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Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) has gone after more than a few iconic nonprofits during his tenure atop the Finance Committee, including the Red Cross, Smithsonian and Harvard University.
But now the Finance ranking member and former chairman may have met his match: televangelist Kenneth Copeland of the sprawling Kenneth Copeland Ministries based in Newark, Texas.
In a Jan. 22 closed-circuit broadcast of his 2008 Ministers’ Conference obtained by Roll Call, Copeland pledges a holy war against “Brother Grassley” and the Senate for attempting to get a look at the controversial ministry’s finances. Grassley wrote a Nov. 6 letter to Copeland and five other prominent ministers requesting a variety of financial information.
“You render unto the government what belongs to the government. And you render unto God what belongs to God,” Copeland loudly intones to approving murmurs from the crowd of 1,000 ministers and their guests.
“This information is not secret, it’s confidential and it belongs to the Internal Revenue part of the U.S. government,” Copeland continues, wearing a pinstriped suit and silver tie and ambling about the room Oprah-style with dark hair as immobile as any TV-ready Senator. “It does not belong to the United States Senate!”
Before a painting that looks like gathering storm clouds, Copeland warns that if he volunteers the information to Grassley, the Senate will “publish it” and “do whatever they want to do with it” and pauses dramatically.
“I don’t think so,” he then pronounces to laughter and applause from his audience.
After a searing attack on Grassley’s tactics — which Copeland says were designed to sully his image and pressure him via the media — Copeland says he will never provide information on his donors, even if he is ordered to do so by subpoena.
“You can go get a subpoena, and I won’t give it to you!” Copeland storms. “It’s not yours, it’s God’s and you’re not going to get it and that’s something I’ll go to prison over. So, just get over it!” he tells Grassley, jamming his finger into the air. “And if there’s a death penalty that applies, well just go for it!”
In the sermon, Copeland promises a full-scale battle against Grassley, which some say could have negative political ramifications for Republicans during a crucial presidential election year. The six ministers, who preside over a flock of tens of thousands Pentecostal voters, preach a “Prosperity Gospel” that says God wants to reward his followers, including ministers, with earthly riches.
Doug Wead, head of evangelical outreach for ex-President George H.W. Bush, said the move threatens to fracture the tenuous coalition of Pentecostal and Baptist voters that supported President George W. Bush in his campaigns. He said the ministers see the probe as personal because Grassley is a Baptist and the churches are all Pentecostal. Grassley argues the inquiry is about tax-exempt policy and not religious doctrine. He says he did not know the churches’ denominations before the letters were sent.
“He’s dividing the base that George W. Bush had,” Wead contended. “He’s opened this deep fissure. If you look at it as a Republican, it looks disastrous.”