Televangelists and politicians

Back in 1989, Oral Roberts told the viewers of his television show, “Oral Roberts Presents” that God was going to “call him home” if he didn’t raise $8 million. He climbed up into what he called his prayer tower and fasted. Whether or not it was a stunt, it worked. He raised the money and he didn’t die. He lived to the end of his life, when the passed away at age 91 in 2009. Roberts was one of the pioneers and masters of using the media of television to reach millions of people with what was a combination of a message of faith healing and a kind of prosperity gospel.

I don’t mean to attack the man, but I have some doubts about his message. I don’t think that God evaluates success or failure in terms of specific amounts of money. I think there was some exaggeration in Roberts’ claim that a 900 foot tall Jesus appeared to him and ordered him to raise $120 million. I don’t think Jesus works that way. I don’t think Roberts was capable of accurately estimating the height of 900 feet. I don’t think faith and money are connected in the same way that he seemed to believe. I didn’t send in a donation in exchange for holy water that, if sprinkled on one’s wallet, would bring prosperity.

I believe that Roberts had genuine faith. And I think that many of the people who watched his television show were able to grow in faith despite some of Roberts’ quirks. And I do believe that Roberts is deserving of our compassion because of the tragedies he experienced in his life. He grew up in poverty and his obsession with money was likely a response to the harshness of his early years. He suffered from tuberculosis as a child and the process of his recovery of his health taught him some real lessons about faith. His family suffered the tragic death of his son Roland after years of suffering with addictions. His life wasn’t easy.

And his 1989 temper tantrum in front of God is reminiscent of Biblical leaders. Elijah laid down in the wilderness prepared to die when Jezebel’s henchmen were hunting for him after the slaying of her priests. He was ready to just give up and end it all. Jonah had a similar temper tantrum before God when God showed mercy and spared Nineveh from destruction. So, in a way Oral Roberts was in good company.

It didn’t make his stunt seem any less childish. It didn’t mean that God was the source of all of the money that Roberts raised over the years. Roberts was a master of raising money and no small amount of the money raised came from people who had very little money themselves. Roberts’ and his family lived lavish lifestyles with trips on private jets, shopping sprees in expensive clothing stores, and more. According to a 2007 lawsuit, Roberts, son Richard and his family used funds raised for Oral Roberts University for 11 home remodeling jobs in 14 years, lavish shopping sprees and multiple trips on private jets.

I don’t understand how people of faith can justify such behaviors. But such justifications aren’t limited to Oral Roberts. In general, Evangelical church leaders, who were for the most part filled with righteous indignation when President Clinton abused his position to pursue illicit affairs, seem to have a different perspective on President Trump. His multiple marriages and well-documented affairs don’t seem to be a problem when it comes to their endorsements or embrace of his actions as president. I don’t understand how people of faith can justify turning away refugees or family separation policies or keeping immigrants in cages. To me their behavior is reminiscent of the behavior of church leaders in Germany during the Nazi regime.

But somehow people of faith frequently are blinded to their own actions and words. Out of good faith they engage in practices and behaviors that seem to be so far from God’s call. You don’t have to be a biblical scholar to interpret the Bible’s words on immigration. It is a major theme. Just read the book of Isaiah and you’ll find that the failure to offer welcome to refugees and immigrants stands in direct contrast to Gods’ law. But religious leaders in America today are preaching to their congregations, “Build the wall.” They speak of the president as God’s gift to America with absolutely uncritical words and actions.

This journal has not focused on politics. I’m no expert in policy or in government and I’ve tried to stay away from the subject. But I do write about religion and I do pay attention to what other religious leaders do. And I see great contrasts between biblical faith and teaching and the words and actions of some who claim to be religious leaders.

I am certainly not in the class with the major televangelists. I don’t command millions of viewers. I’m a simple pastor in a congregation that counts its numbers in the hundreds. We have a tiny budget buy comparison with many other churches. But I do feel deep responsibility to be careful with the gifts of our donors. I am very careful with making appeals for funds. I do believe that the community should be in charge of discerning God’s will and making decisions about how to manage church finances. I know that all of us are prone to confuse what we want with God’s will. We need other faithful people to help us discern God’s call.

Oral Roberts was not God. The President is not God. They are human. They are worthy of compassion and concern and care. I would advise prayer and study before sending a check to either. It is no mistake that the 10 commandments begin with strict advice about mistaking the wrong person or item for God. There is only one God and those who would live lives of freedom need to be careful to avoid false Gods.

My advice to faithful people is to take the words of religious leaders with a grain of salt. We are human. We are prone to mistakes and misstatements. I suppose that applies to this journal as much as it does to the fund-raising appeals of the televangelists.

Copyright (c) 2019 by Ted E. Huffman. I wrote this. If you would like to share it, please direct your friends to my web site. If you'd like permission to copy, please send me an email. Thanks!