Follow the money; find the paper

Just last month I wrote about the “gospel of easy money,” and in that post were a few links to stories of pastors living unusually lavish lifestyles. If you read that post, and easily discerned my contempt for such behavior, you’d expect that similar stories immediately grab my attention. Stories like this one from WFAA News 8 in Dallas/Fort Worth:

Not long ago, the Fellowship Church in Grapevine was one of the largest and fastest-growing churches in the nation.

Its pastor, Ed Young, was making national headlines by encouraging married couples to have more sex.

But since that time, sources say membership has waned and some say Pastor Young may have lost his way — putting himself and secrecy over God. …

One former staff member who says he was close to Young but wishes not to be identified, described it this way: “The lack of accountability. The lavish lifestyle that keeps increasing, while the attendance keeps decreasing.”

I’m not used to reporters passing along passed judgment about someone’s relationship with God, but maybe the reporting backs it up.

Maybe. There’s definitely a lot in there. FAA reports about a private jet that appears to be in Young’s name (not clear on that) and was quickly taken to the Bahamas after he took possession of it.

But it’s not just the jet and the international travel the Young keeps out of sight.

News 8 has also learned that Young’s 10,000 square foot, $1.5 million estate on Lake Grapevine is not listed on the tax rolls in his name, but rather in the name of “Palometa Revocable Trust.”

Records show that Young was paid $240,000 a year as a parsonage allowance; that’s in addition what sources say is a $1 million yearly pastor’s salary.

What’s not clear, though, is the credibility of WFAA’s sources. They are (gulp) anonymous former confidantes of Young. That’s a red flag. And it’s unclear how much the reporter relied on them for the details of this story. It looks like a lot. Another red flag. And a hint that someone else needs to pick this story up and see where it leads.

Young responded on his blog with a post titled “No Secrets.” He then did more than just baldly deny the allegations by talking about it at church, in the above video. But It’s hard to know how Young could sincerely deny the allegations of the WFAA report because he claims he didn’t watch it. And I’ve written about enough pro athletes to believe that a high-profile pastor might, by personal rule, tune out the good and the bad coverage about himself.

But the WFAA report is too flippantly dismissed for my comfort. No one really seems to be addresses the specifics of the story, or breaking down the substance of the evidence. I’m not supposing the allegations are true, but all I’ve seen has been strategic redirecting. Certainly, this story could use a few more passes from a few more reporters.

Is anybody out there?

The only other coverage of seen of this was a Christian Post article relaying Young’s defense and the disbelief of his supporters. I know the Dallas Morning News‘ religion coverage has been eviscerated since the paper wrote about Young encouraging married couples to have sex daily, but didn’t this pop up on their screen? Not even after the WFAA report? And where’s the Fort Worth Star-Telegram?

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  • Jerry

    I’m not sure if it’s a chicken and egg situation, but I think stories like this need to be put together with stories about how younger people are less affiliated with churches as documented by the Pew Forum http://www.pewforum.org/docs/?DocID=510 It certainly seems reasonable to me that someone growing up today will be affected by being exposed to scandal after scandal involving the clergy.

  • http://www.tmatt.net tmatt

    JERRY:

    I would worry that much of megachurch Christianity is wedded at the hip to the very celebrity and media culture that has soaked into the Pew Forum stats.

  • http://www.mikehickerson.com Mike Hickerson

    I expected that Dallas-based televangelist watchdog Ole Anthony and the Trinity Foundation would appear in this story, and sure enough – there they are. One of my questions for the GR folks would be – who do you think did the investigation here: WFAA or Ole Anthony?

    Anthony and his team do some very interesting work, but they aren’t without their own critics or their own controversial perspective on certain issues. I was surprised that this statement from Anthony wasn’t challenged by anyone:

    “When did the intellectual property, when did the preaching and the Bible notes and the books become intellectual property for the pastor?” asked Ole Anthony of the Trinity Foundation in Dallas. “That’s the property of the church.”

    Really? I would think the intellectual property agreements to vary from denomination to denomination and from church to church. This is Dallas: couldn’t a Christian publisher, literary agent, or other neutral party familiar with Christian publishing have confirmed – or denied – Anthony’s assertion?

  • http://www.dallascult.com Doug Duncan

    Mike Hickerson brings up a good point. I used to be a member of Ole Anthony’s group, Trinity Foundation, and participated in a number of their investigations. I personally watched Ole spoon feed stories to the local media. While we did uncover some questionable practices by certain preachers and televangelists, I was appalled at how little real investigating reporters do. It would not surprise me if Ole had even contacted Shipp and suggested this story to him in the first place. There may have been little for Shipp to do besides go on camera to read the pre-packaged story neatly delivered to him by Ole. I do not know if that is the case here since I am no longer associated with Trinity Foundation, but I saw it happen in several other instances.

  • http://religionpluscollege.wordpress.com/ Ashley

    So nobody did further investigation on this, which isn’t a good thing.

    He says that he didn’t watch the report. If he didn’t want to watch the report, then how could he confirm these allegations?

    I do think that if enough people had questioned everyone involved in the productions of these particular news stories, then this wouldn’t be a problem. Another thing that I noticed:

    “When we asked Young specifically if he has a personal jet, his spokesman told us only that he travels using commercial, charter and leased aircraft, and that he reimburses the church for any personal trips.”

    Question – So did they just use a spokesman and pass it off as actually talking to Young?

  • http://christianheadlines.com Barry Bowen

    Mike, if you were to hear a sermon at Fellowship Church and wanted to buy the transcript, you would have to purchase it through CreativePastors.com (a website owned by Ed Young) instead of through the church.

    The church I attend sells CDs of the sermons and that money goes back to the church, not the pastor.

    I suggest you do some research into self-dealing. Serious conflict-of-interest issues can happen when someone owns a for-profit company and a non-profit organization and these two entities do business with each other.

  • Benny Simpson

    Ole once sold copies of his sermons/Bible studies or received “donations” for them. I don’t know if he does so now. The idea of a church like Ole’s doing private eye work for God bothers me. It is creepy if you ask me. Why have they never investigated any mainstream churches or the Catholic church? Who is Ole responsible to? His board is made up of long time friends (cronies). Who will investigate Ole? The Morning News? Mr. Shipp?

  • Kirk

    Few answers from Fellowship Church. Ed Young should disclose his salary and all benefits, with documentation. That would quiet the critics.

    When you walk in the door at Fellowship Church, there’s a bookstore and coffee shop off the main foyer. They sell books and video sermon series by Ed Young almost exclusively, all neatly produced and packaged. Question: who pays for the production of these materials? Who pays the salary of the stage crew and the audio/video technicians? Who pays to develop the artwork? How then can that material be sold by a separate for-profit entity?

    Let’s open the books for the lease of the private airplane. Who owns the plane? If an entity, then who owns an interest in the entity? How much does the church pay to lease the plane? Is that the going rate? How does it compare to commercial fares?

    Is Young paid $20,000 per month for a parsonage expense? Is this a non-tax benefit to the pastor?

    Lots of questions, some reporter needs to get after it.

  • Paul Rea

    I was on volunteer staff of FC from 2001-2005. Not only is financial info not available to church members, you are treated as an enemy of the state for even asking. I learned the church forbids contact with any of the paid staffers except the staff person immediately above you. An investigation on the questionable mixing of non-profit / for profit is parlayed as if it were an attack on the church members themselves. Words are carefully chosen to mislead such as “FC does not own an airplane”.

  • Benny Simpson

    I was a member of Ole’s group for seven years. If anyone questioned Ole about finances or other things they were immediatley put on vicious “hot seats”. If you trust him and his band of “Holy Dumpster Divers” first read Wendy Duncan’s heavily researched book ‘I Can’t Hear God Anymore: Life in a Dallas Cult’.

    I am not saying Ed is innocent. Just don’t believe everything Ole says before checking him out. It is only fair and prudent.

  • http://none Chris

    I attended Ed Young’s church and his father’s church in Houston. He has a really bad problem with materialism but is a super talented pastor nonetheless. Still, I live way below my means so I can tithe and to see someone like Ed spending TITHE money to fund this lifestyle is really, really sad. Surely, Ed Young Jr has to know that he will have to answer to God for his poor use of God’s resources.

  • John

    One thing they failed to bring out in the news report was Ed’s condo in Coconut Grove, FL, which I have been told from a reliable source cost over a million. Unfortunately, even though he’s a great communicator, he reeks of greed.

    Besides that, he censored this news story and his response from the Miami campus of Fellowship Church. Only those who read his blog and were willing to dig had any clue what was going on, whereas all the Dallas area campuses were aware of the situation.


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