The inquiry by Senator Grassley’s comittee reminds me strangely of what Swails, Brooker, Brooker, & Richardson did in releasing the contents of Cantese’s document about improprieties by Richard & Lindsey. There are no actual allegation or accusation by the Senate committee that precipitates this inquiry, and it’s strangely coincidental that they have targeted all Word of Faith teachers. Further, although I don’t know the law, it strikes me as highly irregular that a senate committee would begin investigating the tax-compliance of select organizations without IRS involvement or specific and stated cause(s). Of course there may be genuine cause, and it is a bit eery that the more flamboyant preachers of the bunch (Hinn & Dollar) are resisting offering up their information.
Back to the similarities: It reminds me of ORU’s scandal in that both Senator Grassley and Swails, et al. have essentially gone on the offense by casting aspersions. The plaintiffs at ORU never technically purported that any of the offenses in that document were accurate; but by making the itemized list public – in stages, no less – rather than simply saying a report with salacious rumors existed, they made a brilliant and brutal PR move that has been the primary reason Richard has lost his job. Of course, I’m glad to see leadership change at ORU and I know personally some of the details in the document are absolutely true. However, it was still a ‘gloves-off’ move by the Swails/Brooker team in terms of how they used the media to their advantage. In the same way, Senator Grassley is besmirching the reputations of these ministers – perhaps correctly, perhaps not – and whether or not he ultimately finds any evidence of wrongdoing, he has already punched them in the gut publicly by being so public in his inquiry, rather than quietly asking for he wanted. Of course, asking quietly might have meant there was no pressure on the ministers to be forthcoming.
What I find morbidly fascinating is Dollar & Hinn’s reticence to comply. The greatest defense against Grassley’s PR attack would be quick and transparent compliance with his requests, thereby sending the message to the world that the ministers have nothing to hide. Of course, they may well be taking a stand for the rule of law and due process and resisting the pull to be tried by the court of public opinion by retaining lawyers and arguing that Grassley exceeds his authority in making these demands. Still, their willingness to stand up to a Senate committee on this implies either a desperate attempt to hide damaging evidence, or a tremendous confidence in both the legal accuracy of their position and the importance of taking a stand (and possibly a fall) for principle. I don’t know which. It might be both.
None of this is to say that I find fault with these tactics, per se. When in war, fight. But when should we go to war? While these actions wear the cloak of press releases and legal affidavits, they are little different than armed combat, with bombs and guns exchanged for media-manipulation and information-control. Sometimes I find myself very sympathetic to Christian pacifism, which suggests that our response to “Love thy enemies” must always be to pick up the wounded rather than guns. But on other days I firmly believe that just wars exist and ought to be fought, even by those who serve the Prince of Peace. Jesus said “Blessed are the Peacemakers.” But he also taught in line with a law and world view which tells us that there is right and wrong and that to sacrifice truth for consensus is a sin. As Christians, should we ever fight? If so, how do we know when to forgive and when to go to blows? Can we do both?
I cannot ask Senator Grassley to uphold my idea of Christian morals if he does not espouse them. But I can hope that Swails, Brooker, Brooker, & Richardson, as avowed Christians, embarked on this endeavor with humility in their hearts and a desire for redemption and transformation. After all, Christian morality also implies to me that the ends never justify the means. A needed shake-up of corrupt financial dealings by ministries may or may not justify the aggressive tactics used to bring such a shake-up. Or it might. It might have been necessary. It might have been the only way. It might have been hot-headed. It might have been vengeful.
I’m glad that our Father in Heaven judges the hearts of men and women, b/c I sure can’t in this case. Still, I do think that there are important questions raised here, particularly as it relates the actions of the Swails team, and that those questions are worth our consideration as we seek to contextualize our Christian ethos in a nation where many of the battles we witness and face are routinely fought with the weapons of legal action, information-control, PR, manipulation and maneuvering in business, complicated contracts, and self-promotion. Thoughts?