In fact, Ecclesia College is a part of a church called Ecclesia, Inc.
According to Guidestar, Ecclesia, Inc. “is not required to file an annual return with the IRS because it is a church.” Unlike other non-profit entities, Ecclesia isn’t accountable to the public via the annual 990 filing. Somehow the college and several other activities are considered a church by the IRS. On Ecclesia College’s website, a list of organizations are provided which are a part of the “church” or what they call the “Ecclesia Network.”
Twila Paris’ music business and all these other religious businesses are apparently a part of this “church.” According to Ecclesia College’s history page:
Ecclesia College is an important branch of the Ecclesia Network. Other ministries in the network include Strategic Missions, Ecclesia Relief and Development, Bibles For the Nations, Twila Paris Productions, Ecclesia Children’s Ministries, and Happy Few Unlimited.
When Micah Neal’s plea agreement says that development funds were directed to a “nonprofit corporation operating a college located in Springdale” the reference is apparently to Ecclesia, Inc. which is a church.
If Ecclesia is a church, then who is the pastor?
In essence, Arkansas tax payers have spent well over $500,000 since 2013 building a “church” in Springdale, Arkansas via the General Improvement Fund. This church isn’t functioning as a church but appears to be shielding several money making ventures from public accountability and possibly taxation.
Last March, the Freedom from Religion Foundation complained to the Northwest Arkansas Economic Development District about the allocation of funds to Ecclesia. According to the FFRF report, a NWAEDD representative pledged not to use any additional funds for religious purposes.
While I doubt it will happen, I believe the Arkansas legislature should investigate the funneling of funds to Ecclesia and other religious organizations. Specifically, Ecclesia’s role, if any, in the bribery scandal should be investigated. More generally, Ecclesia’s status as a church appears to be questionable as has been the practice of allocating public funds for sectarian religious purposes.