Pastor's church fails to submit accounts three years running

Fervent believers donate chunks of salary to evangelical River of Love church 

Gordon John Manché: ‘up to believers whether or not to donate’
Gordon John Manché: ‘up to believers whether or not to donate’

No accounts have been filed since 2011 by tele-evangelist Gordon John Manché’s ‘Nations for Christ’ with the Commissioner for NGOs raising questions on its financing model of requesting tithes from followers.

Some ardent followers of evangelical fellowship River of Love donate 10% of their salary to the group, in accordance with an ancient biblical belief. 

A teacher at pastor Gordon-John Manche’s Nations for Christ Bible College –  which has courted controversy in the past over alleged  ‘gay conversion’ claims – told MaltaToday that the “tithe” principle features extensively in the Bible, from Abraham donating one-tenth of his war-spoils to a high priest, to its inclusion in the Law of Moses.

“Not once in the Bible does it state that the tithe has been abolished,” Marius-Richard Cilia said. “There are biblical principles about money and paying taxes, just as there are biblical principles about love. The tithe is a belief, an agreement between a person and God, and some people at River of Love abide by this principle.” 

But Manché has denied claims by a woman, who spoke to MaltaToday, who said Manché “coerces” followers into donating 10% of their salary to River of Love. 

“People need to feel as though they belong to something and Manché makes his followers feel psychologically obliged to financially help them out,” she said, describing the charismatic group as a “cult”. 

Manché denied this claim when contacted by MaltaToday, insisting that his organisation spreads its message but leaves it up to the people whether to donate or not. Further attempts to contact the pastor after Marius Cilia’s confirmation of the tithe proved futile. 

Similarly, Cilia explained that the final decision as to whether or not to tithe, ultimately rests with the individual. 

“We simply spread the Word of God. People have free will and it’s up to them whether to believe or not, but there are consequences for those who don’t.” 

He said that church donations all go towards “spreading the Word”, maintenance and broadcasting costs, and helping people in need.  

“Our sole source of income is through donations. All churches and all voluntary organisations ask for donations from their followers.”

€149,899 in donations in one year, but River of Love now in default

River of Love is certainly not short of generous followers though. According to their most recent financial statement to the Commission for Voluntary Organisations in 2010, the evangelical group declared a high €149,899 in donations, compared to just €43,298 in 2009. 

The largest share of their expenditure was on rent of their Zebbug premises (€20,126), TV expenses (€19,975), and printing costs (€18,904). Manche’s wages as a full-time pastor reached €11,962, up from €8,420 in 2009. 

Interestingly, the financial statements reveal that Gordon-John Manche’s wife, psychologist Mariella Blackman, is vice-president of River of Love. 

Repeated attempts by MaltaToday to contact Blackman were not successful. 

In his accountant’s report, Emanuel Fenech wrote that the financial statements were based solely on the “documentation presented and on representations made by Nations for Christ”.

He also admitted that he was not always provided with supporting evidence to back up the representations and that he did not seek to verify their accuracy. In the report’s final paragraph, he said that he doesn’t assume any responsibility for the truthfulness of the financial statement. 

Although Cilia insisted that River of Love have submitted their finances to their accountant for the past three years, the Commission for Voluntary Organisations have not received their financial statements for the past three years, effectively putting the organization in default. 

NGO Commissioner Prof. Kenneth Wain explained that this means that River of Love is not eligible for government and EU funding or other government or EU schemes. They are still allowed to broadcast adverts for donations though. 

Wain admitted that several other NGOs are in River of Love’s default state, but that there is not much action he can take against them as of yet.

“If I want to take action against a defaulting NGO, I must first ask the Industrial Tribunal for permission, after which the NGO will be given the right to appeal,” Wain said. “The whole process is long, cumbersome, expensive and inefficient.”

However, he said that discussion is ongoing on a White Paper that will allow the Commissioner to take direct court action against non-compliant NGOs. 

“As soon as this law passes, I will come down hard on all these organisations,” he pledged.