A televangelist in Georgia, Creflo Dollar, made the news last week by refusing to turn over financial documents from his World Changers Church to the US Senate Finance Committee. That committee is investigating several megachurches to see if they are violating their tax-exempt status by purchasing luxury items for their clergy. The Reverend Dollar lives in a 2.5 million dollar mansion in Georgia, has the use of an expensive Manhattan apartment, and drives a Rolls Royce that is owned by his church. It’s a small wonder that he doesn’t want the Feds nosing around in the accounts of his church.
A few weeks ago Oral Roberts University, an educational arm of Oral Roberts Ministries, was back in the news with allegations of university funds being misspent by ORU President Richard Roberts (Oral’s son) and his family. The allegations ranged from family members accepting expensive gifts from ministry members, to misusing their power to have university and ministry employees come to their home to do their daughter’s homework on a fairly regular basis. Roberts’ wife spent nearly forty thousand dollars at one store in a year on her personal wardrobe, and the family spent almost thirty thousand dollars to fly their daughter and some of her friends to the Bahamas for a senior trip. That trip was billed to the university as an “evangelistic function of the president.” Richard’s wife, a member of the University’s Board of Regents, had a penchant for texting male students late at night, and reportedly had cell phone bills in excess of $800 per month. (She is guilty, at the very least, of not shopping around for a better phone plan!) There was also an allegation that Mrs. Roberts had a senior maintenance employee fired so that he could be replaced by one of her young male friends. And then there was an allegation that Richard and the Missus had their home remodeled eleven times in fourteen years. Are you getting the picture?
Twenty years ago, Oral Roberts, the founder of ORU who has conversations with God, holed up in his Prayer Tower at ORU to extort cash from his followers. Roberts said that God told him to raise eight million dollars for ORU or he, God, would take Oral home, presumably to Heaven. Oral finally got his cash and was able to leave the Tower victorious, but not before Chicago columnist, Mike Royko, filleted and barbecued him almost daily. Royko noted that it was a wonderful opportunity for God to prove his existence by taking Oral. God didn’t pony up, but the suckers did.
Or how about Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker? They built Praise the Lord (PTL) Ministries into a multi-million dollar operation by religiously begging to the not-so-bright who write checks in the hope of eternal salvation. The Bakkers were in the process of building a religious theme park when Jim got caught with his pants down. In addition to being involved with in an extra-marital affair with a church employee, Jim was also found guilty of twenty-four counts of fraud and conspiracy. My favorite remembrance of this couple was when a reporter asked Tammy Faye why she wore such expensive jewelry, and the heavily painted muse replied, “God wouldn’t want me to wear junk.” No indeed.
But the religious charlatans that I enjoy most of all are the greedhead ministers who are also flamingly hypocritical. Jimmy Swaggart, Assemblies of God minister from backwater Louisiana, had the unbelievable gall to expose Jim Bakker for his sexual indiscretions. Swaggart referred to Bakker as a “cancer in the body of Christ.” Within months of that statement, photos surfaced showing Swaggart in a tryst with a prostitute. A few years later, Swaggart was caught in the company of another prostitute. Instead of confessing to his flock, he told them in flat terms that God had told him it was none of their business. His salary at the time was in the neighborhood of $350,000 per annum.
Another favorite of mine is Ted Haggard, a married father of five, who was head of the 30 million member National Association of Evangelicals. Haggard, who had been a strong proponent of anti-gay legislation, was exposed as a meth user who regularly purchased the services of a male prostitute.
What’s it’s all about? Are they in it for the money, or the sex, or the power? Does anyone believe these con men speak for God? Are they the way and the light, or just road hazards on the path to salvation?
God doesn’t want your cash. He and/or She wants your commitment to your family, your neighbors, and your planet. It makes far more sense to kneel by a tree to pray than to dress to the teeth and worship in a megachurch. The tree, after all, is a work of God.
"There are few things in this life more evil than a 'good' Christian." --Pa Rock