By Gery L. Deer
Have you ever turned on the TV early on a weekend morning and heard something like this, “Friends, dig deep for those green rockets of salvation. Help us to lead the sheep to His lovin’ care with your kind love offering. Operators are standing by to pray with you – all for just $49.99.” A cross between an infomercial and a bad Saturday Night Live parody, television evangelists have been conning millions from the pockets of the devout since the medium was invented.
These clergy-covered con men (and women) take the stage amidst gold-plated, throne-like chairs, religious statuary and acrylic podiums to convince us all that we’re damned to the fiery pits of Hell unless we give and give generously. Armani-suited, well-quaffed, jewel-bedazzled TV preachers spout dramatic sermons from a teleprompter while holding up a Bible as if it were the newly presented cub in the Lion King movie.
If that’s not enough drama, it’s is followed by repeated moments of squint-eyed, hand-raised prayer and Lord praising before thousands of onlookers in the audience who are doing the same. Without opening their eyes, the host preacher prays that God will direct the viewers to the telephone number that appears at the bottom of the screen and give generously to the ministry so that more souls can be saved.
At home, viewers dial quickly, handing over millions upon millions of dollars to what could easily be compared to a guy begging on a highway exit ramp. The difference is that at least you know the panhandler is exactly that. He’s not pretending to give you a direct phone line to eternal salvation at the same time.
Holier-than-thou in their demeanor and testimony, eventually they fall from their pedestals in some kind of sex scandal or tax evasion allegations. I’m sure everyone remembers the rise and fall of Jim and Tammy Baker, Oral Roberts and Jimmy Swaggart.
Religious panhandling – might as well call it by name – is a real problem in America and, unfortunately, it’s completely legal and largely tax-exempt. For the truly devout, there is a clear understanding that man is meant to be humble and kneel before God. That doesn’t mean we were meant to live in abject poverty, but we’re not supposed to use the Almighty as a way to dupe billions of dollars out of unsuspecting people searching for answers in a life full of uncertainty and hardship.
With multi-million-dollar homes, limousines and servants, there is nothing holy about these so-called “evangelists.” In fact, in my opinion, it’s just flat out criminal. These people soil the image and intentions of faithful, honest people all over the country who are genuinely trying to do some good in the world. Most live modestly, often with a second job or from a share of whatever comes in the offering on Sunday morning. There are no limousines, golden thrones or evangelical stadiums.
There is nothing to excuse the fact that some of the poorest people in America, the elderly, are the most common victims to this kind of nonsense. Looking for spiritual leadership and often lonely and shut-in, seniors often send money to these TV charlatans before even paying for food and medicine.
Of course, these religious phonies don’t care who they hurt because they can hide out in tax-sheltered mansions, go for a dip in their Olympic-sized swimming pools or jet off to vacation homes in the Cayman Islands.
Not convinced? According to CelebrityNetWorth.Com, one of the most popular TV evangelists, Benny Hinn, is worth more than $42 million; all from donations to his “ministry.” Another extremely popular – and rich – television pastor, Joel Osteen, is reportedly roughing it on only $40 million. And more money is still pouring in.
I don’t have a problem with people living prosperously and giving generously from hard work and the success built from that labor. I am deeply offended, however, when those claiming to be men and women of God live in luxury at the expense and from the charity of lost souls desperately searching for comfort. It would do them well to go read that book they’re always waiving around on TV; particularly the book of Matthew, Chapter 19, Verse 24.