- Ingvard Ashby
As The Righteous Gemstones — the series meant to satirize the hypocrisy of powerful megachurches — is in the middle of its run on HBO, real life is proving to be just as absurd as the television show.
Tulsa-based nonprofit The Frontier launched its own investigation into one Oklahoma’s most powerful Christian organizations, Gateway Ministries, which illuminates the lack of oversight for churches from state agencies and the IRS.
Gateway Ministries is headquartered in Tulsa, but it has no house of worship. It hasn’t stopped Jesse Leon Rodgers from declaring his personal home a parsonage, waiving its property taxes, according to The Frontier.
Rodgers is head of the Oklahoma chapter of Watchmen on the Wall, a collection of 13,000 pastors nationwide organized by the D.C.-based fundamentalist Christian organization Family Research Council. Rodgers’ position with the organization has led him to multiple meetings with President Trump. While it doesn’t operate a physical church, Gateway Ministries is the legal name behind City Elders, an influential political organization that operates in 40 of the state’s 77 counties and whose board includes former state GOP chairman David McLain.
City Elders works closely with Oklahoma Conservative Political Action Committee by recruiting religious leaders, civil government and business heads who agree with its political views that have been described as “dominion theology” or total political control in civil government by Christians by the state’s Tea Party leader.
Federal law prohibits churches and charities from engaging in political campaigns. According to the watchdog organization Ministry Watch, once the IRS sees that an organization is declared a church, that ends their oversights.
“You and I could agree today to be the First Church of Greed and Mayhem,” Ministry Watch CEO Rusty Leonard told The Frontier. “That could be our name. We could set up a facility and people could donate to us tax-free and the IRS wouldn’t complain about that. We could take the money people donated and use for vacations or whatever mayhem we wanted to create. And it’s all legal.”
Be right back; we’re filing to be Chicken-Fried Church of Debauchery and Hedonism that uses all of its donations on public education funding and food insecurity.