Brownsville Revival Report
Pensacola News Journal (1 of 4)
16th Nov 1997)
shield finances, make many false claims
J. Lowe Davis
Assistant managing editor
- The numbers are amazing: Millions of visitors, millions of dollars,
thousands of souls. The
claims are heart-warming: crime curtailed, addiction overcome, sickness
leaders are captivating: An ex-convict-junkie converted to evangelism;
a visionary and prophet dedicated to revival.
But how true
is it all? Is Pensacola's Brownsville Revival all that its leaders say
it is? Are the leaders who and what they say they are?
Journal sought to answer those questions in a four-month investigation
into the 2 1/2 year-old revival. The investigation focused on the revenue
and the spending, the leaders' backgrounds and lifestyles, the revival's
methods and messages, and the revival's claims about healings, crime reduction
the Brownsville Revival is unquestionable: Millions of people from far
and near have attended the four-nights-a-week revival Many have had an
emotionally and spiritually stimulating experience there.Many have been
baptized. Many have made a commitment to change their ways and live closer
about the revival, as a business and a community influence, is questionable,
and the answers cast it in a far different light.
News Journal findings: --The revival did not begin the way Pastor John
Kilpatrick and evangelist Steve Hill say it did. They say it was a spontaneous
and overwhelming move of God and that everyone there felt it. But a videotape
of the first service, plus the accounts from members who were there, reveal
otherwise and indicate the revival was well-planned and orchestrated to
become a large and long-running enterprise.
is flowing, information is not. Brownsville leaders refuse to disclose
revenue and spending details, beyond an abbreviated, generalized financial
statement that shows the church taking in $6.6 million in 1996. Not
even members of the congregation are allowed to look at the books.
leaders are generating fortunes. The top four ministers have set up
their own nonprofit corporations selling their own revival-related merchandise,
such as books, tapes, T-shirts and bumper stickers. The merchandise
is sold both inside the church and via mail order. Only one of the corporations
is paying sales tax.
autobiography and oft-told stories about his outlaw past are contradicted
by facts and by police records. He admitted to the News Journal that
he fictionalized parts of his book for "impact."
claims that most of his ministry's revenue from the revival goes to
missions and charities is contradicted in his ministry's financial statement
and Internal Revenue Service return. His assertions that his financial
books are open are untrue; he would not share key information with the
News Journal and sought to discourage questions.
has retreated from close contact with his flock while rapidly moving
up into a luxurious lifestyle outside Pensacola. His new home, at an
Alabama location he tried to keep secret, has barbed wire, a security
guard and a metal gate. Months before an injury that kept him at home
for weeks, Kilpatrick had ceased to keep office hours and had delegated
his pastoring duties to assistants.
- Hill and
Kilpatrick both have taken advantage of opportunities to conceal financial
information. Both put "$10 and other good and valuable consideration"
on their deeds as the price they paid for their new properties; Alabama
allows people to do that if they wish to avoid public disclosure of
the purchase price.
- The revival
service's spiritual messages and methods have distressed many devout
Pentecostals and given rise to much criticism among theologians and
has sought to silence dissent and criticism by prophesying -- announcing
he is voicing God's own predictions -- that the critics would die or
- The revival's
benefits to the Pensacola community are either overstated or untrue.
For example: Top law enforcement officers cite data disputing the revival
leaders' statements that the revival has reduced crime. Social service
agencies report having to serve a large influx of impoverished people
who were drawn to Pensacola for the revival but who have been turned
away by the church. Drug treatment centers report drug problems are
on the rise, not dropping. Mental health centers report treating more
out-of-town people than ever before, and most of them are people who
came to Pensacola for the revival. Residents and businesses in the impoverished
parts of the Brownsville community report that the church has done nothing
for the area and refuses requests for help.
- The revival's
claims about healing are unsubstantiated by medical documentation. The
revival touts cases in general but does not provide names or specifics.
The News Journal found people who said they had been cured and healed,
but none had medical proof from doctors.
is $6.6 million;
2% devoted to assist missions
Amie K. Streater
Brownsville Revival is known the world over for leading sinners to God.
But the 2 1/2-year phenomenon is not only making Christians out of gang
members and drug users, it is making millions of dollars. But for whom?
talk at length about the souls they have saved, but they rarely talk about
the money they have made. They tell expansive stories about the impact
of the revival, but they downplay the expensive lifestyles the revival
News Journal investigation has revealed spending practices that sharply
differ from the activities worshipers are asked to finance. About
15 percent of the church's $6.6 million budget -$1,019,406 - goes to salaries
and benefits for 107 church employees, according to a brief and nondetailed
financial statement the Brownsville Assembly of God released to the News
will not release specific information about the salaries and perquisites
-- including housing allowances -- for the revival leaders. The
revival leadership makes an unabashed call for money: "Reach into
your wallets and pull out the biggest thing you can find," Associate
Pastor Carey Robertson urges, suggesting that $100 is an acceptable figure.
and other leaders assure the audience that most of the money goes to missions
-- organizations working to spread Christianity. Yet after evangelist
Steve Hill takes his share -- the Friday night offering each week goes
to Hill's Together in the Harvest Ministries -- the Brownsville church's
donations to missions amounts to 2 percent of the church's annual budget.
Church leaders call for money to cover the "tremendous" expense
of keeping the church and revival going. Yet 14 percent of the budget
goes to cover such costs.
the revival pumps substantial money -- $1.2 million, or more than 18 percent
of the budget --into activities that gross big returns: pastors' conferences,
videotapes and music tapes to sell to revival-goers.
tells the revival audience that "our finances are in order"
and "everything is open," but the leadership refuses to make
full disclosure of the budget details.
nobody's business but ours," Robertson said. "We are not accountable
to the people who come to revival because they are our guests. They are
making a free-will offering and therefore should not expect an audit or
you wonder where the money is going, then don't give. Obviously, we can't
spend money the way people want us to, but once it becomes a gift, it
is ours to use. It is nobody's business how we use it."
for the Brownsville flock as well. The church's membership gets an annual
one-page statement, listing revenues and expenditures in general categories.
Robertson and church treasurer R.L. Berry say detailed accountings are
provided only to the church's eight-member board of directors.
church member can get financial answers without getting a two-thirds majority
vote from the congregation authorizing release of the information. By
contrast, large churches in the other major denominations in the Pensacola
community make full financial disclosure. What
is most clear about the Brownsville Revival money picture is that the
leaders have found many ways to keep the money coming in. For example:
Pleas for money intensify
Revival leaders go big time
with Awake America
Amie K. Streater
Tenn - Within the dazzling steel walls of The Pyramid, the arena that
dominates the Memphis cityscape, evangelist Steve Hill was shining.
people who flocked each night to the Oct. 6-7 revival got the Hill they've
read and heard about, the fiery, feisty, flamboyant man who glistens with
sweat as he shouts, stomps and shakes his fist at their sin. Many
came expecting nothing short of a miracle.
the other leaders of the Pensacola Brownsville Revival are finding ways
to reach even more than the thousands every week at the Brownsville Assembly
of God, where the 2 1/2-year-old religious phenomenon is conducted four
nights a week.
the most recent stadium revival, or "outpouring," the Brownsville
leaders have produced in big cities under the name "Awake America."
In the last year they have gone to Anaheim, Calif.; Dallas; St. Louis;
Toledo, Ohio; and Birmingham, Ala. Hill says Awake America has barely
been able to break even.
At The Pyramid,
Hill told the audience: "I don't want to leave here with a deficit.
It's never happened before, and it's not going to happen here."
the Memphis pastor handling the collection, the Rev. Randel McCarty, cited
different figures at different times -- from $50,000 to $130,000 -- for
the amount needed to cover expenses.
pastor of Cathedral of Praise, a Pentecostal church in Memphis and one
of the hosts, urged the first-night audience to give enough to raise the
$50,000 cost of the two-day Memphis event. He said that was the total
needed for the Pyramid rental fee and for the transportation and lodging
for the revivalists.
night, Hill announced that $60,000 was needed, and he scolded the audience,
many of whom were return visitors, for being stingy the night before.
"Last night didn't cut it, folks," Hill said.
moved on to his message, which is his term for his sermon, ushers loaded
white buckets of money onto dollies and pushed them into a separate room,
where they began tallying the collection.
As Hill was
wrapping up his sermon and gearing up for the altar call, he got the news:
The collection was not enough. He
stopped everything and renewed his money plea. The
ushers moved into the audience again with the buckets. Hill
began the anointings as the second counting got under way. He
was working his way through the audience, laying on hands and praying
for people when an usher gave him the word that the collection had still
fallen short of the goal. Hill stopped praying and anointing and exhorted
people to give again.
By the time
the event was ending, McCarty reported that $130,000 was the amount needed
to cover expenses and the collection fell $6,500 short -- meaning they
raised $123,500 in two nights.
He did not
explain why those figures differed from the $50,000 he stated the first
night and the $60,000 Hill stated on the second night. Hill
says he does not have exact figures, but he does not think the Memphis
event was profitable.
was so-so," Hill said in an interview a couple of weeks after the
Americas, they're not money-makers. There was a time, I think in Anaheim,
we sold $13,000 in books, which was wonderful, but there's not a whole
lot of money to be made."
is an informal joint venture, according to Hill's attorney, Walter Chandler.
It consists of Hill, Brownsville Assembly of God Pastor John Kilpatrick,
Brownsville School of Ministry President Michael Brown and Brownsville
Music Minister Lindell Cooley, plus the Brownsville church.
attorney, Larry Morris, said that before the ministers go out on another
big-city crusade, he wants to make sure they get incorporated.
Money is secret
finances are handled by the crusade coordinator, Jeff Gardner, who works
in Steve Hill's office. Hill declined to release to the News Journal any
financial information about the crusades without consulting his attorney,
and Chandler refused without explanation.
would not say how much Awake America paid to rent the arena, but they
did say that the starting rate is about $5,000 a night. The final rental
figure depends on how much extra service, such as ticket-takers, security,
technicians and other support staff The Pyramid has to provide.
The top figure,
according to The Pyramid management office, could be about $11,000 for
an event such as Awake America's. If
the Brownsville team members failed to raise the amount they wanted, it
wasn't for lack of planning. In
anticipation of the event, they papered churches across the region with
fliers and posters. For
five days, Memphis television stations carried commericals touting the
A moving event
people from across the mid-South began filing in around 5 p.m. for the
7 p.m. services in the 20,000-seat arena. Many
were already veterans of the revival in Pensacola: They knew all the words
to Cooley's toe-tapping tunes and knew just when to shout during "The
learned quickly. One
young mother with an infant in her arms got so caught up in the energetic,
infectious music that she jumped up and down for several minutes, heedless
to her son's head bouncing up and down on her shoulder. When
another woman noticed and offered to hold the baby while the mother continued
to leap and shout, the baby jerked dizzily for a few moments, spit up
with force, then sobbed. His
mother did not see that -- she had moved up to get closer to the stage,
leaving her baby in the arms of strangers.
music, after the money call, after Hill's message came the altar call.
As he does at Brownsville Assembly of God in Pensacola, Hill asked the
people in the front rows to pick up their chairs and clear a large area.
lyrics of the altar-call anthem, "Mercy Seat," filled the arena
as Hill shouted: "Hurry! Hurry! Get down on your knees before God!
made their way through the audience and knelt. Many more stood in the
wings because their chairs had been taken away. Teen-agers
who had been sitting on the floor in front of the stage just stayed put.
the ministry team moved around the arena floor and touched people on the
head and prayed for them by chanting "Jesus, Jesus, Jesus! Fire,
Fire, Fire! Now, now now!"
An overlooked believer
to stay until everyone had been prayed for. "We
didn't come here to sleep," he said. Yet
Hill left both nights around 11:30, while hundreds remained waiting --some
on their knees weeping.
night, one of those who waited in vain was Althea Catron, 41, of Memphis.
After reading about the flamboyant evangelist in Charisma magazine, she
was hopeful that Hill could help her son, Erkins Catron Jr., who has a
brain tumor that prevents him from walking or otherwise functioning normally.
He is 14 but is the size of a 5-year-old.
that a touch from Hill would mean a touch from God -- and thus would bring
healing -- she sat through the message and struggled to the front after
the altar call, slowly steering her son's bulky wheelchair around crouched
and sprawled bodies until she was close to the stage.
an hour, she stood there silently, staring straight ahead and tightly
grasping the han dles of her son's wheelchair. Hill's ministers and prayer
teams moved all around her, passing her time and again but never making
eye contact or touching her or the boy. Several people nearby became upset
that she was being ignored, and a woman grabbed a member of the prayer
team who was passing by, tugging him over to the boy. He stopped and prayed
and laid on hands. Hill never approached the boy.
the mother and son were back. Hill passed her by again. She stood and
waited a half-hour, attracting considerable notice, until Hill's staffers
pulled him over to the wheelchair. Hill gave the boy an anointing touch
and prayed for him.
was happy. Her
son's condition did not change, but she said the prayer gives her hope.
"I expect a miracle any time," she said.
at least $100, revival leaders urge:
'God knows how much you have'
Amie K. Streater
- The Brownsville Revival is famous for fiery sermons by evangelist
Steve Hill, who shouts to sinners to run to the altar, repent and beg
is another message that's never videotaped, never photographed, never
shown on television: Before you come down to the altar to be saved, reach
into your wallet and give. Specifically,
is delivered so skillfully that Brownsville Assembly of God, with about
3,500 permanent members, has an annual revenue far exceeding any of Pensacola's
other large churches. The
church took in more than $6.5 million in 1996. Of that amount, $5.6 million,
or 86 percent, came from the collection plate.
givers are visiting pastors, who are urged to write big checks without
waiting for permission from their church boards. Husbands
are told to give generously and to forget about consulting with their
can get forgiveness a lot quicker than you can get permission," Associate
Pastor Carey Robertson tells the audience.
has taken over the nightly collection speech while Pastor John Kilpatrick
recovers from injuries he suffered in a fall. "God
knows how much you have," Robertson says to the whole crowd in the
plea, which can stretch for more than 20 minutes.
woman and child is asked to think about how much they've spent on a television
set, a car, a toy. They are reminded what a pair of Levis, a pair of Reeboks
are asked to think about what they pay when they go out to eat with the
family, and then give at least as much for the work of God.
night, the collection goes to Hill for his ministry. The church makes
a point of this and notes that is the only night Hill takes anything.
Hill adds a passionate explanation to Robertson's remarks . In a speech
that extends at times to a half-hour, Hill cajoles the audience with descriptions
of desperate missions and orphanages he helps -- though he gives few documentable
details -- and he lavishes contempt on selfishness and stinginess.
never been ashamed to give," he tells the audience. "I love
giving. I love to give to the Lord."
Some of the
people crammed into the pews are struggling financially, but they reach
for their wallets without hesitation. A
frail, aging widow who tries to get to the revival several times a week,
scratches out a $50 check. Again. She sits primly, wearing the one good,
navy-blue dress she owns, and says she is glad to give. In
another pew, an elderly woman gives the revival all the money she's set
aside to pay for her prescription medication. "God
will provide," she says.
see the offering as their chance to break away from sin: Heeding Hill's
call to give up "articles of affection," they hand over the
rings, bracelets, watches they received from their lovers in sinful or
his ministry has not received a lot of jewelry in the Friday night collections.
It ranges from a $2,500 diamond ring to a not-so-impressive thin gold
is willing to show the items to interviewers. He
said he has not decided what his ministry will do with them.
church leaders would not allow the News Journal to see any jewelry the
church has found in the revival collections that go to the church. They
would not give any details about it. "We
might have 10 pieces of jewelry," church treasurer R. L. Berry said.
"Most of it is not worth a dime. "You
know, people get emotional," he said.
plans to sell any gold in the jewelry and put the proceeds into the building
fund for the new family life center
but figures are vague
Amie K. Streater
- The high cost of putting on the revival is always emphasized during
the nightly call for $100 donations at the Pensacola Brownsville Revival.
leaders refuse to say exactly what those costs are.
1996 financial statement the church released to the News Journal lists
only $22,402 as revival expenses. It also lists a series of administrative
costs that does not indicate whether any of those are attributable to
the revival or whether these costs encompass any salaries:
and travel: $12,033.
and magazine: $8,004.
just say the revival is costly. "It's
unreal, the expenses," church business administrative assistant Rose
Compton said. Administrative
expenses amount to 14 percent of the Brownsville Assembly of God budget,
and salaries and benefits amount to 15 percent.
Pastor Carey Robertson said he thinks Brownsville's expenditures for salaries
and administration are more conservative than what churches usually spend
in these areas.
churches break a budget up into three parts, 33 percent of their budget
goes to operating expenses, which includes mortgage, utilites, maintenance,
all those things, 33 percent goes to ministry and 33 percent into salaries,"
he said. "That's generally what the concept is.
fails to meet watchdog's guidelines
By J. Lowe Davis and Amie K. Streater
- Doctors, lawyers, teachers -- all have to pass tests to do their
work. Colleges, hospitals, restaurants -- all have to undergo scrutiny
by accrediting or inspecting agencies.
But who reviews
religious organizations and evangelists? Who determines whether they deserve
the public's trust?
Council for Financial Accountability, a nationwide watchdog group formed
in 1979 by Billy Graham and several other evangelists, exists specifically
to oversee religious organizations' financial dealings. The
ECFA coaches its 860 organization members into earning that trust by requiring
that they follow a strict set of guidelines for handling donors' money
voluntarily participate in ECFA and must abide by strict rules. Nine organizations
in the Pensacola area are in the ECFA: Globe Missionary Evangelism, Waterfront
Rescue Mission, Arise and Shine Evangelistic Association, Globe Europe,
Living Water Adopt-a-Child, Living Water Ministries, Manna Bible Institute,
New Hope Home of Waterfront Rescue Mission, and Rhema Bible Institute.
None of the
organizations involved in Pensacola's Brownsville Revival are members.
Revival evangelist Steve Hill's organization, Together in the Harvest
Ministries Inc., has a membership application pending. Paul
Nelson, president of ECFA, said that to be accepted, a religious organization
must meet these requirements:
a written statement affirming its commitment to the Christian faith and
operate in a manner that reflects Biblical practices.
Hill filed in Texas when he incorporated Together in the Harvest states
that the organization was formed "to promote and perpetuate the doctrines
of Christianity as a religion by going into all the world and preaching
the Gospel of Jesus Christ."
a board of directors, the majority of which cannot be staff members or
has four directors: Hill, who is president. Jeff Gardner, who works in
the Together in the Harvest office at Hill's home and handles Awake America,
one of Hill's joint ventures. Gary Brady, former pastor of Faith Assembly
of God in Tallahassee, where Hill also used to work. Ronald Ardt, a friend
of Hill's who lives in Dallas.
to an annual audit from an independent certified public accountant.
his friend, Jody Fauss of Lindale, Texas, handles his ministry's finances.
Fauss, however, told the News Journal that he is not a certified public
accountant, and that he does not do the audit for Together in the Harvest.
financial control to ensure resources are used as intended.
financial statement Hill released to the News Journal listed 32.15 percent
of the Together in the Harvest money goes to "other" and "uncategorized"
expenditures. Hill did not provide details about those expenditures.
copies of audited financial statements on request. Hill's
attorney, Walter Chandler, refused to provide those. The
ECFA would not tolerate that, according to Nelson. "If they were
a member, that wouldn't fly," he said.
of interest should be avoided by fully disclosing on audited financial
statements any transactions between members.
not provided a list of Together in the Harvest staff. He has not provided
an audited statement. He has not specified what role his wife, Jeri Hill,
plays in the organization or how much she is paid. Her name appears with
Steve Hill's on the Together in the Harvest letterhead.
with ECFA's 12 standards of fund-raising, which include accurately describing
the group's activities, avoiding giving potential donors any unrealistic
expectations of what their gifts will accomplish, truthfulness in communication
and providing, on request, detailed reports of a project for which it
is soliciting gifts.
an informal financial statement that said $900,000, or 75 percent, of
his share of the Brownsville Revival offering goes to missions. Elsewhere
in the statement, he indicates $789,000 goes for such giving. His lawyer's
figure was $639,000 and Hill's IRS return indicates his ministry gave
requests from the News Journal, neither Hill nor his lawyer identified
specific missions and addresses, other than lists of countries and general
identifications such as "Misc. - Central and South America and various
nor his lawyer would provide copies of the IRS returns for the nonprofit
organization, even though they are, by law, public information. The News
Journal had to obtain copies through the IRS.
for sale through merchandise;
Top ministers cash in with own products
Amie K. Streater
- Brownsville Revival music stirs people to jump up and dance, filling
the aisles and pews with swaying, clapping, bouncing, arm-waving, foot-pounding,
leave for home, they don't have to leave the music behind. For
200 feet up and down the corridor that rings the main auditorium, tables
are piled with music cassettes and CDs and that's just a fraction of the
merchandise available for purchase.
Revival has generated a multi-million dollar retail industry, conducted
within the walls of the church. Inside
the church's double front doors, tapes, T-shirts and similar revival-generated
products are offered for sale all during the day and until about an hour
after the revival is under way at night.
that stand in line throughout the day to get good seats for the night-time
revival are a steady source of customers. Even as the revival service
is under way, people leave the pews to browse and buy. At times, the customers
are so densely packed that people have to suck in their stomachs and step
sideways to pass one another in the merchandise-laden corridor and lobby.
The products are sold not only by the church but also by individual corporations
created by the revival leaders.
figures are unclear. Revival musician Lindell Cooley's ministry, Music
Missions International, has sold close to $500,000 in merchandise, mainly
music tapes and CDs, since he established the corporation in March, said
general manager Larry Day. The revival's evangelist, Steve Hill, told
the News Journal that his books and tapes, sold through his corporation,
Together in the Harvest, earned $224,675.
itself, which as a church does not have to make its finances public or
pay taxes, says it lost money last year on revival merchandise, despite
$625,166 in sales of books, music and video tapes.
1996 financial statement that the church released to the News Journal
indicates the church fell short $239,160 on the products.
Pastor Carey Robertson, who oversees the church, blames that on an overload
of inventory at year-end. The church had bought more products than it
could sell before the end of its year, he said. The
church's statement lists $864,324 in merchandise expenses:
manuals, books $196,382
lists $625,166 in merchandise revenues:
manuals, books $40,855
especially the videotapes of nearly every revival service, are sold under
the church's name. On
the other hand, the popular revival music cassettes and CDs are sold under
the name of Music Missions International Inc., headed by revival maestro
people buy two, three, even 10 videotapes, which cost $10 and $15. They
gladly spend the money, saying they want to sustain "the anointing"
by video viewing numerous different revival services.
load music cassettes, at $10 each, and CDs, at $15, into their shopping
bags. Cooley's music is a big seller, but so is the altar-call anthem,
"Mercy Seat," which is available on cassette and CD in three
different keys advertised as "easy to sing" back at home.
Revival has yet another product, sold under the name "The Vision
Speaks": kits containing materials to make one of the sequined, jewel-toned,
multi-colored banners displayed at the revival. The
kits sell for $125 for a small banner, or $200 for a large banner, the
size Brownsville uses. The kit includes all the materials except glue,
scissors and pins. The
banner kits are not listed anywhere on the church's financial statement
-- not as revenue, not as an expense.
explanation: "We have a kit that tells people how to make banners,
but we don't sell banners." He would not say how the financial statement
accounts for the banner kits and he would not say how many have been sold. He
also would not say how The Vision Speaks is connected to the church.
selling revival-related merchandise in the church are independent of the
church. They serve to market products for individual revival leaders.
Buyers cannot make their purchases at the door, they have to pay -- by
cash, check or credit card -- at the cash register set up to handle each
Assembly of God pastor John Kilpatrick sells his books and tapes through
his newly created ministry, Feast of Fire. He
says that his book royalties go to his ministry, but he refuses to disclose
any information about the finances of his organization. As a nonprofit
corporation, its IRS return is open to the public. But under IRS rules,
nonprofits have five months and 15 days after the fiscal year to file,
and Feast of Fire has not reached its first filing deadline.
who heads the Brownsville Revival School of Ministry as well as his own
nonprofit organization, ICN Ministries, does provide some figures about
his revenues: He estimates his books and tapes bring in $50,000 a month.
That amounts to $600,000 a year.
write the books to make money," Brown told the News Journal. "I
have publishers asking me to write. I have to write what I feel burdened
to write. Ethically I have a problem with personally getting rich through
ministry. I'd be much more at home just with an ample salary." He
would not disclose how his ministry spends the $600,000. The IRS said
Brown's ministry has asked for two extensions and is not due to file until
late this month.
Together in the Harvest Ministries gave the News Journal an informal financial
statement saying he took $30,000 in royalties, but it did not indicate
what the sales were. His corporation's most recent IRS return showed he
took $34,000 in royalties from sales of $141,592.
Journal asked the IRS for copies of the tax returns for all the ministers'
corporations because all are registered as nonprofit organizations and
thus their financial information and tax returns are public information.
Hill's 1993, 1994 and 1996 returns were the only ones the IRS had on file.
top ministers fail to pay
state sales tax
J. Lowe Davis
- Florida taxpayers are getting almost no benefit from the millions
of dollars of Brownsville Revival-related merchandise. Three
of the revival's four top ministers are paying no sales tax to the state
on the products they sell.
to the Department of Revenue, the ministries of Steve Hill, John Kilpatrick
and Lindell Cooley are in violation of the law. Brownsville
Assembly of God also pays no tax on its large product line of videotapes,
cassettes, T-shirts and other revival products it sells. State
law exempts churches from having to pay sales tax when they buy products
and supplies and from having to collect, and send to the state, county
and city any taxes on the products they sell.
But the rules
are different for the individual ministers' own nonprofit corporations
-- even though they are selling their merchandise inside a church, according
to a spokesman for the Department of Revenue. Unless
they meet the state's narrow definition of a church -- holding regular
worship services at a specific location -- nonprofits need two numbers
for the state:
Exemption Certificate: This exempts them from paying tax when they
buy things. But having this does not exempt them from the duty to collect
sales tax when they sell something. When they sell, they are "dealers"
and must have:
Tax Registration: This is for collecting sales tax on things they
sell. They have to send in the tax monies to the state.
the nonprofit corporations handling revival merchandise do not have dealer
registrations. They are pastor John Kilpatrick's Feast of Fire Ministries,
evangelist Steve Hill's Together in the Harvest and Lindell Cooley's Music
Missions International, Inc.
public information spokesman for the Department of Revenue, said none
of the three are in the department's records, either for a consumer exemption
certificate or dealer sales tax registration.
they registered under a name other than the one that is commonly known,
they aren't registered," he said. Kilpatrick
will not disclose any details about his ministry's sales.
He said in
an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry was
paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry, Feast
of Fire, do not show that sales tax was charged.
Larry Morris said last week that he had just learned, via an opinion from
an accounting firm, Feast of Fire must collect and pay sales tax. He said
he was going to recommend to Kilpatrick that he "self-report"
to the state and pay the taxes right away. Hill's
ministry, Together in the Harvest, reported in its most recent IRS return
that its sales totaled $141,592.
in an interview with the News Journal three weeks ago that the ministry
was paying sales tax. Receipts for items purchased from his ministry do
not show that sales tax was charged.
MMI Ministries has not been charging tax on its products but has been
setting aside 7 percent of its sales revenue in anticipation that the
taxes might be due, said general manager Larry Day. He said that when
the corporation formed, seven months ago, he asked the state about the
taxes and had been trying to get a clarification ever since. On
Nov. 7, Day said, he received an opinion from an accountant that MMI does
have to charge tax.
ICN Ministries has a dealer number, indicating it is collecting sales
tax, Springston said. To protect taxpayer confidentiality, he said, he
could not disclose how much sales tax ICN has paid. Some
items are never taxable, either when the corporation buys them or sells
them: Bibles, hymn books, prayer books, altar items, sacramental items,
ceremonial raiment and equipment. A
book of sermons, tapes of sermons and services and pastors' autobiographies
do not fall within the state's specific merchandise exemptions, Springston