Religious purveyors of the snake oil best known as “the prosperity gospel” have been on the high end of antsy ever since Republican Senator Charles Grassley started requesting financial information from some high profile TV evangelists.

Some of the media-based preachers have cooperated, but others have resisted in varying degrees, complaining that keeping details about their private jets and Rolls Royces is a matter of religious liberty.

Kenneth Copeland reportedly told a group of fellow ministers in January that Grassley’s attempts to gain information would be made “over my dead body.”

Grassley is a Baptist, while most (though not all) of the targeted TV preachers proclaim a rather Pentecostal version of the gospel. Despite Copeland’s friendship with Baptist preacher-turned-politician and current presidential candidate Mike Huckabee, the probe is now being framed in some circles as a Baptist effort to make Pentecostals look bad.

That claim, like other wild-eyed conspiracy theories, is far more buzz than bee. Grassley is a serious person who has a serious concern. In a pattern that has gone on for too long, poor but gullible people around the country are hornswoggled into mailing money to unscrupulous preachers who promise that God will bless the donor by returning the money many-fold.

Practitioners of the bamboozlers’ art promote their own flashy bling and lavish lifestyles as evidence of God’s faithfulness — an empty promise even less scrupulous than a state government’s lottery advertisement.

For too many years, too many preachers have avoided taxes or hidden shady dealings behind a religious facade or through tricks such as labeling tax-due income as “love gifts.” Can you imagine what words old Amos or Micah would have for preachers who live large by selling twisted theology to those who have least?

Grassley, to his credit, is asking questions that need to be asked. The measure of resistance he gets is probably a measure of just how much some prominent preachers have to hide.

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