Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Cerullo "Cultivates" For His Mansion

*Nice spread. Sow your seeds to it today! Not.

Fleecing the flock
by George White, The Examiner

With unemployment being sky high and climbing it seems that a person who is looking for work need only look to the ministry to make his or her fortune these days. Take the case of one David Cerullo, the CEO of Inspiration Networks. According to the Associated Press, Cerullo is in the process of building a multi million dollar home estimated to be between nine and twelve thousand square feet on Lake Keowee in Lancaster county South Carolina. Cerullo has built Inspirations Networks out of what was left of the now defunct PTL network, which stood for Praise the Lord (or to some it meant Preachers Taking Loot) of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker fame.

Cerullo is building this mansion even as his ministry has begun as far back as 2008 to make deep cuts in it's operational budget. Thermostats have been cut back to 65 degrees in the winter, contributions to 401k retirement programs for employees have been cut back or curtailed, and many employees have been laid off, even as Cerullo has his family members on the payroll. Cerullo himself draws a 1.5 million dollar salary and compensation package which he has had to defend in the past and claims to have refused even more when the church board of directors offered it. The Charlotte Observer reports in a story from July 3rd that Inspirations Network was enticed to move to South Carolina and it's current headquarters from North Carolina by the state offering approximately 26 million dollars in undisclosed incentives.

It is estimated that the network will generate about 100 million dollars in revenue mostly from donations. Cerullo maintains that 80 percent of each dollar donated goes to spreading the gospel. That would leave about 20 million dollars to pay employees and keep the heat on during the cold months. These types of figures do not sit well with some members of the general public. Don Weaver, the President of the South Carolina Taxpayers Association said of this news, "If they've got these kinds of assets, does the state really need to offer tax breaks?" Mr. Weaver's frustration is not an isolated case. There have been many stories in the news over the past few years of this type financial finagling among clergy.

Here in the Memphis and Shelby county area, as well as across the state, one can see that churches are not doing to bad for themselves. Some of our churches resemble a major college campus, with ornate buildings and long winding driveways. Fancy trim adorns the doorways and windows, some made of expensive stained glass. There is one church in the area that has entrances on two major roads on the east and west ends of the grounds which span about 400 acres. The church boasts approximately 30,000 members and can seat 7,000 at a time. There are some churches in the area that are smaller but not by much. Bartlett Senior High School just held their commencement exercises in such a church.It might be interesting indeed to drive around on a Sunday morning and see what kind of cars are parked in the spaces reserved for the pastors of some of these churches.

According to the blog posted by Thaddeus Matthews on August 18th 2008, the widow of well known and recently deceased Bishop G. E. Patterson, of Bountiful Blessings ministries has filed a lawsuit against Milton Hawkins, the new church pastor in a dispute over money. Louise Patterson is attempting to preserve her salary of $27,000 a month, which she thought was to be a lifelong stipend, but apparently was only contractually promised to her for two years after her husband's death. She is also concerned about the approximately $20,000 that comes in each Sunday from contributions.

It seems that when Bishop Patterson died and Hawkins took over, the church had about four million dollars in it's coffers. Pastor Hawkins, whose salary is $33,000 a month, has purchased land for about $300,000 and is building his own 1 million dollar home on it. There is some concern, according to Matthews blog, that Hawkins is using church money for his own.

One is reminded of that old joke about the three preachers discussing how they pay themselves from the church donations. The first said, " I draw a circle in chalk on the floor of my office and toss the money in the air. What falls inside the circle is mine, the rest is for the church." The second says, " I draw a line down the middle of my office and toss the money into the air. What falls on the side I'm standing on is mine, the rest is the church's." The last preacher, who drove a new Cadillac and wore custom made suits said, " I just toss the money into the air. What God catches, he can keep." Another joke is that Sen. Charles Grassley (R) Iowa is investigating the finances of Cerullo and six other televangelist and stated that these non profit organizations should not be using viewers donations to lead an extravagant lifestyle. Imagine a politician saying this. Where else but for government, except for maybe the clergy it seems, can a person get elected to a $150,000 a year job and six years later be a multi millionaire? It would be funny if it were not so sad.