Senator Charles Grassley’s inquiry into the six televangelists is not without its irony. Grassley is apparently making sure that their “prosperity doctrine” is not just a tax dodge to allow them to accumulate personal wealth. Meanwhile, the Senator helps run the International Christian Leadership Council, a non profit organization that owns its own mansion, Cedars, overlooking the Potomac River on land that has to be worth a fortune. Grassley is part of the country club, Christian, elitists, who famously run the National Day of Prayer. I guess they need a little place to relax after the exhausting breakfast.
At least the six televangelists are consistent. That is, they truly believe their doctrines, namely, that God wants his people healthy, wealthy and forgiven. It is something they preached when they were poor. Take away their wealth and put them in jail and they would still preach it. And incidentally, six more televangelists would emerge because it is not a concept forced on a gullible public as the media would like to believe, it is driven by millions of Christians who subscribe to this particular Biblical interpretation, rightly or wrongly. The televangelist are in some respects the most accountable of all ministries, they literally rise and fall on their last sermon, which pays all their bills.
But Grassley apparently believes it is false doctrine, a dodge. So why then does he maintain a mansion on the Potomac? As a member of the White House senior staff, I was encouraged to come to Cedars and enjoy its pool and tennis courts and its spectacular view of Washington and use it for my own personal relaxation. It was a place to host important guests coming in for the National Prayer Breakfast. But why is it wrong for Kenneth Copeland, for example, to practice what he has publicly preached all his life and right for Senator Grassley to violate his own conscience?
Let me address three points.
First, regardless of how attractive or unattractive one believes the “prosperity doctrines” to be, they were not conceived by televangelists. They are scripturally based and one can argue the scriptures any way you like but one cannot say that there is not a rationale for their doctrines. Indeed, such ideas dominated the church for hundred of years since Constantine. When Queen Elizabeth ran out of money, she raided the monasteries. That was where the wealth was. Our modern, more modest and socially attractive, traditional concepts of Christianity find their origins in St. Francis and the Counter Reformation. Should all Christians prior to St. Francis be bound to hell? Or was there some legitimacy in their ideas too?
Second, this is not a burden on society. Indeed, if one wants to suggest that the doctrines of televangelists are hurting society one must also look at the teachings of the church that counsel poverty as a virtue and sickness as a test from God or doctrines that protected habitual pedophiles under the banner of “grace.” What has that done to society?
In fact, the Senator casts particular scorn on the two Black ministers in the gang of six, ridiculing their doctrine and culture. “Jesus came into Jerusalem on a donkey, not a Rolls Royce,” he said. The Black Pentecostal community was stunned. Grassley’s own “non-profit” getaway mansion on the Potomac River is arguably worth much more than many Rolls Royce’s. Today, after years of being enjoined by the scriptures, “slaves obey your masters” a whole new Black middle class has emerged in this country and millions of them owe their spirited rise to these new liberated preachers in their own community who declared that Jesus died so you can live, so live and live to the fullest.
And finally, third, this inquiry is not fair. It hearkens back to old doctrinal rifts within the evangelical movement and plays on the innocence and ignorance of the media who cannot resist a story that is hand delivered to them, work all done, never suspecting that they are being used to settle some old score. When I was a boy Baptists published books saying that Pentecostals were possessed by demons. So here is a Baptist senator targeting six Pentecostals and exempting any ministries with Baptist ordination, even if they have since embraced elements of the “prosperity doctrines” themselves and even if their personal lifestyles are more extravagant than his six. And all that, he says, is coincidental.
Cardinal Richelieu once said, “Give me four lines written by any man and I can have him tried as a criminal.” Grassley has demanded all credit card receipts since 2001, a move that guarantees a scandal. And Grassley has now, reportedly asked, for the name of every person who has spoken from the pulpit of Kenneth Copeland’s church for the last four years.
We all know what this is about. The Senator’s staff will be looking for good stories, pulled from context and used to show that these doctrines are irrational and that the public should be outraged. It will be great for a television producer who doesn’t really care who gets hurt as long as they are religious.
But is it fair? A trial of peers? Not really. The Senator can destroy who he will without a trial. It’s called power. Another senator did all of this on a grand scale in the 1950’s and the masses said, “Go ahead and cooperate, you have nothing to fear. What do you have to hide?” And many innocent people did cooperate and the Senator ground them in the dust.
I met a donor, one of the persons who wrote out a check to the Kenneth Copeland ministries to help him buy his new jet. By the way, it was not the little old lady with the social security check whom television producers are frantically searching for right now. He was an accomplished businessman. I asked, “Why on earth did you do that?”
He said that the teaching of Kenneth Copeland had changed his life and his business and for years he wanted to thank him in some way. When he heard that they wanted a jet, he decided to pay what he felt was an old debt and send him a $1,000.
There is a former Catholic Priest out there who is teaching these ideas. Fr. Michael has his own seminar on “the Secret of Wealth.” I suppose he is okay for now. But God help him if his doctrine works.
The government and the television networks are now the arbiters of religion in America. They will determine which faiths can have marble conference tables and tapestries on the walls and which must wait another hundred years for approval to spend their money. In the meantime, the Senators who decide these things, will slip out to Cedars, walk among the trees and look back at the vistas of Washington and whisper a prayer, “God, thank you for not making me like other men. Like those sinners who have those television ministries. And thank you for Cedars, a place to getaway with You. It’s so peaceful here.”
Ahhh but its nice to have God’s favor. And having the favor of the national media, knowing that they will attack any religion one chooses to single out, doesn’t hurt either.