When I read this tale of woe, I have to admit I had a hard time feeling much sympathy for the victim.
The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor’s living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.
And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Florida, area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.
Only the blessings didn’t come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn’t strong enough.
But then again, she was probably brought up to trust her preacher, and she was promised all sorts of amazing things like immortality and paradise, and no one ever raised a question about those promises — and she was probably also told that to doubt was a sin. Who do you blame for deeply inculcated gullibility?
The story does go on to say that Senator Charles Grassley of Iowa (and a Republican! Hallelujah, it’s a miracle!) is investigating a half dozen of these holy parasites, including the odious Benny Hinn, and there is the threat of removing their tax exempt status. There is also the usual collection of theologians making excuses, claiming that this is not True™ Christianity.
Bunk. This is the heart of all religions: make the priesthood fat and happy by extorting money from the sheep with threats of hellfire and promises of paradise, promises that they never have to fulfill. If you’re going to go after Hinn and Copeland and Roberts, you have to go after every little preacher who passes the collection plate on Sunday — they’re all in the same game. The only difference is that the promoters of the prosperity gospel make promises that can be assessed. They broke the rule that the good stuff always has to be nebulous and untestable.