Words actually fail me. Emotions abound.
I came across the following BBC Article about so-called prosperity preachers in America preying on people with low/no incomes. Why do the preachers do it? Why do the folks pay up (even when they know the preacher is rich, while they themselves struggle daily just for the basics)?
The Preachers Getting Rich from Poor Americanshttps://www.bbc.com/news/stories-47675301
“Televangelist Todd Coontz has a well-worn routine: he dresses in a suit, pulls out a Bible and urges viewers to pledge a very specific amount of money. "Don't delay, don't delay," he urges, calmly but emphatically.
“It sounds simple, absurdly so, but Coontz knows his audience extremely well. He broadcasts on Christian cable channels, often late into the night, drawing in viewers who lack financial literacy and are desperate for change.
"I understand the laws that govern insurance, stocks and bonds and all that is involved with Wall Street," he once said, looking directly into the camera. "God has called me… as a financial deliverer."
“Crucially, he always refers to the money as a "seed" - a $273 seed, a $333 seed, a "turnaround" seed, depending on the broadcast. If viewers "plant" one, the amount will come back to them, multiplied, he says. It is an investment in their faith and their future.
“In 2011, one of those desperate viewers was Larry Fardette, then based in California. Larry watched a lot of similar televangelists, known as prosperity preachers, who explicitly link wealth and religion. But he found Coontz particularly compelling. He assured quick returns. He seemed like a results man.
“And Larry needed some fast results.
“The Fardette family was going through a tough time. Larry's daughter was seriously ill and he had health problems of his own. His construction business was struggling, and to make matters worse both his van and his car broke down irreparably within the same week. When a local junkyard offered him $600 for the van, he thumbed the bills thoughtfully and remembered Coontz's rousing speech.
“Maybe he should invest the sum as a "seed"?
“He instantly recalled the specific number that Coontz had repeated again and again: $273. It was a figure the preacher often used. "God gave me the single greatest miracle of my lifetime in one day, and the numbers two, seven and three were involved," he once said. It is also - perhaps not coincidentally - the number of Coontz's $1.38m condo in South Carolina, paid for by his church, Rockwealth, according to local TV channel WSOC-TV.
“Larry has now come to realise there was no foundation to Coontz's promises that donated cash would multiply, but at the time the stirring speeches gave him hope. He did not see any other way out.
“He sent off two cheques: one for $273 and another for $333, as requested. Then he waited for his miracle.
“A number of those [preachers] making the most persistent pleas for money tap into something called the prosperity gospel, which hinges on a belief that your health and wealth are controlled by God, and God is willing you to be prosperous. Believers are encouraged to show their faith through payments, which they understand will be repaid - many times over - either in the form of wealth or healing.
“For followers, it is a way to make sense of sickness and poverty. It can feel empowering and inspiring amid despair. The hard-up donors are often not oblivious to the preachers' personal wealth - though they may not know the extent of it - but they take the riches as a sign of a direct connection with God. If seed payments have worked for them, maybe they can work for you too?
“And if the seeds never flourish? Some are told their faith is not strong enough, or they have hidden sin. In Larry's case, he often interpreted small pieces of good fortune - a gift of groceries from a neighbour, or the promise of a few extra hours of work for his wife, Darcy - as evidence of fruition.
“He estimates he gave about $20,000 to these operators over the years. A little here, a little there. A few years ago, he started tallying it all up. The list is like a who's who of all the established players, including those who have made headlines for their lavish lifestyles - those such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, who have asked followers to fund their private jets.
“Larry's own life could not stand in greater contrast. These days he and Darcy live in the small town of Cullman, Alabama, about an hour's drive north of Birmingham. Their spartan living room is furnished with just a desk and four dining-room chairs. The monotony of the wall's bare magnolia paint is broken only by a couple of mounted crosses and a small, framed Biblical verse. "Be anxious for nothing," it reads (Philippians 4:6).
"Life is not easy but we are blessed," says Larry, in a rasping, lived-in voice. "We have food in the refrigerator, we have two cats that love us. My wife's got part-time work in a store and I get disability benefits."
“[Larry] was an ex-addict himself, and his Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous sessions had strengthened his religious beliefs.
“After deciding to "follow Christ's path", he became an avid viewer of religious channels and specifically "praisathons" - fundraising events with multiple guest speakers. He became, in his words, "hypnotised" by the hosts. He was not just a passive spectator, he felt like he knew them.
"We had been faithful to these ministries. They called us partners, friends, family," he explains today. "We thought they'd be there for us."
“…In August 2015, the couple were channel-hopping in a Jacksonville motel room, when they caught an episode of John Oliver's satirical news show, Last Week Tonight.
"I never watched John Oliver. I had never even heard of the guy," says Larry. But his attention was immediately caught by a skit that ripped into money-grabbing televangelists. Larry and Darcy sat up in shock, recognising all the names.
“They say they felt as though God was lifting a veil. "We had been so ignorant," Larry says, shaking his head.
"The next morning they went to a local library to find out more online. In just a few clicks, they came across the Texas-based Trinity Foundation, which had assisted Last Week Tonight with its research.”
The article states that Larry eventually called the Trinity Foundation, which tracks the prosperity preachers and provides information about their tactics and wealth as well as trying to help people who have been taken in by them as well as those in need generally.
[Ole, founder of Trinity Foundation] “started to note a common thread. When people were on the verge of homelessness in the heart of the Bible belt, a surprising number offered the last of their cash to televangelists who promised them financial salvation."
[Ole]“approached local district attorneys, who explained that many preachers were protected by the First Amendment (guaranteeing freedom of religion and free speech), so there was nothing they could do. So he turned back to the media, this time major networks and publications, which said investigations would be too time-consuming."
“Ole was faced with a multibillion-dollar industry built, as he saw it, on exploiting the poor - and it was completely untouchable."
“… the Federal Communications Commission reportedly came close to introducing a "truth-in-advertising" clause for religious solicitations. This would have meant that any claims of boosting finances or curing disease would have to be verifiable, and Ole took various trips to Washington to lobby for it.
"We've tried a lot of things [to address the prosperity preacher issues], but we haven't been very successful," [Ole] says, ruefully.
“While other tax-exempt organisations - notably charities - must at least fill in a basic form, known as the 990, churches don't have to. This means they are not required to detail their top employees' earnings or list how much is spent on philanthropic projects. Their inner workings can be entirely unknown."
“There is a peculiar thing about people turning the TV on in the middle of the night," …, … this is when many pastors broadcast their pleas for seed donations. "They [the TV viewers] are lonely or hurting. They might have medical condition or be unemployed."
“Ole remains disappointed that the authorities still allow the vulnerable to fall into these traps.
"We hoped for change," says Ole. "But it didn't work. I guess they didn't want change."
“As for Larry and Darcy, they are also still donating, despite their meagre income, but only to their local church.
“The couple say they want to share their story with others to make them think twice about where their money could be going.
"We found out the hard way. These are money-making industries," says Larry vehemently.
“Darcy, sitting on one of the dining room chairs in the middle of the empty room, nods in agreement. "You have got to see some of the houses they live in," she adds, pursing her lips together. "Must be nice."
Camels, eyes, needles come to mind. (Matthew 19:24 (NIV) - "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.")
And storing up treasures on earth - also not recommended by scripture (Matthew 6:19, 20 - NIV):
“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."
I guess the prosperity preacher people don't know those scriptures or don't care about them - or don't believe them.
As usual, those low down in the hierarchy suffer most. Some would blame them for making bad choices. More I blame the wolves in sheep's clothing who fleece the flock and laugh all the way to the bank. And to the yacht. And the island in the sun. The jet plane. The mansion. And all the rest.
It's not hard for most of us workaday folks to comprehend a state of anxiety and desperation. Many live on the knife's edge in terms of economy, job security and other basics that can be tough to come by in our changing society. But sending money, especially repeatedly, that you cannot afford to supposedly help out a ministry - does it not clang in your ears to hear pleas for money from the preacher class? I don't know how the preachy ones' consciences let them sleep.
It reminds me of the time I discussed tithing with the Mormon bishop who told me that first you pay tithing, then you tackle your household expenses. I told him that wasn't fair to one's family, to leave yourself short to cover living expenses. He just repeated the "tithing first" mantra. Fortunately for me, and mine, I didn't listen to him. Financial responsibility is also mentioned, and supported, in scripture. I cannot imagine how Mormon households, with the larger families encouraged by LDS doctrines, can pay tithing+, and usually on only one salary as Mom has to stay home with the brood, never mind missions for numerous kids. When they used to collect the fast offerings I wondered the same thing. How much of one's income does it add up to, especially over a lifetime's membership?
There has always been something whiffy to me about religion and money. I know I'm in the vast minority here when I say (over and over) that when I was a JW it was, to me, not as negative as being Mormon (in my own likely unique case). Even the JWs, who are excoriated by many, do not shake down their membership constantly for donations. They don't pass a plate around so everyone sees whether you put money into the pot or not. They have a donation box at the back of the Kingdom Hall and you are free to add to it, or not. You get a tax receipt, if you have donated. If not, you never hear about it. I've never rested easy with the opulence evident in some religious organizations. (Even though, for instance, I was shocked and upset myself as the Notre Dame Cathedral burned - all those "treasures" in danger/lost - weird how inconsistent our brains can be in some things). The more any religious leader presses for money the more turned off I get. I cannot imagine being in a place where I would send my last dollar off to a TV stranger draped in gold bangles, hoping for miracles, which are rare indeed, if not non-existent, at least for those folks.
It's appalling on the part of the preacher people and pitiful for those suckered in.
"Prosperity gospel" - not my cup of tea. At all. I hope most people come to recognize it for the shakedown it is.
NB: Please note - there are US political references in the article I linked above. I have purposely not used that material from the article, due to board rules (but also as that is not my focus for this post). Please refrain from addressing or discussing any of those comments so we honour the rules here. Many thanks for that.
OK, so I guess I was wrong up at the top - I am not speechless, obviously. But in terms of stating how I feel, both for the duped poor folks and about the prosperity preacher types, I kind of am. I feel strongly about it, and emotional, but can't express it in depth. Too depressing. Personal. And close to home for me, still a churchgoer, although more mainstream and reasonable than many of the others. However, the taint kind of sticks to religion in general. With some reason. Hopefully, most people can see we're not a monolith, but separate groups, some (way) better than others. We can't be judged by the lowest common denominator. If so, to be fair you'd have to do that with every human endeavour. And obviously even though a lot of bad exists, there is a lot of good out there. I try to give people the benefit of the doubt and not judge all for the shortcomings (or worse) of some.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 06/12/2019 05:45PM by Nightingale.