October 3, 2010; Source: News Tribune | The Missionary Church of the Disciples of Jesus Christ (based in California) has been soliciting charitable donations in Pasco, Wash. since 2001. It claims that 15 percent of what it raises supports the Church and the remainder goes to services provided in the region. Unfortunately, no one knows how that 85 percent is spent and the Church can’t even say how much money it has raised.

A professor of comparative religion from the University of Washington says that the Missionary Church’s fundraisers “are trying to look as if they are the Salvation Army or the Red Cross,” but says that they report how they spend their moneys while the Church doesn’t. According to the professor, “I could go so far to say it’s a scam.”

A Missionary Church spokesperson said that the missionaries help distribute toys through Toys for Tots and volunteer in hospitals and jails in the region, but none of the charities named by the Church spokespersons have any records of getting money or volunteers through the missionaries. The News Tribune‘s efforts to get details from church leaders proved unsuccessful.

Religious organizations are not required to disclose their finances through 990’s like typical public charities. When they are raising money to provide secular services (such as the Missionary Church’s unidentifiable drug rehab programs) or to support other charities, they should be compelled to report and disclose. Otherwise donors should really think twice about donations, even if the requests come from self-described religious missionaries.—Rick Cohen