Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
November 20, 2000
Religion which extorts the widow's mite
In some respects the heyday of electronic revivalism and the rapture of the righteous promised by TV evangelists seems a long way off. I'm thinking of course of the glory days of the Moral Majority led by Jerry Falwell, spiritual and political advisor to Ronald Reagan.
Falwell and followers envisioned a Christianity with a militant duty to hasten the days of the Second Coming by setting the stage for Armageddon, the ultimate battle between good and evil. It is no secret who was wearing the white stetsons in this scenario.
Falwell, although a power behind the throne, was the least prominent of the top six fundamentalist preachers, reaching a mere 5.6 million households through his televised Sunday services.
Pat Robertson was number one in this line-up, preaching his take on the Gospel to more than 16 million households, or about 50 million people, each week. His ambition was to sit on the throne itself and run the world from the oval office, but his bid for the presidency failed.
The other crowd pleasers, as you remember, were Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker, both caught up in sexual and financial scandals followed by tear-stained public confessions and even jail in Bakker's case. The other two were Robert Schuller and Oral Roberts with a combined audience of over 13 million families each week.
One would think that, in this knowledge-based information age, this strange mixture of show biz and religion would be a thing of the past, but it seems that for better or worse, the evangelical Church is here to stay and it continues to shape the political landscape.
The huge amphitheatre structure where the multi-media preaching takes place is also changing the city landscape.
The most prominent leaders of this charismatic movement are people with great entrepreneurial skills who use every modern sales promotion technique from live entertainment, dramatic oratory, simplistic analysis of complex issues and aggressive proselytizing to reach a growing audience.
Many of the followers belong to minority groups or those who are rendered vulnerable in other ways by a society which has passed them by. The Church serves as a safe haven where sinners and the physically and emotionally crippled are welcomed.
The message is simple: The Bible tells the literal truth. Jesus saves. Who prays will be healed and who believes will be materially blessed, and who donates to the cause will reap eternal rewards.
With an emphasis on repentance and conversion, people are consoled and encouraged to expose and overcome their personal sins and miseries.
There is no analysis of oppressive structures. Very much a North American phenomenon, TV evangelists equate the good with the triumph of western capitalism. While there is fear of the devil, there is no fear of hell, since most of the faithful have already been there.
For those who must cope daily with the effects of systemic poverty, substance abuse, petty crime and other societal ills, the call to repent and come to Jesus to heal their wounds can be a powerful message.
Just a few weeks ago CBC aired a documentary about the world's two top faith healers who boast they attract greater crowds than the pope in all his travels.
Hungry for miracles, and with a sincere faith born out of their sorrows, the suffering multitude flocks to hear such itinerant preachers who too often build empires in the name of Jesus through extortion of the widow's mite.
While some say this is a service, others believe it is a sin.
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