave orphanage officials after he was accused of inappropriate behavior.
Jones has argued that the statements were coerced by orphanage officials who isolated Durham, took his passport and created the allegations to obtain $17,000 from the U.S. government for security cameras.
Defense attorney Stephen Jones has described Durham, who was 19 when he was charged in 2014, as ‘an emotionally vulnerable teenager’ who was struggling with ‘sexual identity and development’ while also being a devout Christian.
Authors note: How could this MONSTER violate these innocent children who were already suffering in an impoverished country but were SAFE from perverts and receive anything less than the death penalty?! These children will be damaged FOR LIFE all because they trusted a white missionary worker who came in the guise of Christianity!!!! He even raped a 5 year old! This is not the first time Christian missionary workers have traveled from the West to African countries only to engage in homosexual activities, paid child sex and rape, many of these sexual violations are not publicized in the news media or reported to the local authorities.
“The fact that they are priests is above and beyond shocking,” “They’re supposed to be leading good example and they’re doing exactly the opposite.”
According to MIAMI BEACH (CBSMiami) — On September 04, 2018 two Chicago-area priests were charged Monday with Lewd and Lascivious behavior and Indecent Exposure after being caught performing a sexual act inside a car parked on a Miami Beach street.
According to Miami Beach Police, 39-year-old Diego Berrio and 30-year-old Edwin Giraldo Cortez were in the front seat of a car performing oral sex.
Police got a 911 call about a lewd and lascivious incident taking place in the 1300 block of Ocean Drive.
When officers arrived, the police report states, the two were performing sex acts on each other “in full view of the public passing by on Ocean Drive and the sidewalk.”
It was 3:20 in the afternoon.
“Yesterday, we received a call indicating that two men were performing a sex act inside of a car. This is in broad daylight, 13th Street and Ocean Drive. There are no tints on the window,” explained Miami Beach Police spokesman Ernesto Rodriguez.
When police arrived, it was still going on.
Police said Berrio and Giraldo Cortez were so engaged, they didn’t even notice that police were there.
“We observed the two males performing the sex act, the officer had to tap on the window to get their attention,” said Rodriguez.
Both men were placed under arrest without incident.
Candice Parker was with her son at the playground.
“The fact that they are priests is above and beyond shocking,” she said. “I don’t understandthis kind of behavior. They’re supposed to be leading good example and they’re doing exactly the opposite.”
The arrest reports state both men are priests from Arlington Heights, Illinois, which is a suburb of Chicago.
The address they gave comes back to the Mission San Juan Diego Parish in Arlington Heights.
“Their profession is irrelevant, in fact our trouble with this is that this is broad daylight, for anyone to see including children. There’s a time and a place for everything and this certainly was not the time and place,” said Rodriguez.
Police point out there is a children’s playground near the intersection of 13th and Ocean Drive.
Berrio was charged with a misdemeanor charge of Lewd and Lascivious Behavior and Giraldo Cortez was also charged with a misdemeanor charge of Lewd and Lascivious Behavior plus Indecent Exposure.
Late Tuesday, the Archdiocese of Chicago released a statement regarding the two priests.
“We were informed this morning that Rev. Diego Berrio, pastor of Misión San Juan Diego in Arlington Heights, Ill., and Rev. Edwin Giraldo Cortes, an extern priest from Soacha, Colombia who served at St. Aloysius Parish in Chicago for one month, August 1 to August 31, 2018, were arrested in Miami on September 3, 2018.
“Cardinal Blase J. Cupich, archbishop of Chicago, has removed Fr. Berrio from ministry and withdrawn his faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago, effective immediately. The archdiocese will appoint an administrator for the Misión San Juan Diego as soon as possible.
“Archdiocese representatives have been in contact with Fr. Cortes’ home diocese of Soacha, Colombia and informed them that Fr. Cortes will not be granted additional faculties to minister in the Archdiocese of Chicago.
“It is our responsibility to ensure those who serve our people are fit for ministry. We take this matter very seriously and will provide updates as they become available.”
The two men have since bonded out of jail but had nothing to say as they left.
Marvin Winans is accused of requiring a worker to donate money towards birthday gifts and pay 10% of her income as a “tithe” as a condition to maintain employment
Her job was to clean the church. But the church tried to clean her out instead, she claims.
In a blistering lawsuit against the Grammy-winning Rev. Marvin Winans and his Perfecting Church, a housekeeper named Lakaiya Harris claims the gospel music star and church officials shook her down for money. They required her to donate money toward birthday gifts for supervisors and managers and to tithe 10% of her salary to the church, the lawsuit claims.
When she refused to pony up, Harris says, she was fired.
According to the 18-page lawsuit filed in U.S. District Court, it was Winans who demanded that Harris donate 10 percent of her $18,000-a-year housekeeper’s salary to the church. Winans allegedly did this during a meeting in a conference room in 2017, telling Harris “that it had come to his attention” that she earned $18,000 the year before.
” ‘So you owe us $1,800,’ ” Winans allegedly told Harris, the suit states. “When she stated that she didn’t have the money, he offered to deduct the $1,800 directly from her biweekly paychecks.”
Harris refused, stating she was not going to let the church deduct $1,800 from her paycheck and “complained that her job had already been threatened for not giving ‘birthday money,’ ” the suit states.
According to the lawsuit, supervisors repeatedly required Harris to give $10-$25 to buy birthday presents for managers and once offered to deduct the money from her paycheck “if need be.” One supervisor allegedly pestered Harris when she refused to donate to the birthday fund, telling her “Well, you’re going to have to give this $10. … I know you have $10 floating around in your little world, you just don’t want to give it up. Everybody has to give this,” the suit states.
At issue for Harris is that she is both a member of Perfecting Church, and an employee. In her lawsuit, she claims that other employees who work for the church but don’t belong to it aren’t required to tithe as a condition of employment.
But she is. And forcing only church-member-employees to give back 10 percent of their earnings violates employment and civil rights laws, Harris claims.
As of late Wednesday, Winans could not be reached for comment. It is not clear whether he knows about the civil suit as such lawsuits typically take longer than a day to get served on defendants.
According to the lawsuit, the church not only demanded money from Harris, but also cheated her out of overtime pay by manipulating her time clock records “in order to avoid paying her for overtime hours worked.”
“Perfecting also implemented an unlawful time-docking policy to penalize employees who arrived late,” states the lawsuit, which cited the church’s Tardiness Policy.
“Each time an employee is late he or she will be docked according to the following schedule,” states the policy, as cited in the suit. For example, if an employee is tardy 1-15 minutes, they get 15 minutes of pay docked from their check.
According to the lawsuit, this is what prompted Harris to sue:
Harris was employed by Perfecting from March 2012 through January 2017. She worked as a housekeeper and spent the first several weeks of her employment cleaning the Marvin L. Winans Academy of Performing Arts, an elementary and middle school headed by Winans. After several weeks, she was transferred to Perfecting’s main church on East Nevada, on the city’s east side.
Winans is the founder and president of Perfecting Church, which owns at least 90 commercial and residential properties in Detroit and employs about 40 workers to clean and maintain them. Among them was Harris.
At a staff meeting in 2016, Harris openly stated to Winans that she was not happy about not being paid for work she was doing. In October of that year, Winans directed Harris to meet with him in his office, where he asked her why she hadn’t attended church recently. According to the suit, Harris said that she was exhausted from working long hours and not being paid, and complained that her job was being threatened for refusing to donate toward birthday gifts to supervisors.
Three months later, Harris was summoned to another meeting with Winans and another church official. It was at this meeting that Winans mentioned the tithing issue, and deducting $1,800 from Harris’ check.
Harris wouldn’t hear of it.
So Winans responded: ” ‘Well, that pretty much terminates your employment with us. … You can go ahead and proceed with the exit interview.’ “
Harris was fired that day.
Editors Note: This is what “the church” has reduced itself to! A money hungry, non God fearing, unholy business organization! Today’s Christianity is a man made kingdom that has every spirit present in it except the Spirit of God!
Perverted Pastor Ricardo Strachan and Avo Roker arrested for molesting the same little girl
The step-father of a South Florida teen girl was arrested Saturday after police say he sexually assaulted his 13-year-old step-daughter for a year.
The arrest of Avo Roker was made about a week after 40-year-old “Pastor” Ricardo Strachan was placed behind bars for molesting the same girl. Police say Roker introduced Strachan to the girl at church and that the duo threatened to kill her and conduct voodoo rituals on her family if she told anybody.
“Pastor” Ricardo’s photo on his Go Fund Me Page
Both men were booked into Broward County Jail. Avo Roker was held without bond and Ricardo Strachan, who used to preach at The Prophetic Worshippers International Church, was charged with one count of lewd and lascivious battery on a minor between the ages of 12 and 16 years old and held on a $100,000 bond. According to a police report, Strachen had sex with the girl more than 36 times either in the parking lot of a high school during school hours or at a nearby motel between January to December of 2016.
Strachen is also accused of forcing the teen to steal clothes from her family– items that would ultimately be used in voodoo rituals if she went to the authorities, the report said, noting that he told the girl his wife was an armed police officer.
Documents outlining Roker’s arrest were not immediately available Sunday, Lauderhill police told the Miami Herald. However police say Roker had sex with his step-daughter more than 65 times from December 2015 to December 2016.
Jail records show he’s being held on no bond while Strachen is being held on $100,000 bond.
Pastor Harris placed a permanent ban of membership against the church members…
If members of the Zion Missionary Baptist Church in East Palo Alto, California, hadn’t fought back, their one-time Pastor, Andre Harris, and his wife, Rhona Edgerton-Harris, would have fleeced them of their church building and a home valued at more than $1 million.
Church members explained that when they arrived for services one day in early May 2014, they found a real estate sign on the parsonage next door where the Christian leader and his family had been allowed to live rent free.
A curious church member did some sleuthing at the county recorder’s office and discovered that the deed to the home had been strangely transferred to the pastor and his wife. A for-sale sign also soon appeared on the church property which led alarmed members to demand an explanation from their pastor about a month later.
Pastor Harris, who had renamed the church Born Again Christian Center when he took over leadership of the congregation, responded by handing the protesting members notices of ex-communication — barring them from the church in the name of Jesus.
“Greetings in the name of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Born Again Christian Center is informing you because of your inconsistent attendance over the months or years, we have therefore removed you as a member,” Harris wrote in the notice. “You therefore no longer have any rights or privileges to conduct any matter at the said Church. … We are informing you of your removal and permanent ban of membership at Born Again Christian Center.”
The members replied to Harris with a lawsuit alleging several crimes, including attempts to defraud the church. About 10 months later, the church prevailed.
Harris returned the properties to them in a settlement, the terms of which were not disclosed. But Harris and his wife almost got away with it. Zion Missionary Baptist Church members called themselves “blessed” because most perpetrators of fraud in churches are usually never reported.
Research cited by Brotherhood Mutual Insurance Company, the second largest U.S. provider of property and casualty insurance to Christian churches and related ministries, says reported cases of church financial fraud has been rising by about 6 percent annually and is expected to reach the $60 billion mark by 2025.
The level of reported fraud in churches is dwarfed, however, by the 80 percent of church fraud cases that are estimated to go unreported.
John Montague, a corporate and nonprofit tax law expert and senior associate at leading global international law firm Hogan Lovells, explained in a recent interview with The Christian Post why he believes the best way to abate church fraud is to remove the IRS Form 990 exemption churches currently enjoy. Evidence suggests churches cannot be trusted to regulate themselves, he said.
The IRS Form 990 is the reporting form that many federally tax-exempt organizations must file with the IRS each year. It allows the IRS and the general public to evaluate a nonprofit’s operations, including information on the nonprofit’s mission, programs, and finances. Depending on the filing year and the gross receipts of the organization, a nonprofit might be required to file Forms 990, 990-EZ or 990-N.
In his general assessment of what he is hearing from average churchgoers today, Montague said people are frustrated by not having access to the kind of transparency in churches that a Form 990 can give.
The public could also learn financial details such as how much ECFA President Dan Busby got paid from the organization that year — $193,218 in reported compensation and $42,032 in other income totaling just over $235,000.
“Nearly every conversation I’ve had with members of the laity, people have been interested in the concept of transparency, and frustrated by the general lack of transparency,” explained Montague, who served as a law clerk to The Honorable Thomas B. Wells of the U.S. Tax Court prior to joining Hogan Lovells.
“In churches, I’ve encouraged people to ask questions about the finances of their churches, but I’m not aware of any church that has actually made a move to voluntarily file a 990 or to provide the level of transparency that would result from having to file a 990,” Montague said.
He also explained that among the reasons why Christians aren’t pushing to hold churches more accountable and showing more concern about financial accountability through the IRS Form 990 is a lack of awareness.
“I don’t think most people are aware of the 990. … And even if they are aware of the 990, they are not aware of the exemption that churches have. I’m sure that 99 percent of Christians are totally unaware of that exemption,” Montague said.
“I think there are people, [who might say] ‘look, my responsibility is to give money to the Church and then I leave it up to God as to what happens to it after.’ I think there are those people. I would imagine that they’re probably in the minority but I have no idea.”
In January 2011, Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, released a report after a three-year investigation targeting six popular televangelists, including Paula White, Creflo Dollar and Kenneth Copeland.
The report raised questions about their personal use of things such as church-owned airplanes, luxury homes and credit cards. It also expressed concern about the lack of oversight of finances by boards often filled by the televangelists’ relatives and friends.
Grassley, citing the concerns raised by the report, asked Busby in his role as leader of the ECFA to come up with a solution using legislation as a last resort.
“As you consider the issues my staff raised, please remember our discussion in my office when you visited me with other members of ECFA board on March 12, 2009. I stated then that I believe that legislation should be the last resort. However, ideas for reform often inspire informed and thoughtful discussions which, in turn, lead to self-correction and eliminate the need for legislation,” he wrote.
In 1977, after similar concerns were raised about financial impropriety among certain televangelists at the time, then Republican Senator Mark Hatfield, who died in August 2011, warned that Congress would enact legislation if evangelical leaders could not develop a proposal to regulate themselves, according to Montague in The Law and Financial Transparency in Churches: Reconsidering the Form 990.
This resulted in the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and the Christian relief organization World Vision partnering to found the ECFA in 1979 with 115 members. Only one televangelist was listed among that number.
In a March 1979 Washington Post report on the launch of the ECFA, organizers said more than 1,100 evangelical charitable organizations with a combined annual income approaching $1 billion would subscribe to the principles laid down by the organization.
Information from the ECFA’s 2015 990 shows that it currently reviews the data of more than 2,000 Christian charities and churches with more than $23 billion in annual revenue.
Grassley, in his letter to Busby, reminded him of the origin of the ECFA and its role as an alternative to legislated financial oversight for churches.
“ECFA was founded because of a challenge then-Senator Hatfield made in 1977 to Christian groups to be more accountable. He apparently was responding to a scandal in the religious community at that time. The size and diversity of the religious community in the United States has grown tremendously since the ECFA was created. I hope that a discussion of the issues raised by my staff will similarly result in increased accountability while acknowledging this growth and diversity,” Grassley wrote to Busby.
In a report released in December 2012, the commission, which is now inactive, encouraged churches and their leaders to act honorably and asked members of the public who donate money or their time to them to research religious organizations before investing in them.
“Churches and their leaders should not engage in abusive financial activities, nor should they improperly exploit the exemption from filing Form 990, because doing so undermines the credibility of their organizations and the religious community as a whole,” the commission advised.
The commission also recommended that Congress “never pass legislation requiring churches to file Form 990 or any similar information return or form with the federal government.”
“To require such a filing would not only place a substantial and unnecessary burden on churches and the government, it would also raise significant constitutional concerns. New churches should not have registration or notification requirements beyond those that already exist,” the commission said.
Church transparency and the New Tax Cuts and Jobs Act
In May, however, the IRS appeared to take a step toward bucking that advice when it released guidance on the increased scope of what should be taxed as unrelated business income under the newly instituted Tax Cuts and Jobs Act.
“Because of this new tax, many tax‐exempt employers, including churches, hospitals, charities, and schools will be required to file federal Form 990‐T, and in many cases, state corporate income returns, every year regardless of whether they actually engage in any unrelated business activity. This new tax was purportedly added to the law to put tax‐exempt employers on the same footing as taxable employers with respect to employer‐provided parking,” the ECFA explained in a statement to CP.
While church and financial transparency experts agree that the 990-T would only add minimally to the broader push toward church transparency and accountability, Busby argued that it’s also likely to create various administrative and financial costs for many churches that do not have the means to meet them.
“Working in the church world most of my career, my guess is that prior to this provision, there’s probably only 1 [percent] or 2 percent of churches in America that file form 990-T so we’re really talking about two issues,” Busby said in a June interview with CP.
“We’re talking about a financial issue. We’re gonna have to pay a tax on providing employee parking and two, which may be more important, is the administrative piece of this — to file a return with which they are not familiar. If you can imagine, small churches across America have to file a form 990-T that they’ve never even heard of. And probably they’re gonna need to secure professional advice and pay a professional to file the return, even though the money may not be a significant amount, it’s just a ridiculous provision that was put in the law,” he said.
In July, the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention issued a policy brief in support of repealing the new parking tax and earlier this month, bills were introduced in both the House and Senate echoing that recommendation.
“In addition to the new federal requirements, many nonprofits will then be required to file state returns and possibly pay state income tax,” the ERLC stated. “The new regulations create tax liability and increase operations costs for these nonprofits, all because they simply have a parking lot. …
“Taxing nonprofits on basic costs of operating an institution defeats the purpose of nonprofit status, an American tradition for over 100 years.”
The case for IRS oversight of churches
Pete Evans, lead investigator at the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, which has been tracking religious fraud and helping victims of religious fraud for almost 30 years, told CP that the new requirement is a step in the right direction toward transparency and is a small price to pay compared to the billions being lost in church fraud annually.
“Even if it affects our own church, I would vote yes [to the 990-T provision],” Evans said. You have all these churches now and ministries that are wealthy beyond wealth and some of which have thousands and thousands of acres in the counties that are not on the tax rolls because of various exemptions and they are living like Arabian princes,” Evans noted.
Evans also questioned Busby’s apparent concern for smaller churches in his criticism of the ECFA.
“If you look at the majority of people that ECFA represents, they represent the larger churches because ECFA charges so much money that small churches can’t afford to be members of ECFA. And so I think there is hypocrisy there that on one hand they’re getting a lot of money from the larger ministries, churches and now all of a sudden they are defending the little churches?” he said.
In response to recent questions about the organization’s membership, a spokesperson for the ECFA revealed that only a minority of its currently registered members, 225, are churches.
That’s less than 1 percent of the 250,000 churches registered with the IRS’ Select Check program, according to Holly Ivel, director of Guidestar’s data services. Under this program, the IRS provides official recognition of an organization’s tax-exempt status which assures donors that their contributions are tax deductible.
“Based on how these organizations are coded there’s almost a quarter of a million churches that have chosen to do that (Select Check),” explained Ivel of the program. “So they’ve voluntarily registered, which is great.”
While Ivel, like the ECFA, does not recommend requiring churches to file a Form 990, she did notice from the data in their system that just over 2 percent of the 250,000 churches registered for the Select Check program also filed some variation of the form 990, even though they aren’t required to file it.
“They are not required to file a return but even though they are not required to, about 5,300 have filed an annual return — either an EZ, which is kind of the short form, or a 990. And that’s between 2014 and 2017,” Ivel said.
Some of these filings could be easily searched and viewed on a database available on the IRS website as recently as late June. An update to that page on July 6 now only allows the public to determine deductibility of their contributions. It is unclear why this change was made.
Evans, who agrees with Montague that the evidence against churches show they cannot be trusted with self-regulation, argued that the 990 would be a more powerful safeguard against abuse because of the detailed information it requires. Many churches, he argued, as seen in the number of churches that file Form 990 even though they are not required, would be able to adhere to IRS oversight if there was a requirement to do so.
“Especially for the larger ministries and churches, there needs to be some transparency because they’re not going to do it on their own. Churches, if they are not required to, are typically not going to be transparent on their own and I think a lot of churches would be willing if there was a requirement,” Evans said.
“ECFA does not reveal salary information of their clients and that’s one of the key aspects of transparency that they’re hiding their own clients. They give everybody a seal of approval, this organization is good and above board and yet don’t reveal salary information? What’s up with that?” he asked.
In response, Busby noted in a statement to CP: “There has never been a legal requirement for churches to disclose their salaries. ECFA’s standards start with legal requirements, and in some cases, go beyond the law.”
“… Because of their opacity and the unique nature of religious authority, churches are more likely to foster and shelter malfeasance. Churchgoers are unlikely to challenge leaders because doing so can endanger their position in the religious community, making it imperative that transparency be mandated by outside authorities,” Montague argued.
“Ironically, increased transparency may actually be good for churches because, as studies suggest, it is likely to increase donations and because, by minimizing opportunities for financial improprieties, it may preserve the religious experience of churchgoers. In addition, transparency is consistent with the teaching of many Christian leaders and with the expressed preferences of a large portion of churchgoers.”
Montague said he sent copies of his research to Busby and Grassley.
In a response from Busby to Montague shared with CP, Busby noted in a 2013 letter: “ECFA’s position with respect to Form 990 coincides with the recommendations in the Commission report, i.e., that requiring such a form for churches would constitute unnecessary and constitutionally prohibited excessive entanglement by the government in the affairs of the church.”
The Excessive Entanglement Problem
Some see potential religious freedom issues in additional filing requirements being placed upon churches.
“Although the entanglement created by having church-related institutions file information returns does not seem terribly great, the requirement can be seen as a first step whose ultimate end is full government surveillance of religious institutions. The excessive entanglement test serves as a ‘warning signal’ regarding programs which may appear harmless, but whose ultimate expression would result in a clearly unconstitutional relationship between church and state,” Worthington wrote.In discussing the excessive entanglement concerns, Montague pointed in his study to a well-publicized congressional hearing in 1987 hearing with witnesses from the IRS and the Treasury, as well as notable televangelists including Jerry Falwell and Oral Roberts.
Then Congressman J.J. Pickle, chair of the Subcommittee on Oversight of the House Ways and Means Committee who convened the hearing, noted how Congress and the executive “historically have been reluctant to look very closely at tax issues involving religious organizations” because of their political sensitivity.
Roberts argued that the ECFA, which had been formed as an alternative to legislation, lacked teeth and that it would be better for all organizations to file the Form 990 and submit to external audits.
Gordon Loux, then chairman of the board of the ECFA, also noted that there are “inherent difficulties in self-regulation” as it is limited to those who consent to be regulated. He agreed that the Form 990 is a “minimal requirement that ought to be met by those that are operating in the public service.”
Then Commissioner of the IRS Lawrence Gibbs, who had previously agreed that churches had not been subject to the requirements of filing information returns because of concern about government intrusion into religion, was challenged during the hearing by former Congressman from New York Charles Rangel. An excerpt of their exchange is highlighted below:
Mr. Rangel: Do you see where filing an annual report by churches would be in violation of the constitutional right of separation of church and state?
Mr. Gibbs: I have assumed, perhaps erroneously, that that was the reason—or certainly one of the prominent reasons—for specifically excluding them by statute in 1969.
Mr. Rangel: Well, why did you reach that assumption? You know, it is only a congressional decision. Has any court said that you cannot put limitations on the privilege of tax exemption? We do it in unrelated taxes. We do it in lobbying. We do it in political affairs. We do it in FCC control. What in God’s name could be even remotely considered a violation of the constitutional rights of churches to say that they should file an annual report as to how much money they got and what they did with it?
Several pastors contacted by CP to discuss this story because their churches filed 990 returns referred questions to their treasurer or the individual who prepared them. None of these individuals responded to interview requests.
Montague suggested that some of the churches may have filed the returns in error, not realizing they are exempt from filing.
(Originally written by Leonardo Blair/ Edited by Babylon Today)
The settlement showed that despite agreeing to the financial payouts, the church “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”
Willow Creek Community Church in Illinois reportedly paid $3.5 million in lawsuits over the sex abuse of two developmentally disabled boys.
The evangelical megachurch, which recently saw its entire elders board resign over unrelated accusations that former lead pastor Bill Hybels sexually abused women, made the payments in the lawsuits over several years, court records obtained by The Chicago Tribune show.
One payment of $1.75 million was apparently made in February, while another one of $1.5 million was made last year.
Former Willow Creek volunteer Robert Sobczak Jr., now 24, pled guilty in 2014 of abusing an 8-year-old with special needs at the church, alongside an older boy not connected with the church. A year earlier, he admitted to sexually abusing another disabled boy at the church, believed to have been 9 years old.
Willow Creek said that the experience was “heartbreaking,” and insisted that it has made changes.
“We have worked with law enforcement and security experts to learn how this happened and how we can ensure it never happens again,” the church said, according to FOX 32.
Cook County prosecutors had described in the lawsuits that Sobczak separately took the two boys to an isolated area of the church, where he molested them.
What is more, the document shows that another church worker had raised concerns in January 2013 that Sobczak was “emotionally unhealthy.” The volunteer was allowed to remain with the program, however, and went on to abuse the second victim.
The second victim reportedly suffered “great mental and emotional harm” due to the abuse he suffered, and underwent therapy.
The settlement showed that despite agreeing to the financial payouts, the church “has denied and continues to deny all material allegations of negligence and damages in this case.”
When the child sex abuse charges first came to light back in 2013, the megachurch said in a statement:
“Willow Creek engages in a rigorous screening and training process for all volunteers and staff in our Special Friends Ministry that includes a detailed child protection application process, checking of references, a national background check, cross checking the sex offender registry, and offering training in child protection. Mr. Sobczak had completed and passed this screening process before he began serving with the Special Friends Ministry.”
Heather Larson, who would go on to become Willow Creek’s executive pastor, before resigning this August over the Hybels scandal, insisted back then that church leadership is “very concerned for the child as well as the family.”
“We take rigorous steps to protect our children,” she stated at the time.
Larson, along with Willow Creek’s entire elder board, resigned earlier in August, admitting that they should have believed the multiple women who accused Hybels of sexual misconduct and abuse this year.
The church initially sided with Hybels, who has continued to maintain his innocence in the face of all claims. It later admitted that its founder had “fallen into sin.”
“While Bill Hybels was our founder and pastor, he was human, broken, and self-admittedly sinful. We believe that his sins were beyond what he previously admitted on stage, and certainly we believe that his actions with these women were sinful. We believe he did not receive feedback as well as he gave it, and he resisted the accountability structures we all need,” said in a statement about the issue Missy Rasmussen, one of Willow Creek’s elders.