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Holy Freeloading! 10 Ways Religious Groups Suck on the Public Purse

Religion is big business, especially with the help of your tax dollars.
September 18, 2013  

 

Have you ever thought about starting a new religion or perhaps a hometown franchise of an old one? Perhaps you’re just looking for a career ladder in a religious enterprise that already exists. No? Maybe you should.

Religion is big business. There are lots of options ( over 30,000 variants of Christianity alone), and if the scale is right  it can pay really, really well. Creflo Dollar, founder of World Changers Church, has an estimated net worth of $27 million. Benny Hinn comes in at $42 million. Squeaky clean tent revival pioneer Billy Graham bankrolled around $25 million. Even Eddie Long who has been plagued by accusations of sex with underage male members of his congregation can count his bankbook in the millions.

You say you don’t have star power? No worries. Millions of ordinary ministers, priests, missionaries, religious hospital administrators and other church employees earn solid middle- or upper-middle-class incomes in the God business. The pay is good, and for most positions it doesn’t matter what race you are or what grade you happened to get in chemistry.

That said, starting or expanding a religious enterprise doesn’t come cheap, even in an established religion that transforms ordinary members into volunteer outreach staff. Christianity spends an estimated $16 billion annually on the kind of marketing-service blend traditionally called “missionary work.”

Missionary work may include disaster relief or education with recruiting in the mix. An earthquake survivor might receive a  solar-powered Bible to go with his rice and beans and sutures. A Hindu child might get  free schooling, pencils and paper included, along with the message that the gods his parents worship are actually demons. Among people who are less desperate, the offerings can be more nuanced and less expensive. For example, a lonely student might get offered kindness and dinner by someone who is paid to live near campus as a friendship missionary. Sometimes mention of heaven or hell is all the enticement needed, though even then there may be costs associated with print materials and distribution. Soldiers in Iraq gave out  Jesus coins and a little cartoon book showing that when an IED killed a Muslim, he or she went to hell, a fate that could be averted by conversion.

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