Barry Bowen is the Staff Investigator at Trinity Foundation, a nonprofit organization that investigates religious fraud, theft and excess. From 2005 to 2010 Bowen served as one of the third-party whistleblowers assisting the U.S. Senate in its investigation of six TV ministries.
INCLUDED IN THIS EPISODE (But not limited to):
· Mega Church Deception
· Money Mismanagement
· Church Hypocrisy
· The Need For Church Accountability
· Lakewood Church
· Hillsong Church
· PPP Loan Abuse
· Shell Company Defined
· How Churches Take Advantage Of The LLC Business Structure
· How Churches Have Become Marketplaces
CONNECT WITH BARRY:
CONNECT WITH DE’VANNON:
· Pray Away Documentary (NETFLIX)
o TRAILER: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tk_CqGVfxEs
· Hillsong: A Megachurch Exposed (Documentary)
· Leaving Hillsong Podcast With Tanya Levin
· Upwork: https://www.upwork.com
· FreeUp: https://freeup.net
· Disabled American Veterans (DAV): https://www.dav.org
· American Legion: https://www.legion.org
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You’re listening to the sex drugs and Jesus podcast, where we discuss whatever the fuck we want to! And yes, we can put sex and drugs and Jesus all in the same bed and still be all right at the end of the day. My name is De’Vannon and I’ll be interviewing guests from every corner of this world as we dig into topics that are too risqué for the morning show, as we strive to help you understand what’s really going on in your life.
There is nothing off the table and we’ve got a lot to talk about. So let’s dive right into this episode.
De’Vannon: Hello? Hello. Hello everyone. And welcome back to the sex drugs and Jesus podcast. God bless you. Uh, now y’all, I’m going, been watching this documentary called Hillsong a mega church exposed on the discovery plus channel in bitch. If you haven’t seen. I’m telling you right now, I am letting you know, you need this fucking P in your life.
I was able to land an interview with someone from that documentary. And he’s my guest today. His name was Barry Bowen and he is a staff investigator at the Trinity foundation, [00:01:00] which is a non-profit, which investigates religious fraud, theft, and excess, and things like that. Now, in this episode, we’re spelling some major T on Lakewood church, Hillsong church. And the general corruption, which has become the face of the church today. Ultimately these churches need to be more fucking accountable in Barry and I are here to help make that happen.
Hello? Hello. Hello everyone. And welcome to the sex drugs and Jesus podcast. I am your host Avanan and I have with me today, a man by the name of Barry Barry Bowen. He’s a staff private investigator at Trinity foundation. And then this episode here is is going to have a very, very, maybe I should say ominous vibe to it because we’ve got to really be digging down into some megachurch, Phil uncovering a few things, and you know, we’re opening your eyes [00:02:00] to some facts that you may not know.
Now you gotta make your own draw your own conclusions and everything like that. Our aim here is to share knowledge with the world. So, Barry, how are you doing?
Barry: I am doing well and ready to have a busy weekend though.
De’Vannon: Mm hallelujah. Tabernacle and praise. I know that’s right. And so, so right off the bat, I just want to tell everyone the website is Trinity fii.org.
As always, this will go in the showy notes as I always do. I want to put that out there right now, because everyone’s going to need to go to this website. I need you to go to this website. My head was fucking hurting. It was like split down the middle. Like I had been cracked in the noggin with an ax or some shit as I was reading through.
The articles tab, which is where Barry’s work is and all of these different, just different [00:03:00]investigative journalism. This man has done over the years and years and years. And so we’re going to be uncovering a lot of things. You’re coming from a 15 year history in journalism. Tell us about your background.
Barry: And 2000 I started a website, Christian headlines.com. It was sorta like the Matt Drudge, the Drudge report of Christianity. Every day, I would look for articles of interest to Christians and link to them. So in the course of doing that website, I started coming across regularly articles about bad pastors people in the church committing crimes.
And I knew about Trinity foundation, a watchdog organization, and started emailing them tips, news articles that I was coming across and. Eventually I reached a breaking point. One night I was flipping through the TV channels and I came across a televangelist named [00:04:00] Mike Murdoch and he was doing the standard beg of Bon or just begging for money.
And he said, so EST on your credit card, and God will erase your credit card debt. I wanted to jump through the TV set and hit the guy. I did not the TV survived, but I, when that incident happened, I thought I am going to take you down. And so I started investigating the televangelists more. I would.
I found out about nine nineties. These are financial documents. That nonprofits file. Now churches, synagogues, mosques are exempt from filing, but other religious organizations are required to file them. So I started digging into these kinds of financial documents eventually starting to incorporation searches to learn about who makes the key decisions in the organizations and how they [00:05:00] hide their assets.
Then I learned eventually how to track their aircraft. So it’s been a interesting ride. And 2005, I read an article about being Derby. He was a congressional investigator. He was the attorney that council’s counsel for the Senate finance. Senate finance committee, which at the time was headed up by Senator Charles Grassley.
And in this article, it talked about that Dean’s RB was investigating half a dozen, half a dozen non-profits for fraud. And I was thinking, this guy shouldn’t investigate the televangelists. So I, and I contacted TriNet foundation. The president at the time was only Anthony. And it’s like only you need to contact this guy, send them to him, send them your Binny Han brief.
So just a couple months earlier Treme foundation had challenged Benny him, the [00:06:00]televangelist, his tax exempt status do dumpster diving. They go through the trash. They found out that the IRS was questioning whether or not Benny Hinn ministry should be considered a church and a. So TriNet foundation did this report to the S to the IRS.
And so it was sent that report was sent to Dean Serby, this investigator that worked for Senator Grassley and he looked at the email and he looked at the report and he told us that they would need to wrap up the current investigations before the Senate could investigate these religious non-profits.
So that was 2005 November, 2007. It became matter of public knowledge. One night I think maybe two in the morning on the Senate finance committee, [00:07:00] they sent out faxes to six TV ministries, demanding their financial records. And those ministries were Benny and. Kenneth Copeland Creflo dollar Eddie long Joyce Meyer and polo white.
And it was a maybe a circus the next day. When the news media found out about the Senate inquiry so Grassley was interested in, in non-profit organizations were abusing their tax exempt status. He started investigating nonprofits in 2001, and this all happened because of September 11th.
The terrorist attack on the twin towers. When [00:08:00] that incident happened the American red cross set up, I believe they call it the victory fund and hundreds of millions of dollars were donated nationwide to go to the families of the victims. Well, the American red cross decided to divert some of those funds.
And when that was discovered, when that was reported in the news, it led to state attorney General’s investigating. It led to Congress investigating the president of American red cross resigned. It really hurt the reputation of the organization. What a lot of people don’t know is when you give to a specific cause specific purpose, those are called restricted donations.
And if the money is spent other than how the donor intended it can be fraud. Now it’s IRS. Typically doesn’t investigate this. Normally be a state attorney general that does. It could even be a [00:09:00]local district attorney, but generally they don’t investigate these things. So in churches, when people grew up in churches, they’ll often remember those old offering envelopes and you could check mark on it.
If the money was go, you want to give to the church building fund or to missions different purposes. So if that money wasn’t spent the way the donor intended that’s possible fraud. And so Grassley his staff, they started to investigate, oh, 2006, there was elections. And the Democrats took control of the Senate.
Grassley went from being the chairman of the Senate finance committee to being the ranking minority member. So then in 2007, 2008, Was the housing bubble burst? Well, there was bank [00:10:00]bailouts we had, how do you pay for it? That goes to the Senate finance committee, 2009, president Barack Obama and the Democrats pushed through Obamacare.
Well, how are you going to pay for it? That goes to the Senate finance committee again. So this inquiry was sort of on the back burner for a long, long time. It did not turn out the way we wanted it to. When I suggested the Senate investigate, I was hoping that there would be hearings in the 1950s and in the 1960s, there were two big congressional hearings into organized crime.
Some of these mafia bosses were subpoenaed to testify before Congress, and you can watch some of the old videos on YouTube. They recorded on film back in the day, but that is what we were hoping. We were hoping to bring exposure. What happens is when these televangelists [00:11:00] often people around them don’t want to go public.
So you don’t find out certain details until they reach the courtroom when somebody is under oath. And so we thought by forcing televangelists to testify, we could, they could be grilled with the right questions. And and so they could be like asked did the church pay for your cosmetic surgery?
When you flew the jet on this date to The Bahamas that was that for a personal vacation? Did you reimburse the church for use of that jet? I mean, these were the kinds of things that we wanted to bring into the public, but there were ended up being no hearings, but in the meantime, I did property searches, corporation searches of these ministries.
And we forward that information to the us Senate. One of the things [00:12:00] that we discovered was a number of these people were operating businesses from inside their churches. Paula white had a company, Paula white enterprises, and that physical address was her church. So is her business paying the church rent for use of the facility?
These are the kinds of question that an investigator would ask. And a lot of people don’t know this, but churches are required to pay taxes on certain unrelated business income. So if a church is doing something like they have a facility that they’re renting out it could be taxable income. Now the laws are weird.
There are loopholes. If a building is paid off and you rent it out, It’s not taxable. If you are paying or paying a note on a building and you rent it out, then it’s taxable. It’s [00:13:00] backwards in my opinion. But there’s a form that nonprofits and churches are required to file for this kind of revenue.
And it’s called a nine 90 T and it discloses unrelated business income. We concluded that could have been the smoking gun that could have brought down a number of televangelists, that there are having revenue that they’re not reporting. That is not taxed. There’s a really gigantic story. I cannot disclose right now, but it’s the investigations into this key issue and it involves hundreds of millions of dollars.
De’Vannon: Now, before we thank you for that, for that rundown. And I love. I don’t know, man. I love what you’re doing. That the revelation of this is so heavy though, because as I was reading through your site and everything and listening to, I also want to give a a shout [00:14:00] out to our girl, Tanya Levine, down there in Australia.
She’s in Sydney, Australia, and she has a podcast called leaving hill song. I discovered her on the discovery plus channel documentary. It’s like Hillsong exposed or something like that. It’s called it’s a three-part documentary. And Tanya Levine was being interviewed in the documentary. She’s the author of a book, I think it’s called leaving Hillsong two or something like that.
And and she has a podcast called leaving heels, a song, and Barry did a three-part interview with Tanya on there. So that’s how I discovered Barry. And so in Hillsong church is going through all of this drama and stuff right now. But the information is like so heavy, you know, it really, really pains me that people go to churches for inspiration and to be inspired.
And, you know, we put all this trust in these preachers, any, and so many times it’s like, it’s not, they don’t, they didn’t turn out to be who we [00:15:00] thought they are, but, you know, but when I think about it, as I’m listening to you speak Joyce Meyer, proximal dollar, why would I assume that there wouldn’t be money mismanagement?
You didn’t say that there is, but I’m like w we, we just afford a certain level of trust of these people because we believe they’re supposed to be, we haven’t looked into the books. We don’t know what’s going on behind the scenes. We just assume because they are a preacher that they’re doing shit. Right.
And that’s not necessarily the case.
Barry: Well, in the case of the six TV ministries that the Senate tried to investigate none of them filed a form 990 and this financial disclosure document. You can obtain them at websites like GuideStar pro-public as a nonprofit search page and other places these [00:16:00] documents are a matter of public record.
So a donor to one of these organizations can look and see where the money’s going. And they, I believe in and donor responsibility. I believe that donors that regularly give to an organization, they should check it out, make sure that money’s being properly spent. I mean, I understand that you’re giving $20 a one-time donation or organization.
You don’t have to do a lot of research into it, but if you’re like giving to a church for a year after year after year and involves thousands of dollars, you really should check them. So these, these nine nineties on the very first page, it includes total revenue, total expenses it’ll report. If they have unrelated business income at a report, the number of total number of board members and it’ll report the total number of independent board members.
And that’s really critical. Oh, wait, [00:17:00] one more thing. There’s a couple of different kinds of nine nineties. There’s a nine 90 N, which is called a postcard nine 90 for organizations that have only a small amount of revenue. I forget the amount, if it’s 50,000 or a hundred thousand dollars or less, that you, you could file the, the postcard nine 90, then there’s a nine 90 easy.
I think it’s up to $250,000 revenue, but I have to verify that you, you can file a nine 90 Z and then of course, the nine 90 regular nine 90. So we look at those documents in the nine 90 also includes a statement of revenue page. So it explains what were the revenues coming from? Is it from like general contributions?
Is it from a related organization? Things like that investment income, rental income there is a statement of expenses page. So it’ll it’ll list things like legal [00:18:00] expenses. So if you see a large amount of legal expenses, you know, that the organization may be going through litigation, maybe they’re suing someone or they’re fighting a lawsuit.
Then there is travel expenses, if that’s really high and they may have. So those are some of the things that stand out on, I think it’s page four. It there’s a, a yes or no question if the organization has foreign bank or financial accounts. And then if they answer yes, the line below they list what country it’s in, and sometimes they’ll use a country code, or sometimes I’ll write out the country.
So if you see Cayman islands, right, there’s like a red flag. Are they involved in off shore money laundering? Those kinds of questions come up occasionally. But some of the things I look for it lists related organizations that again, that those [00:19:00] money can be moved back and forth through relater organizations, shell companies, limited liability companies.
And so you mentioned the whole song podcast. One of the things that I investigated heal song was their use of limited liability companies.
De’Vannon: Wait, wait, sorry to cut you off with that. We want it to I did mention the LLC and I do want to get, get to that, but I want to touch on Lakewood church first because that’s like like what is like a pet peeve of mine and everything like that.
I love your passion for what you’re doing and I can see why. I can see why you have like a jewel in your eyes and your voice and everything. And, you know I’m happy you came across the whole Murdoch thing all those years ago that sets you on this course because who knew that such a time, like this would come where we have all of this [00:20:00] church fuckery happening.
So we’re going to, we are going to get on Hillsong in just a second, but I wanted to just start with Lakewood church first, because this is near and dear to my heart because I talk about. Quite often in extensively in my memoir about how I used to be a big volunteer there. Then I was dismissed fired from volunteering because I’m not straight.
And so this interview is not really focusing on the way Lakewood dehumanizes people behind the scenes and stuff like that. This is to, this is more like a a financially corrupt based show, what we’re talking about today. But I liked to talk about Lakewood in this aspect. I really want to start with them because a lot of churches of various sizes look to Lakewood since they’re the largest church in the country.
So when I’ve attended other churches before the preachers would always talk about Joel Olsteen and how they want to be like. And so the things that he’s doing, there are [00:21:00] things that other churches will mimic. You know, if you go to different churches, they’ll notice a practice at church X churches, each church, Jay, and then they’ll incorporate it into their own corporation.
And so so I really wanted to kind of dissect some of the things about Lakewood before we get into Hillsong. And I think it’s a very cute correlation because, you know, Joel and Brian Houston, Brian Houston, the whale, I kind of the pastor hill song, he had to step down. There’s a whole scandal going on over there.
You know, they were always good buddies, you know they would send Darlene check the worship leader from Hillsong over the Lakewood. And then they within the Cindy Cruz red cliff, the worship leader at Lakewood over to Hillsong and then Joel and Brian, I think I saw them on a telecast together. So they’re all buddy, buddy and shit.
And so. So I wanted to start with Lakewood and segue with the Hillsong because of the way they liked to hold those two churches, like the whole hands and go skipping down the Lilly brushes and everything like that while they run over people [00:22:00] along the way. And so so in, so, so Lakewood, the way they let’s talk about that, the way they filed their, their board of directors.
So many churches have this whole thing that, you know, you would think, how shall I say you would think that there’s a whole like, okay. So when I was a member of the university Presbyterian church here in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, over at LSU, it was the most transparent church have ever been to. You can see where all the money’s going.
They have this thing called the session that votes on things. And then when it’s major decisions, actually the whole congregation can get together and vote. And this is not the case in these large churches. Their filings read things like the corporations you’ll have no members in the case of Lakewood.
So just to talk about fat. So they originally were [00:23:00] incorporated in 1959, I believe it was. So just bring this up to present and talk about this whole, the way these boards are, or, and then let’s get very granular with how it is currently at Lakewood.
Barry: Like you said the church was Lakewood church was founded in 1959.
It was originally a Southern Methodist church. And eventually they amended their articles of incorporation so that the church became an independent nondenominational church. They changed the name of it. I forget what the original name was eventually and. 2006. When they amended the articles of incorporation, it included this language.
This is amendment or article number two, the corporation hereby elects to have a sole member for the limited purposes and with only the [00:24:00] duties, right. And powers set out in the corporation’s bylaws in the ordinary course of business, any action that would otherwise require a vote of members requires only a vote of the board of directors and no meeting or vote of members is required all rights that otherwise would vest in the members vest and the direct and the directors.
So there’s different forms of church governance. Originally it seems, it looks like the church had maybe A congregational model where the members would vote, vote on how the money was spent. I would have to go back and look at the original articles of corporation to verify that, but that was a typically how most Southern Baptist churches were started, were congregational.
Some churches are hierarchal, like for example, the Catholic church, you have a Pope [00:25:00] then archbishops then bishops blow them. And so the decisions are made top down. But started with one person. Sometimes there’s organizations where one person makes all decisions and that’s called a corporation sole.
There is he’ll when not Hillsong. There is this approach that Lakewood church takes. I like to call it the board of directors model. They. Has specific people that make the key decisions. And in this case, they are almost all family members. The one exception at Lakewood church is the treasurer.
Noel Keller is the only non O’Steen family member. That’s on the board of directors. And this is a really critical issue. For example just say that the board of [00:26:00] directors were to vote on the salaries, approving the salaries of the people on the board. You don’t have any independent board members, so you would have possibly a family member voting on someone else’s pay.
I mean, Lisa, Lisa comes as Joel Osteen’s sister, her and her husband are on the board. Joel and Victoria are on the board. And then Noel killer. So on a nine 90 form for, to get churches are not required to file these, but on a 990, I think it’s schedule J or the schedule right after that. There’s this place where it indicates how the compensation is decided for key people.
And it you’ll look in to see if there’s a box check mark for independent [00:27:00] compensation committee, a compensation consultant. So in some of the large churches a person can legally get paid a lot of money. If you bring in a compensation consultant, they perform a study. They the board reviews their study.
Then the person that’s going to be voted on leaves the room. And then they vote on that person’s compensation and report it and the recording and the board notes. That’s how to legally get paid a huge amount of money at a nonprofit, not just churches, but all nonprofits. The IRS has really shot themselves in the foot by not properly defining excessive compensation years ago, the NFL was a nonprofit organization and Roger Goodell you know, however you pronounce his name.
He was paid like over $30 million a year. And as a nonprofit, that’s just insane. [00:28:00] But and he was able to do that because they would compare his compensation with that other CEOs, other not non-profits. So you know, like what church church is governance model. You have this family. And who is going to hold the family responsible.
That is why it’s very critical to have an independent board of directors.
De’Vannon: You know, when you, when you mentioned how the, how the salaries that the church has mimic that of the secular world, it just, it really strikes a bitter chord within me because it’s, it just echoes back to how, when it’s convenient, the church wants to be like the world with.
When they want to [00:29:00] cast judgment, then it’s not okay to be like the world. So we don’t want you to drink alcohol or do drugs or fuck outside of marriage because that’s what they do over in the world. But I’ll take that, that, that that I’ve seen salary, you know, like they have over in the world because, you know, we need a model to go by.
Right. So might as well pull it from the world. And so, and so, yeah, you can tell this really pisses me off because you know, we sat there and we’d give all this money to these churches and, you know, just blindly, but we don’t have any control or any power over what the fuck happens and why, why would anybody knowingly want to do that?
And this is different. Okay. So like if you’re working for somebody at a job. They’re paying you to be there. Okay. In exchange for your time, that company has a board of directors and they don’t give a fuck about what you think either, unless you have stock in the company and then they may not [00:30:00] ask you them, but at least you going to church, you’re not being paid to come there.
You’re paying them in the decision that they make affect so much stuff. So here in the case of Lakewood, you’ve got Joe Victoria, Kevin, I think Paul’s brother might be on the, on the damn board to making all the decisions. Okay. In the way the language is written, they’re not, they don’t give a fuck about what any of the members have to say.
They want all the members to come there and the people around the world to send money. And then this, this group of five or whatever are going to make all the decisions and just, just the end of it. And then your opinion doesn’t matter. So it’s left up to the people to decide whether this is the sort of thing that they’re okay with.
We’re not necessarily whether it’s good or bad, it’s up to you. But I didn’t know this. When I was a member of Lakewood church, I did notice that they would make decisions like they would send, say like Paul, cause he’s a doctor medical [00:31:00] doctor on missions trips to Africa, say with his family. And I would be thinking, well, I would have loved to have gone on that missions trip.
No one asked me if I could go. It was just the thing that was decided. Nobody said, Hey members, is it okay if we spend church funds to send him and his family on this missions trip, it was just done. And so, and that’s just the way it is. And a lot of these churches, like you give us the money because we’re holy and we hear from heaven and everything like that better than you do.
And then we’re going to make all of these decisions. I was once. Okay. With that. There’s no way I would be okay with that again.
Barry: Yes, maybe either. My dad was a Baptist minister, so I grew up in the church and the church that I attended it was a congregational governance model. One Wednesday night, a month, there’d be a church business meeting.
And there’ll be a church financial statement. So you can see where the, how much money came in and where it was spent. [00:32:00] And members would vote each year to approve the budget. My dad’s salary was disclosed to the public. No, my dad was uncomfortable with that, but he knew that the church needed to be transparent.
And my dad was not getting rich from being a minister in a church, but a lot of people you don’t, when you read the Bible, you don’t necessarily see a congregation. Governance model. So you have some people say this is not biblical as if just because something may not be listed in the Bible doesn’t mean it’s necessarily wrong.
So I think God can work through all kinds of different governance models, but I I’m convinced that you need transparency and accountability. And if you lack neither, you’re creating an environment where [00:33:00] fraud can abound,
De’Vannon: right? So let me take this further with Lakewood. So in your, on your website, you have an article it’s called million dollar homes, become status symbols of televangelists and past.
So on the one hand and you get very granular, you show ’em like satellite imagery of people’s houses. You have Joel and Victoria’s house in there. You have a couple of other ministers house on there and you say how much it’s worth, you know, so on and so forth. Now, in the case of Joe, you know, you also mentioned that they have another house in California.
I found that interesting that you, you, you, you had to use an informant to find this information out. I don’t know why it would be such clandestine information. Why do you think he wouldn’t want people to know? He has another million dollar home somewhere?
Barry: People have multiple reasons for hiding their [00:34:00] address.
So in the state of Texas Texas has higher property taxes than a lot of states. I believe because Texas does not have a a state income tax. But in the state of Texas each county has a, what’s called a an appraisal district. So in Houston, Houston is in Harris county. So you can go to that website, Harris county, appraisal district, and you can put in a person’s name or the name of a business, and you can look up their property.
In the case of people who are celebrities, people that have had death threats a lot of politicians have their information redacted, so you can’t find them by searching my name. Okay. So there are other methods you have to use [00:35:00] to find their address. I’m not going to go into all that. So I don’t want to clue in the televangelists to some of our investigative techniques, but so.
And Harris county. There is a property that, where Joel Osteen owns it. There’s another one there that I’m not sure if he owns it or not. We didn’t go too into detail and our article, but there’s a house. And again, I don’t know who lives there. It may be a sister. It may be his mom. I don’t know if he owns it and runs it out there.
I think he has another house, but I’m not certain about it. But they were previously in shell companies. They registered them there and this is a way of trying to have more privacy. I get that there are certain people that [00:36:00] don’t want people driving by their house trying to find them they want privacy.
I get that. But It can be a technique use for more sinister purposes and we’ll get that to that later. I’m. Sure. So we had an informant tell us that Joel had a house in California, and once we found out that, and we knew that it was not far from the Pacific ocean, I was on a tear. I was going through realtor websites, looking at recently sold houses that were expensive.
Try and find our, this is a gated community who bought it or was it a registered to a shell company? Oh, it was just crazy, but we did not have the right time period. He had lived in a house longer than we suspected, so I missed it in my research [00:37:00] eventually an informant, let us know where it was, but The house.
There was a real estate website that estimated it to be worth 5 million. But should a pastor live in these kinds of expensive homes and expenses? The mansion’s, there’s a Bible verse where Jesus said not to lay up treasures for yourselves here on earth, but to store that up in heaven. And when you’ve got a televangelist, maybe spending over $10 million on a couple of homes, he maybe could have spent that money a lot more frugally and helped people with it.
I think televangelists that are acquiring massive wealth are being disobedient descriptive. One of the [00:38:00] craziest cases I’ve investigated is that a guy named David Sarillo, he is president of the inspirational network many years ago, that was PTL, which was a TV network that Jim baker started after Jim baker scandals.
It changed which ownership, but David Cirillo and 12 years was compensated $41 million. Yeah. Inspirational network is a non-profit organization. And so I would love to say the IRS revoked the tax exempt status of his organization. I really would. I’m hoping that one day they do
De’Vannon: so I don’t. So I hear what you’re saying about how you don’t feel like creatures.
Have a lot of money. I, I kind of agree with it. I kind of don’t. So like [00:39:00] if they, if they take it like a salary from the church, I think I agree with you. Like what you’re saying. If they make their money separately, like Joel and Victoria sing too, if they want to go buy expensive shit. I don’t feel like that it is for me to control what they spend their money on.
But a lot of people agree with your perspective though, because the optics of it looks, it looks bad to a lot of people. They just, a lot of people just can not get past the fact that the preacher lives, that sort of lifestyle in there seeing, you know, rubbing elbows with celebrities and stars and everything like that.
It’s like, okay, what is the difference? So I don’t think you’re wrong for thinking that way, but you know, but speaking of speaking of optics though, and I do want to remind people just how much church, a lot, like Lakewood is a family business, you know, When I was there filming my docu-series and everything like that, which is about to come up on my website Texas roads and jesus.com, that [00:40:00] website I noticed that night, they now have pictures of like Joel and Victoria and their children, you know, Jonathan, you know, you know, plastered all over the, all over the building inside, you know, just reminding you in my opinion of whose fucking house it is, you know, and everything like that.
And so I get, it’s a generational thing you had, I think it was John O’Steen who handed the reigns to Joel and clearly they intended the handed to, to, to, to Joe’s son, the Jonathan I’m like, okay, It just, it just hit me. So like, like a slap in the face though. I’m like, okay. So when they stand on the stage, they’re like, okay, you are Lakewood.
They had the same going for awhile. Hashtag I am Lakewood, many companies do that. I am Verizon. I am the gap, whatever you want to say to the mindfuck people to make, make them feel like they are part of your organization when really they’re kind of not because they’re bankrolling your organization. You know, I am the gap blow.
You’re saying that because you want [00:41:00] me to keep paying and buying your clothes. And so so how am I part of the Lakewood family, if I’m paying money in ties and offerings, but you only got five family members making all the damn decisions, you know, I’m a part of the family, but my opinion doesn’t count.
And again, this isn’t just Lakewood. You have a lot of churches, you know, run this way. This here is just like probably the highest example in the land. So speaking of optics though, I wanted to touch on their whole PPP loan. Thing scandal issues that they had. Because when I heard that, that really, really, really pissed me off because I believe that just because you can doesn’t mean you should, and God knows our government is fucking corrupt.
So the government allowed churches that do not pay taxes to get money because of the coronavirus. My thing was, you don’t have any money invested [00:42:00] into the tax pot because you don’t fucking pay taxes. That’s the one, secondly, all of y’all are rich enough. And I think the loan was still like five, four or five, 6 million.
I’m all like y’all got this money. You are not broke even if, even if Joel inventory or somebody, if it wasn’t me. And I was. To avoid the appearance of evil. Like the Bible says I would not have taken money from the government. If I was the leader of a church, when I already could have covered that personally, just to not risk turning people away from Christ, somebody may have been discouraged in their faith because the richest church in the country took a loan from the government.
When you had small businesses, like I have small businesses that couldn’t get a fucking PPP loan and needed it. Yet. You have a church where you have millionaires, who could have bankrolled that who chose not to talk about that.
Barry: [00:43:00] And early 20, 20, I think it was February or March. The national lockdown happened for a couple of weeks.
And then after that various cities and states started also doing some lock Downing themselves. So the paycheck protection program PPP that was designed so that small businesses and nonprofits could maintain so they could retain their employees. That was the key idea behind, behind the paycheck protection program.
And after it was instituted, it was a failure in how it was set up. There was not proper screening. There’s been a massive amount of fraud in the program, and these were forgivable loans. So w or had the potential to be forgiven. So the S the small [00:44:00] business administration working with a bunch of financial institutions provided these loans.
The churches and ministries would follow an application. And in my own research that basically there were two A lot of them got loans in 2020 and 2021. So over a hundred million dollars ended up going to churches with broadcast ministries things like that. So Lakewood, they got alone.
And then because of the bad media coverage, they paid it back. And they were not the only one when journalists filed a foyer request. That means freedom of information act when they filed those to get the list of recipients [00:45:00] then it became. And so you could go to I think it was a small business administration website to look them up.
Then ProPublica created a PPP search page, which you could find it with a search engine and you could type in names of ministries at your hearing office and see if they got money. So we’ve got a trade foundation. We got contacted by insight edition. Because some journalists were looking at religious organizations and they’re curious about televangelists getting them well, when the, when I found out that that we could search the list of PPP recipients, I went wild on those searches.
I did probably 200 searches in a one week. And so we, we found out that word of God fellowship. That’s that business name for Daystar television network. They got it. Well, what’s crazy about it [00:46:00] was right after they got their PPP loan. They purchased a jet. So I’m inside edition. Want to do an expo say on that.
And they contacted they star Marcus lamb for an interview and he declined. So then they knew they’re going to get him. It would be a hostile interview, unwanted. So a stakeout interview. So we’d try to find out when and where he would be. And so that involves surveillance. Oh yes. But investigate them times.
So we found out that he was going to be at a golf course. They had a golf tournament, Daystar golf tournament. So they stars camera crew. They were the producer, Lisa Guerrero. And the camera may, we’re all in this van. And my boss and I were in other cars uh, monitoring friend Marcus would drive up to the golf course.
And we missed him. He was in a black [00:47:00] sports car when normally he wasn’t in that vehicle. And so we did not catch him. They saw him when he got out of the vehicle in the parking lot, they ran over, pulled out their camera and she got her interview estimate a couple of questions before he entered the country club.
And so that was fun doing that exposition, the investigation,
De’Vannon: oh my God, Jesus Christ.
De’Vannon: I pray for people who are confused religiously, who’ve looked at all of these things happen and I pray that they find it’s like spiritual peace because it’s very, very upsetting the people to. Now you and I are on the same page.
I love me some good investigative journalism. You know, let’s find the damn scandal in in [00:48:00]everything like that. Let’s find the damn scandal let’s get after and let’s dig into it. But there are people who are really like, like I was angry, say over like what Lakewood did with, there are people who were probably like devastated and broken hearted and probably crying somewhere because they’re idle, you know, Joel Olsteen, you know, you know, allow something like this to happen.
You know, I preach a lot of spiritual independence. I want people to be able to go to God for themselves, whether without a church, you know, and to put pastors in their place, which is beneath the God, do you know? Which sometimes a lot of times we’ll make idols out of pastors before we realize it.
So So, so, so, so my heart, you know, in my soul and my, and my love and love really goes out to people who feel confused and heartbroken. And like, they may not want to believe in God because of what these people have done. But remember Joe, you know, Marcus lamb over at bay [00:49:00] star, you know, and everybody in Joni lamb and everybody, and, you know, Brian Houston and everybody, these are just people y’all and like people, they gonna fuck up.
Now, what you’re not going to get from most preachers is an apology or an admission of guilt. Most of them do not tend to do that. That’s just the way they are. And so, but remember they are human. They are not the Lord and whatever it is that they do, they did that. Every word that comes out of their mouth is not going to be divided.
So you got to learn how to go to God for yourself and remember that no matter what these people do, don’t let that shake up your faith. Like don’t, don’t, don’t let them cause you to miss heaven and a peaceful life. So don’t be like, well, God, I’m not gonna fuck with you because of what Joel did or what, because Creflo dollar did they stole from the church out?
Could they, you know, I did that when I got kicked out of Lakewood for not being straight and it took me five or six years before I was reconciled to God because I was not, I wasn’t spiritually mature and I don’t want to see anybody else [00:50:00] fall into having a gap in their spiritual life because of what a church did now, before we get into Hillsong, which is next, I want you to just tell people what a shell corporation is.
Barry: Shell company is a company to it may not have any business purpose. It’s just to hold an asset. So in the case of some of these televangelists we investigate, they will have a shell company that owns a jet. And so if you type in, if you go to the FAA flight registry, that’s the federal aviation administration, there’s a search page and you can type in the names of churches and ministries.
And if you were to type in world air H E I R you’ll find, I believe [00:51:00] two jets and that company is headed up by Creflo dollar. So he has two aircraft and a shell company.
De’Vannon: So why not put those aircraft? I hear it, you know, under the church’s name because, so are they his, or they belong to the church?
Barry: I am not clear on it. Some cases the church or ministry can own the, the shell company. It can be a related entity and typically in a 990, they will list related organizations at the very end.
But again, if a church is not disclosing and as a shell company, you wouldn’t know about it years ago, ed young, Jr. He is the pastor of fellowship church in grapevine, Texas. His [00:52:00] he had a jet registered to a shell company and I don’t even remember the name of it. It was a really obscure name. It’s not something that you’d think of and just type in a search engine from what I remember.
But so I mean, some of them, they don’t want their donors to know that they live extravagantly, that they have a jet. That’s just something. If the members know it, they may not be as inclined to get.
De’Vannon: Well, I’m thankful for your website, because as I said, at the beginning of this interview, we have our opinions, but what I want the world to do is to make your own opinion.
You know, you’ve got to do your own research, pray about it and see, and stop going to these churches. Does it giving them blind trust? No matter how cute they are, how flashy the worship is, blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. If that let them hit. And the ties you, you know, and do your research and have your head in the game.
So he’ll song that is going to be the last thing we’re going to talk about during this interview. We’re going to have to [00:53:00] have you back on again. I love how the conversation has gone. I love how so full of knowledge you are and how that sparked his lights up in you. I believe Sarah, you are assuming you identify, you know, Sri.
I hate to, I don’t like to use a lot of servers and ma’am sometimes they slip out, but you know, I feel like you are. Doing exactly what you were put on this earth to do like your energy, you feel perfectly centered, balanced, and aligned. And would you agree?
Barry: There’s a verse in Ephesians that I’m going to paraphrase.
It sent, I believe it’s, five about exposing sin, bring it to the light and its true nature is revealed. I believe this verse justifies Christian investigative reporting. And I believe that Christian journalists, Christian media can play a powerful role in exposing sin in Christianity and calling for [00:54:00]greater transparency and accountability that accountability.
So it really is a mission and a mission from God to expose this kind of fraud that send the body of Christ and extravagant lifestyles and other.
De’Vannon: And you have to be very, very strong. The did your line of work because you know, people like that, a very rich and powerful, and they’re not accustomed to being accountable.
Nobody around them is challenging them or anything like that in that used to being told no. So you have a lot of forces working against you, you know, and to get up, you know, and to go to work every day and a dude with a smile on your face, you know, with the, with the grace that you have led to me know that God is with you because.
I know another thing, a lot of high circles, you are not celebrated, you know, you serve, I make, can I call you, sir? Is that appropriately? [00:55:00] You know, you, sir are not celebrated a lot of the enemy, right. As am I, but you know what I’m, I want to be a friend of, you know, the people who don’t have the people who are trying to figure it out.
Do you know? And things like that, you know, I’ve been homeless before. I’ve been to jail a bunch of times I got felonies and stuff like that, you know, in a lot of that happened because I didn’t have knowledge and I’m not going to let that happen to someone else. And neither are you. Everything you’re doing is about knowledge and empowering the individual to know what they’re getting themselves into.
So Hillsong church now y’all this year, the scandal that is ongoing Hillsong church. I didn’t know this till I saw that documentary. They got all these campuses worldwide. I didn’t know. I knew about the campus in Austria. But I didn’t know about all of this other shit they got going on. So this is evolving.
So tell us Barry about their limited liability corporation setup.
Barry: Well [00:56:00] in the course of investigations, when a church becomes really popular there, my curiosity guides me. And so when a church gets really popular, I’ll just take a quick look at them just to see what’s up. Do they have related companies?
Things like that, do they have they’re on an aircraft? So, I mean, I’ll go to the FAA website, looking for Hillsong aircraft, never found any, as far as I know, they don’t own any. They do use charter aircraft. There’s a company in Australia. They use, I don’t remember the name, but in the case of Hillsong well let me back up.
There’s a company called visit pedia and Busia PDF is a business. Corporations search site, you can find out a company, if they’re registered in different states, things like that. And you can search by name of company, name of officers and [00:57:00] address. And so visit PDF is a key website in my investigative arsenal when I do investigations.
So I go there and type in Hillsong. And I discover that they are red. They’ve got a number of listings in Virginia, for example, Virginia companies. Well then from there, I go to the Virginia secretary of state website and it was puzzling to me because I discovered a number of their churches were registered as limited liability companies.
Now, what is a big trend in business? Is that companies will separate assets and they’ll use limited liability companies to protect those assets. There’s less people to suit that way. For example, if you have a church with a business of, [00:58:00] with a, with a a board of directors, like Lakewood church, if you Sue the church, you could end up suing all six board members.
In the case of suing a Hillsong church in the U S like Hillsong NYC, LLC, that’s seal you’ll saw in New York city, you may have one or two managers listed. They don’t have a full board of directors. And so it limits how many people get sued. Also it limits how many people have accountant can provide accountability.
If you’ve got one manager who are they accountable to? It’s a big. So I actually asked a person that worked for the IRS. If this was legal. I was curious and he said, yes, it is. He wish it wasn’t. But a lot of churches are creating shell companies. These limited [00:59:00] liability companies to hold the asset of the building.
So their property will be put in an LLC. So if the church is sued, if they have a judgment against the church, then you don’t have to lose all their assets. Just the one that was involved in the the legal issue. So this has become a standard practice. So in, in the course of investigating were do two things well, more than that, but two of the big things is we’re trying to follow the power.
I’m trying to follow the money, follow the power. I mean, by that. Find out, identify who the key decision makers are. So that’s why you look for a board of directors and that’s, and for incorporated organizations for LLCs, they have articles of organization, not incorporation, they’re not a corporation and it will list their [01:00:00] typically list, their manager on these documents.
So then after we find out, identify their, their company or organization names, then we can dig even deeper into property searches to find assets. And in the state of Arizona, I did a search and I found a large number of property listings and P H X holdings is a company that Hillsong set up and, and Maricopa county Arizona.
To hold property. And so when you see a large number of property listings, it can be a little misleading. So some of these are multiple lots property, lots that make up a parking lot, multiple lots to make up a large building. They even have some vacant lots. [01:01:00] There, there are no pro no buildings on them for maybe future expansion, but they have 30, I think, 31 listings and or did at one time in Maricopa county.
So, and that was for two of their large churches also. That was where Hillsong college was. I think they’re going to be moving it to California in the future, but so those are some of the things that I discovered in the course of examining Hillsong Hillsong is a very. Personality driven church.
It’s famous for its worship teams. They have multiple Hillsong worship teams. One’s Hillsong United and there’s Hillsong young and free. They’ve sold, I believe over 20 million albums worldwide. So that they’re well-known for their worship songs that are sung in a lot of churches and are played on Christian radio.
[01:02:00] But in the United States Carl Lentz was pastor of Hillsong NYC in New York city and he became like a celebrity. He developed relationships with actors, singers people like Justin Bieber and got a lot of media attention for it. And people would flock to their churches. It’d be like going to a rock concert.
There was a sex scandal there. He had an affair cheated on his wife was fired. We believe he’s being rehabilitated. We think he’s going to be possibly leading a church in Florida and soon that spelt created with arc association of related churches. There’s nothing been disclosed yet, as far as I know, but that’s what [01:03:00] it looks like.
But Hillsong was founded in Australia. I believe you previously mentioned that. Frank Houston, the father of Brian Houston was involved in the assemblies of God. A well-known leader in that denomination in Australia and Brian started an independent church that he left the assemblies of God.
And this is a common thing. When you leave certain denominations, you can have less accountability. Brian’s dad, Frank sexually abused some boys, and this has become a big scandal. So, and certain for certain crimes, a [01:04:00] pastor as called a mandatory reporter. If they learn of specific crimes, they’re reported, they’re required to report them to law enforcement.
And that would be, if you learn about a murder or you learn about certain sex crimes you have to report it and he failed to report his own. I mean, I would be the first admit that would be very difficult, but it’s the right thing to do. And because he failed to do it it ended up being litigation and finally an investigation.
And so we’re waiting to see what the sentence will be. He could serve jail time and Australia for that. When you look at Virginia, the secretary of state website, and when you look in some of the other websites, you’ll notice that Hillsong had a number of companies and we’re going back to what we’ve mentioned earlier.
They have a Hillsong music as one of their companies. [01:05:00] They had a Hillsong channel was, was that a TV channel right now. It’s I don’t think it’s on cable anywhere, or maybe you have, it is it’s maybe just an Australia. They have a streaming channel online, but they, they were previously in a relationship with TBN and that ended TBN handled the, the broadcast cable infrastructure for Hillsong channel and that’s gone away heal song.
There there’s so much money that can be made from this and it can be traced. Some of these decisions can be traced to Carl Lentz. His dad Stephen Lintz was an attorney he worked for on pat Robertson many years ago. He taught various courses classes at Regent university [01:06:00] and he wrote a book, the business of church.
And in this church, he invited. Pastors on issues like copyright and how to protect assets, the limited liability companies. And so, I mean, he advises pastors that if you can actually own the copyright for your sermons, your intellectual property, and then license it to the church. So I mean the church that I grew up in, if somebody wanted to buy a copy of a sermon years ago, they could get an on a cassette tape or CD for a dollar or two.
I mean, the church wasn’t interested in making money from it. It would just cover their costs. But now they’re, they’re, they’re doing licensing of this content. They can put it on a website behind a paywall, for example, and you can become a subscriber to listen to their sermons. Now, some [01:07:00]churches put it up there for.
Some people post to YouTube, et cetera, but sometimes they’ll turn their sermon series into a book that can have a ghost writer, listen to the sermons and write a book. So there’s this business. And so in the course of Hillsong, they’re mimicking the business world. It’s like the church is becoming a business and there there’s some interesting Bible verses about this.
And second Peter chapter two, verse three Peter’s talking about false teachers that would be in the church. And he said that if you read this in the king James version, it says that these teachers, they will make merchandise of you. They have turned the church into a market. It’s no different than when Jesus entered the temple many years ago and threw out the money [01:08:00] changers.
So what happened in the temple? They would do sacrifices. And if you didn’t have a sacrifice, if you traveled to Jerusalem from far away, you may not have been able to bring an animal to sacrifice. So you’d buy one. So they were selling sheep at the temple. They turned it into a marketplace and Jesus throughout the money changers.
So if you read that same verse second, Peter two verse three, and like the new living translation, it says something like this in their greed, they will make up clever lies to get hold of your money. It’s one of my favorite verses about religious frog.
De’Vannon: You ain’t lying. And you know, the thing is, you know, while they’re trying to.
Judge, you know, my community for not being straight, calling us all pedophiles and stuff like that. You know, they themselves are found within these pages, in my opinion, much more clear verbiage [01:09:00] and wording than what they try to use to condemn me because I don’t identify as straight. I heard what you said about how they get a ghost writer to listen to their sermons and write a book.
I’m so glad you said that because I had read one of Joel hostings book. When I was still a member there and I was like, I read through it. And I was like, gosh, I got a sworn. I heard this like in a sermon before. And you know, and so I knew that what the kids, so there’s like a system. Okay. So if you write a different sermon most weeks, what, most weeks out of the year, that that could be how they keep pooping out these books again.
And again, and again, every time you write a little sermon, you put them together, you got another book, another best seller. So then you’re not necessarily getting totally fresh content with, with each of these books. It’s just got a different cover on it. A few little shallow ass personal stories that make it feel like they’re being authentic and vulnerable [01:10:00] with you.
And really they’re not. And and shit like that. So you just validated me. I’m like, I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it. I knew it.
So, okay, so we’re going to end this first interview here, people out there listening, you know, you’ve heard what Barry and I’ve had to say, and this is only the beginning. We’re going to do this again. You can go over to the leaving hill song podcasts with Tanya Levine and listen to more of what Barry has to say.
You can also go to the discovery plus app or discovery channel plus app. However the fuck you say it and find the Hillsong documentary there. And that, that motherfuck is full of some spicy hot tea. I was clutching my pearls, rip them off, had to go buy a new set and come back again. I watched all three of those one hour episodes twice, and I’m going to watch them again [01:11:00] because I’ve got some interviews coming up with some people from off the documentary that I was fortunate enough to land.
So Mary, thank you so much for coming on this first time. You’re you already well-traveled of knowledge like. You’re a river, a river like deep well of information. I love how invested you are in what you do. And you have true joy for your calling. And not a lot of people can say that. Do you have any last words for the world today?
Barry: Can’t think of anything
De’Vannon: so you don’t have to because it will be talking again. So y’all his name is Barry Bowen. You want me to tell them your Twitter handle or that you can? Okay. So he’s on Twitter. He’s simply at Berry Bowen. He likes to keep things, you know, easiest, simple. Now the website, we can get all the tea and the information is a Trinity F I bad org, which stands for Trinity foundation [01:12:00]international for short.
So just tryna FII that org, it will all go into showing notes of blessings upon you all. Thank you, Barry. And everyone listen out for the second installment of this conversation. Thank you for coming on the show today.
Thank you all so much for taking time to listen to the sex drugs and Jesus podcast. It really means everything to me. Look, if you love the show, you can find more information and resources at sex, drugs, and jesus.com or wherever you listen to your podcast. Feel free to reach out to me directly at DeVannon@SexDrugsAndJesus.com and on Twitter and Facebook as well.
My name is De’Vannon and it’s been wonderful being your host today and just remember that everything is going to be all right.