Brian Allan is a personal experiencer of the paranormal and a prolific author of exceptionally researched books on mysterious phenomena and new science. He is a passionate and uncompromising investigator and commentator on all things mysterious. A formidable and true Elder Statesman of paranormal research.
“Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” (Matthew 7:15, King James Bible)
Phenomena, (i.e. actual events that can be defined as being in some way unusual or strange), manifest in various ways, some are obvious and some are not. In this article I present some of the scandalous ploys used by various self-styled ministers and pastors, all purveyors of one brand of Christianity, who have become very rich indeed through what amounts to a shameless confidence trick cloaked in a veil of piety and religion. This is the first time I have ever quoted the Bible at the start of an article, but I did so deliberately because these wise words describe with remarkable precision exactly what is happening here.
These individuals frequently cast themselves in the role of a prophet conveying the word of God to the masses, hence the relevance of the opening quotation. The phenomena manifests in the fact that some people are often so desperate and/or gullible, that rather than seeing the various claims and assertions being made for the blatant fraud that they are, they feel compelled to hand over various sums of cash to these individuals, or the organisations they operate through, in return for the promise of an instant miracle, normally in the form of money or other material gain.
The perpetrators of the kind of religion mentioned in this article are only a small sample of the many who exploit it for financial reasons. In this case they are American, but the same kind of dubious and fraudulent theology called ‘prosperity ministry’ is also found in some of the evangelical churches in Africa and the UK. What is especially troubling is that they are allowed to make their scandalous pitches over satellite TV channels and of course terrestrial channels as well. It is worth the effort of tracking them down, because what is on open display here is an abuse of the airwaves. To be fair though, this only applies to a very narrow group of preachers who use one strain of religion for personal gain and profit.
The Great Televangelist Rip-Off
We are often told that the best things in life are free, and who knows, they might well be, but not according to the best laid plans of the men and women who appear on various television channels that feature individuals who are called, ‘televangelists’. It’s a very strange concept, here we have the bizarre juxtaposition of the caring and loving philosophy of a man who apparently walked the earth a little over 2000 years ago (give or take) and the grasping machinations of some of those who claim to bring His word to us…at a price. A far as I recall, Christ made no charge for his words of wisdom, neither did he take payment for the apparent miracles he performed, yet nevertheless people followed Him in their droves…and indeed still do; although with various levels of enthusiasm. Before proceeding any further I should make it clear that I have no particular religious affiliations and I have no axe to grind, however, to me at least there is a great deal that is very wrong with the manner in which some brands of the Christian religion operate, or in this case are ‘sold’.
The gospel of Christ makes several references to money, e.g. casting out the money changers from temple, payment to the workers in the vineyard and the homily about rich men, camels and needles and so forth, but nothing about specifically asking for money for favours. To set this in some kind of context; all through history the rich have always attracted bad press and carried with them a more than a whiff of corruption, greed and frequently malice. Of course sometimes the rich can and do carry out acts of great altruistic generosity. For example, Bill Gates (once again the richest man in the world with a $55 billion personal fortune) created the ‘Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’ to fund research into diseases that currently blight the Third World, this is money well spent.
Then there is the reclusive speculator Warren Buffett (currently worth an equally hefty $44 billion) who also funds various charities dedicated to fighting poverty and disease. So perhaps not all the rich are necessarily voracious in their acquisitive appetites and this trend goes back for many, many years. One of the high profile early benefactors was Andrew Carnegie who gave away swathes of his wealth to charities. The thing is that although their apparent generosity might be prompted to some degree by guilt, none of these people were particularly noted for their religious observance so the two are not necessarily synonymous and no doubt some individuals got hurt both financially and otherwise while these wealthy people were in the process of making their fortunes.
On the other hand Christ was noted for having nothing, but, we are told, still giving what little he did have to the poor and needy. This is a trend followed by the Sadus, the Indian holy men in who own little more than the clothes on their backs and perhaps a small bowl. Their bodily needs regarding lodging, food and water are met by the local people in whatever location they happen to be, they are literally dirt-poor. This is in stark contrast to the preening popinjays and shameless charlatans (of both sexes) who preach a variant on the gospel on TV, all shiny suits, false sincerity, gleaming teeth and immaculately groomed hair. What these people are doing is almost unbelievable in its bare-faced effrontery and the claims they make even more so; let’s have look at some of the wilder assertions.
As an example of what the previously mentioned prosperity ministry teaches; there is the astonishing ‘green prayer handkerchief’ as promoted by pastor Don Stewart, according to pastor Don, if you receive one of these scraps of green cloth then you will promptly be blessed with miraculous and sudden wealth. He even parades people to whom this has allegedly happened in front of the camera. A woman says that just after receiving the ‘prayer handkerchief’ cheques for tens of thousands of dollars dropped unbidden through her letter box and another man says that his mortgage was paid off and yet another reveals that he suddenly owned a new car (although just how this came about it not revealed). The real point kicks in when one realises that in order to activate this marvellous cloth a cash donation has to be made.
Stewart is the inheritor of the mantle originally worn by another self proclaimed healer and prophet called Asa Alonso (A A) Allen. This man was another blatant huckster and Stewart looked after his finances, in fact after Allen’s death which was hastened by his chronic alcoholism, Stewart appropriated the organisation, originally called ‘Miracle Valley Fellowship’ and changed the name to the ‘Don Stewart Evangelistic Association’. Allen’s ministry was typical of the ‘tent show’ hysterical variety and he was known to hire ‘hit squads’ to rough up and otherwise discourage reporters who arrived at his meetings with cameras or anything else that might challenge his version of events. Another of Allen’s ploys was a collection of horrific demons he had cast out; these were displayed in Kilner jars full of preservative fluids for the benefit of the faithful. The ‘demons’ were in fact either stitched-together odds and ends of animals or animals that had been born deformed, but that was absolutely typical of the man and his shabby ministry.
There are variants on this pitch that include ‘miracle soap’, ‘miracle water’ and ‘sacred oil’ (perhaps snake oil might be a better description) all the way from the Holy Land, same deal; use the soap, drink the tiny bag of water or anoint yourself with the oil, and instant wealth and good fortune will materialise. The ‘miracle water’ scam is a particular favourite of Peter Poppof, another self-proclaimed ‘prophet’ (or maybe that should be ‘profit’) who claims that drinking this water will, that’s right, cause untold sums of cash to miraculously fall your way. Another gift of Prophet Peter is (or that should be was, as he no longer does this) his apparent ability to give audience members (who he has never met or seen before) amazing personal information about themselves, i.e. names, family details, where they live, house numbers etc.
Sadly, this amazing knowledge did not come from the almighty, but from a wireless earpiece concealed under his bouffant dyed hair; apparently God was talking to him on a frequency of 37.19MHz. In this case ‘God’ was his wife who had gleaned the information about specific audience members, even down to where they were sitting in the audience, through a variety of means. He had been doing this for years and in 1987 was finally and convincingly exposed (the actual event is on the ‘net, have look), but he still carries on and the truly astonishing thing is that he still pulls in the faithful, but more importantly from his point of view their cash. Actually this kind of information gathering is quite common and has been abused by several self-styled evangelists and is obtained when unsuspecting members of the public attending the services fill in cards containing various odds and ends of personal information that is picked over by the assistants working for the evangelists and relayed back to them by various means as the service progresses.
Another rather more worrying and downright dangerous claim espoused by the notorious Poppof is his supposed ability to ‘heal’. When he does this, after whipping the audience into a suitably emotional and suggestible state, he invites those with ailments to throw any medication that might have with them onto the stage; and some of this medication is actually keeping them alive, he then informs them that the Holy Spirit is going to heal them. The effects of this ‘healing’ are quite remarkable as some people collapse on the floor and other seem struck dumb and none of them seem to realise what has happened and the very real danger they are in. What the pastor has done is trigger a response from another recognised and very real phenomenon called the ‘placebo effect’, where the human body can actually produce an effect that seems to cancel out pain etc.
In other words he has convinced them they are well when, in a short space of time, the illness will return as before. It has to be said that all healers operate in a similar manner, the ‘miracles’ at Lourdes are another example, although some are less flashy about it, but the really odd thing is that in a (very few) cases, a genuine healing does take place. This may be the innate ability of the human body/mind to influence the component atoms from which it is formed, but of course in the environment of Poppof it is a gift from God. Other healers attribute it to the energy they are channelling from the cosmos, which is probably closer t the truth
And so it goes; pastors and ministers both male and female, all subscribing to the charismatic strand of belief and all promising pie-in-the-sky; it’s called ‘prosperity ministry’, because God wants you to be rich and all you have to do is ask for it, or it their case pay for it. Think about it; they are actually asking you to pay God to grant you a blessing; this brand of hucksterism also goes under the name of ‘name it and claim it’, but many of the charlatans who preach this poisonous kind of theology cringe at the description much preferring to hide under the less emotive umbrella of ‘Word of Faith Ministry’, or just simply ‘Faith’. Strangely enough, the idea of ‘name it and claim it’ is not all that far from the way in which Chaos Magick seems to work, i.e. ‘fake it till you make it’, it is something we will return to at the end of this article.
According to the ‘Faith’ belief system, originally developed by noted evangelists like Oral Roberts, it was and still is mainly located among groups of right wing charismatic/evangelical Christians in the USA, Jesus really does want you to be rich. They base this astonishing belief on the assumption that Jesus blesses true believers with favours, in this case wealth, (give and ye shall receive…right?). They usually quote selectively from scripture using extracts such as:
‘God has already made plans for your prosperity’: Jeremiah 29:11 2.
‘Everything you will need and want has already been provided for you by your great God’: 2 Peter 1:33.
‘God wants you to live with limitless supply’: Judges 18:105; there are several more quotes, but these give the general idea.
Perhaps we should consider that the Rev Richard Roberts, the principal at the Oral Roberts University. Roberts and his wife, Lindsay, who is also the vice president were mired in a scandal that involved the misuse of tens of thousands of dollars in contributions received from the faithful. This money, no doubt given in good faith (no pun intended), was lavished on several extremely expensive makeovers in the Roberts home and Lindsay Roberts’ love of expensive clothes…and evidently that love extended to teenage boys on the university campus too. Then of course there is the Rev Benny Hinn, another noisy proponent of prosperity ministry, who, among other things, ‘slays in the spirit’, you should see this on You-Tube, it looks like something more suited to the World Wresting Federation than a religious service.
The Rev Hinn preens around in front of his congregation wearing his regulation shiny suit and touches dozens of people on the forehead. Those he touches immediately reel and stagger backwards as if pole-axed into the hands of the omnipresent assistants who catch them; impressive stuff indeed…and that’s before he asks the congregation to dig deep and start giving money, and they do, it’s quite a show; sad, but still a good show. No doubt the take would not be quite so good without the remarkable ‘floor show’. However, the most barefaced piece of money-centred con-artistry is the ‘faith seed’, so impressive that I, assisted by a UK freephone number, decided to have ago. Let’s face it, this ‘faith seed’, which, it has to be said, cost $1000 or its equivalent in UK currency was sure fire winner…and it was backed by God Himself no less.
Handouts From God?
The idea was that once you had planted/purchased this ‘seed’ it would grow ten thousand fold, as you will imagine this was something that any sane person would rush to buy, especially in these financially straitened times. I picked up the phone and dialled the number; I asked if, since this seed was backed by God, it had to be a winner and if it was not could I have my money back please? ‘Erm, no, I’m afraid not’ was the answer. I persisted, “How can this fail?” I asked, “Surely God would reimburse me if the expected riches did not appear”, there was slight pause then the phone went down…imagine my disappointment, one of Gods representatives hung up on me.
OK it’s a scam, and it was noted by characters like L. Ron Hubbard that the best was to make money was found a religion, which of course he did when he invented Scientology. However unlike some of the others, especially those that promise to cure cancer and even raise the dead ‘Word of Faith’ only hurts financially. These and claims like them are regularly made by some of the Pentecostal/Evangelical style ministries who broadcast on the TV channels. Cure cancer, heal the sick and raise the dead, these claims smack of the miracles that supposedly occur at Lourdes and other places of supposed healing and worship and this is before we even consider the genuine and authenticated phenomenon of the ‘placebo effect’, something that is not lost on these so-called ‘healers’. There is no doubt, however, that this too would be attributed to God rather that the truly amazing mechanisms that exist within the human mind and body.
However there is a get-out clause, there always is: this will only happen if your faith is strong enough. The sad, lonely, deluded and gullible will always fall victim to these heartless hypocrites who preach repentance from the safety of their plush homes with all the other trappings of wealth, the really unfortunate thing is that they can do this with impunity because the broadcasting act says that they can. According to this legal framework, religion can be broadcast as a fact with no need for corroboration of any kind, amazing but true. If, on the other hand, a wiccan or pagan was to make similar claims they would end up in court for making misleading statements, and rightly so, but not those on God TV who peddle this potentially dangerous nonsense every day all day. Give us your money and get rich, right away, no delay; God is indeed bountiful to the faithful, but only if you subscribe to the narrow hysteria masquerading as one brand of faith and are almost fanatical in your level of belief.
It is perhaps telling that at least six of those who actively preach prosperity ministry were investigated in 2007 by Senator Chuck Grassley, a Republican, those involved included Benny Hinn (in fact he is praised by Senator Grassley for his ‘open and honest’ cooperation with the enquiry). Also investigated were Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Eddie E. Long, Joyce and David Meyer (both God TV regulars), Randy and Paula White, now divorced but still fighting the good fight with their respective ministries and lastly, the very appropriately named Creflo and Taffi Dollar. You just could not make that up, could you! I suppose it is heartening to see that at least someone is out there looking after the naïve dupes, not that the money obsessed preachers are particularly worried; for them God does indeed provide and provide very well indeed The only caveat is this, was the investigation launched because of possible fraud, or because the US treasury felt the need to capture some handy God dollars?
One of the most obvious exploiters of this queasy brand of Christianity is Dr Todd Coontz who operates via TV though his self-created foundation, ‘Rock Wealth Ministries’: (the emphasis here is on ‘wealth’). Dr Coontz makes no bones about his message, he wants your cash for God and if you send it then not only can he (presumably) help the needy, but God will reward you handsomely for your gift (or ‘seed’ as he calls it, another example of this hard sell). There are certain ethical issue here, because in addition to preaching the ‘good word’ as he sees it, pastor Coontz assumes the role of financial adviser and entrepreneur and it is difficult to see just how he or his organisation equates this with the humble, selfless and much vaunted message of Christ.
The message presented by Coontz, and indeed by most of these evangelists, Benny Hinn is another, is that God speaks to them directly and in the case of the Rev Coontz, God apparently tells him that a given number of people (sometimes 100, but it varies) will be blessed financially shortly after planting their ‘seed’. This man and his ilk prey on the previously mentioned vulnerable, gullible and frequently desperate people and there is little or no control exerted over what they say or promise. According to them the wealth message comes for their highly subjective interpretation of verses in Deuteronomy 8:18 and if you visit the RockWealth website it contains many opportunities and invitations to contribute a financial ‘seed’ for various ostensibly worthy projects.
Many of them actually promise (or at least imply) benefits and one asking for $273 actually says ‘expect supernatural change within 90 days’. There is also another exhortation on the website (the ‘Triple Favor’ seed) to donate $1,000 and become one of the ‘Favor 12’. What happens if more than 12 people subscribe…do they kind of fall off the end? One can only ask why there is no control over this kind scandalous ‘medicine-show’, gospel-tent hucksterism, but, then again this is the Word of God and as we have seen they can make these claims and assertions with no fear of retribution. It is also a fact that none of the income of the aforementioned preachers is taxable nor do they have to justify how it is spent, perhaps this is how they can manage to justify the rock-star level of luxury with matching lifestyles that they adopt. Kenneth Copeland for example owns a fleet of private aircraft, including the fastest and most expensive Cessna twin jet available, apparently to help him get around more easily and spread the word of God. None of their homes (some have more than one) falls into the less than $1 million bracket either, with many costing multiples of that.
In fairness though, not all of these preachers are as secretive about their need/desire for money, and one of the favourite ways they deflect criticism about the way they raise cash is when they say, ‘You can’t save sinners on credit, it takes cash to put the message out there, to build the churches, hospitals and missions’. Whether you agree with their practises or not they are correct, but the problems arise when the money is diverted into adopting a luxurious and hedonistic lifestyle rather than saving sinners and helping the poor and needy. However I recall Bono of U2 saying in response to some of these over-the-top evangelists that his God did not need money and fancy cars and he too had a point.
Both are right and both are wrong, if you do happen to believe in a God then the message should be free (the bibles distributed by the Gideon Society are a case in point), but the infrastructure does take cash to run and it appears that unless the whole deal is either done by barter or voluntarily then the wheels soon come off the wagon. I suppose the old saying that money is the root of all evil is a case in point here, because it is obvious that God does not hand out cash irrespective of what the self-styled prophets say and as we have seen, money does indeed corrupt.
I earlier mentioned that this kind of asking for money had connections with other beliefs both old and new and it does, the aforementioned ‘fake it till you make it; is one and there is another system called ‘Cosmic Ordering’, where all you have to do is ask the cosmos to bestow whatever boon you want upon you. If you do this right and with sufficient sincerity it happens, maybe this is ‘God’ operating in mysterious ways, but probably not. Both of these systems seem to work based on how well you project your wish and if you want something badly enough then you might just be able to make it happen: this is magick by any other name. One of the best known exponents of Cosmic Ordering is the former DJ and current TV presenter Noel Edmonds.
Apparently after his BBC TV show, Noel’s House Party, ended no other work was forthcoming, so at the suggestion of his reflexologist he asked the cosmos for a new challenge and this materialised in the shape of the extremely successful show ‘Deal or No Deal’, which has been running for years. This actually seems to resonate with the ideas of other Word of Faith teachers, such as Kenneth E. Hagin and Charles Capps, who argue that since God apparently created the universe by wishing it into being (In the beginning was the word, Genesis 1), and since we are created in Gods image and likeness, humans have been granted the ability to speak things into existence…which presumably includes wealth and prosperity.
What this might demonstrate is that the self-styled evangelists who claim that God is bringing about miracles of wealth and healing just by asking for it might be tapping into something much more fundamental and freely accessible to all. The truly sad thing is that there are people out there who choose to believe them as they use the phenomenon and give it another name to promote and ultimately enrich themselves. So the next time you see a supposed purveyor of religion on TV promising you something for nothing my advice is to be cynical…and keep in mind the words that opened this piece, “Beware of the false prophets who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruit”….and indeed you will.
© Brian Allan 2014
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