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On Thursday, the FBI raided three churches in Georgia and Texas, all of which were affiliated with the House of Prayer Christian Church (HOPCC) and all of which were known to target soldiers specifically. While the FBI hasn’t released any formal statement about the raid, there’s reason to believe it occurred because of alleged fraud taking place at those churches. The story behind it is wild.

In 2020, a group called Veterans Education Success, which helps military members and their families achieve success in higher education, sent a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs asking them to investigation potential abuses of the GI Bill Program by seminaries run by the HOPCC. In fact, many of their churches are located right next to military bases, which gives them plenty of access to soldiers and veterans.

Veterans Education Success said it had spoken to several of its members, including “14 former members of the Church and one current member,” who said HOPCC was trying to deceive the VA into giving it money it didn’t deserve.

How were they doing it?

  1. Keeping students enrolled in the schools without providing them with an actual education.
  2. Telling veterans applying for disability benefits to give any compensation to the church through tithes.
  3. Engaging in mortgage fraud by taking out mortgages in parishioners’ names while forging their signatures, using their personal data and social security numbers, all with the help of in-house notaries.
  4. Telling students to lie to VA inspectors by saying they were in class when they were actually doing chores for church leaders.
  5. Lying about when and where classes were being taught.
  6. Charging veterans higher tuition than civilian students.
  7. Lying about the ratio of veteran to civilian students.
  8. Lying to the VA about its teachers’ qualifications.
  9. Using students rather than staffers to recruit new members. (Some of those students were as young as 16, as one girl said, which raises additional concerns.)
  10. Purposely lengthening the curriculum to keep students enrolled for a longer period of time.
  11. Providing students with a certificate of completion (i.e. diploma) that was effectively useless outside the HOPCC.
  12. Refusing to provide students their financial or academic records.
  13. Operating like a cult, humiliating students who question the church’s leader, stalking and harassing church members who leave, and controlling the lives of certain members.

To be clear, these are all allegations. While the FBI may have been investigating the mortgage fraud issue, it wasn’t clear if any of the other potential violations were being looked at. That’s why the Veterans Education Success group sent the letter in 2020. And that may have something to do with the recent raid on three of those churches in Georgia and Texas:

The FBI on Thursday raided The House of Prayer Christian Church in Hinesville

Onlookers observed FBI agents with weapons traveling to multiple buildings while a group of women were being guarded by an officer with a weapon.

Jenna Sellitto, an FBI spokesperson, confirmed the agency was executing a court-authorized search warrant. She said no arrests had been made as of Thursday afternoon.

Half a dozen FBI agents were seen in the back of the Assembly of Prayer church on Tobacco Road in Hephzibah during a raid that started at about 7:15 a.m. Thursday and continued into the afternoon.

The Assembly of Prayer Christian Church on Massey Street in Killeen, Texas, was also raided by the FBI on Thursday, according to the Killeen Police Department.

The church is located less than 4 miles from Fort Hood.

Are all of these threads connected? We don’t have the answer to that. But the coordinated raids suggest law enforcement officials were trying to collect information before church leaders could tip each other off and destroy anything.

According to Deseret News, HOPCC received “at least $708,145.53 in post 9/11 GI Bill funding” in 2018 alone. If they’ve been at this for years, and if the allegations are mostly accurate, who knows how much money they conned the government out of over the years. There’s also a website in which people who attended HOPCC can leave (unverified) stories about their own experiences. Many are detailed and damning. There are also former members sharing their HOPCC horror stories with local reporters.

If those concerns turn out to be validated through this raid, it would be yet another reminder that Christianity is not a virtue. A seminary or church is not necessarily looking out for anyone’s best interests. They may be decent or they may be scammy. The only way to push back against the bad ones is for courageous people on the inside to speak out and let the secular world know what’s happening. The people running these places cannot be trusted to police themselves.

Hemant Mehta is the founder of FriendlyAtheist.com, a YouTube creator, podcast co-host, and author of multiple books about atheism. He can be reached at @HemantMehta.