How often do you see Ezekiel quoted in the Wall Street Journal?
Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel;Rusty Leonard read this verse and believed God was calling him to "watch" over the donors who sent money to religious organizations. The original WSJ story is only available to subscribers, but the AP picked it up and it is available in full here.
so hear the word I speak and give them warning from me.
Leonard, a stockbroker, founded Wall Watchers, an investment guide for the religious donor. You may not be aware of this, but unlike other non-profit organizations, churches are not required to report their income, whom they get it from and how they spend it. Mainline denominations require churches to have annual audits or financial reviews and make them available to members of the congregation. But too often non-denominational churches lack responsible fiscal policies to prevent fraud, embezzlement and personal enrichment of those who control them.
Wall Watchers focuses on television evangelists and their organizations. A bunch of billboards sprang up around Houston recently touting the appearance of televangelist Joyce Meyer. I never heard of her, but back in 2000 Wall Watchers dug up property tax records and church financial reports showing Ms. Meyer's ministry bought five houses, a $ 6.5 million jet and expensive artwork. Leonard believes that donors should "stop being so dumb and start thinking like investors" and there wouldn't be so much fraud and misuse of funds in televangelist organizations. The Meyer ministry was included on the "donor alert" page of the Wall Watchers website.
He has a point, but I doubt many of the folks who are fans of the televangelists are going to use the information his organization gathers before they make their donations. Most of them preach the "prosperity gospel" and their followers think that their financial success affirms and authenticates that message.
Still, Wall Watchers provides a valuable service to the public. State and federal tax agencies and attorneys general are also reading the information. The county tax assessor went after the Meyer ministry resulting in a negotiated payment of back property taxes. Meyer's salary was cut from $700K to $250K annually. Wall Watchers took the ministry off the "donor alert" list and now praises the financial disclosures her organization makes voluntarily.
With more than 500 ministries already in its database, Wall Watchers is on its way to being a "watchman" that brings some accountability to the religious "entrepeneurs" of the airwaves.