Saturday, March 24, 2007

What I learned at the Southwest Believer's Convention

I've been pondering for some years. This is a very dangerous thing, because when I ponder, my mind goes down little rabbit trails, and I often end up really, really angry. This time I decided to share my madness with a few other people besides my longsuffering former husband; I'm sure he'll thank you later. I began my pondering several years ago while reading my Bible. I was once a very conservative Christian fundamentalist. I got over it, so now I'm a church dropout. I'm fine with God, but the rest? Not so much. That was a rabbit trail. Back to topic: I was reading a scripture that told me how I needed to store up my treasure in heaven, and not on this earth, and that God would take care of my needs (my simplistic paraphrase of Matthew 6:19-21).

I began thinking about some of the messages being preached from many of our pulpits – especially the television ones, but some not-so-famous ones as well. I pondered the myriads of preachers I had heard telling me that if I gave into their ministry, I would reap a 100-fold return. I just had to "buh-LIEVE!" I think to myself, well, that's a bit self-serving, don't you think? I've heard many ministers saying, "If your bank account doesn't have enough to meet the need, then it's a SEED, so plant it into this ministry and reap your return," as if God was some heavenly bank manager.

Then I asked myself the tough question: If those ministers believe what they are telling us to believe, that they can get a 100-fold return for their giving, then why are they not giving all they have to some other worthy ministry "in faith believing" that they will reap that return? If they did that, they would never need a praise-a-thon to raise money to keep that ministry (not to mention their Mercedes, mansions in gated communities, and private jets) up and running. So, if Christian program networks such as Trinity Broadcasting Network, and all of their prosperity doctrine ministers really believe it, let them put their money where their mouths are, and plant that seed!

Otherwise, all their talk is just another large pile of bovine fecal matter.

There. I feel better.

No, wait; I don't quite feel better yet.

We were wrapped up in that stuff for years - from the time my husband and I married at age 20, until the time several years ago when we said to one another, "Wait a minute - where did he get that from in the Bible?" we were wrapped up in it. We were self-professed "Word of Faith-ites." We went to a hard-line fundamentalist prosperity doctrine-type church. We ate, slept, read, and regurgitated fundamentalism, Family Values, Word of Faith, and prosperity doctrine. We were ministers. We taught it.

Then, when the dam started to break for us, we were at a the Southwest Believer's Convention in Texas. That's Kenneth Copeland's biggest convention, if you're not "in the know." All his buddies are there, like Jesse DuPlantis, Jerry Savelle, Creflo Dollar, and that year, it was also Oral and Richard Roberts, Kenneth Hagin, etc. - some kind of "honor the great Dr. Roberts" thing.

I do not regret going, because I believe that the real God – one not manufactured by politicos and preachers - used that convention to teach me something about what was really coming from those microphones. Here are some of the things I was taught by the ministers and practices there:

1. If you are still sick or disabled (or struggling financially, or gay), you are either still in some kind of hidden sin, or your faith is just not big enough yet.

2. If you don't give your money (in every meeting, even though there are three meetings a day for a week), a large usher will look at you down his nose and pause the white cardboard bucket under your chin just a little longer. You will also not get your 100-fold return, you selfish, faithless slacker.

3. When you're standing in line waiting for the doors to open on the arena, be prepared to run; otherwise, you will be run OVER by the people who want to get as close to the "anointed ones" as possible. Never mind that this stampede behavior might be rude, and sometimes actually hurts (I literally had bruises on my arms); all's fair to make it to the good seats. Ah, such Christian love.

4. If you miss a meeting to stay at the hotel and swim, take a break, get your own quiet time - you are not as holy as the others are, and later will be told by others that you missed the most "anointed" of all the lessons.

5. If you run down and throw your money (literally, this happened) at Jesse DuPlantis' feet because another minister wanted to bless him, you will be blessed. If you don't run down there and throw your money at his feet, you will, in effect, NOT be blessed.

6. When you leave the giant coliseum in 7000-person droves and spread into downtown looking for lunch, give any homeless people a very wide berth and try not to look at them. If you look at them, they exist, and they might actually notice you looking at them and then you might be obligated to do or say something.

This really took place, if you were wondering. We poured out of that place to rush and get lunch so we could be back to see another prosperity minister - whose last name (Dollar) is appropriately akin to the money being bilked from the masses - and headed downtown. We were with a small group of people from our church, including the pastor. I saw ahead what looked like a swarm of bodies all pressing against the building wall to avoid something - you could actually SEE the tide of people moving over.

Getting closer, I noticed why. They were getting as far away from a homeless man as they could. I began to move with them - after all, I wasn't a spiritual giant - I was still young, and was with people I thought were much more spiritual than me. My pastor even moved over to the wall and looked straight ahead. I know, because I admired the man, and watched to see what he would do. I did the same as he; and paid the price in heavy constrictions somewhere in my heart and stomach area.

Then I remembered - The Gospels, which said that when we helped someone in need, we were helping God. I had passed up an opportunity to just love on someone, and had just spent my last penny on a meal that wasn't even worth eating while that guy outside had nothing.

On the way back, there he was again, and there all those people were again avoiding him. I looked more closely at him. He had scraggly hair, and was carrying a tattered wool blanket over his shoulder (in August, in Texas); it was all he owned. I looked down - he had no shoes, and his toes had blackened and rotting off. I made eye contact. I didn't have anything to give, but just smiled weakly and said "Hello, sir." He grinned and tears welled up in his eyes, and he said, "Thanks for noticing me."

I didn't tell anyone else about the exchange, as they were busy not looking, and I didn't want to rock the boat with these people I considered ever so much more spiritual than me. But I have never been the same since. My husband and I began to see the outright arrogance and selfishness of what we were involved in. The harassment for "mo money, mo money" - the sermons that said "You should be rich; you should drive a Mercedes; if you're not prosperous, there's something wrong with you. If you're not like US there is something wrong with you."

All around us people die in poverty. And they see the gaudy gold cherubs on the sets of Christian television where many of these "family values" are being preached, and they see the evident riches in the diamond rings of the people who preach with their Nehru suit collars, and they say to themselves, "What's wrong with me? Why am I being punished? Why are my children hungry, Lord? Is my faith not big enough? I sent all I had to that preacher; I really believed I'd receive the return on my investment just like he said. But my cupboards are still empty, and my children are still sick, and I still can't pay for my junker of a car to get fixed. I just must not be good enough for God."

I cringe every time I hear the head glitzy-guy, Paul Crouch of TBN, arguably the most popular Christian television network since Jim Bakker's PTL club folded, saying they have yet another satellite connection in a third world country. Why? Because I don't want poverty-stricken people to see the excess and say, "That God is a God for the rich, not for me."

I thank whomever God might be every day that my eyes were opened, and my husband and I saw what was really going on, and we got out.

I'm still not finished. My pondering seems to be heading down slope and picking up speed fast. One more thing (if I can stop at one more):

I am sick to death of underhanded threats of "touch not God's anointed," and "better be careful when you mock men of God." I've even heard some of these big ministers (all of them, but Joyce Meyer said it in a meeting I was at personally) say that when someone spoke out against a big-name minister, they got cancer, or died a horrible death shortly afterward.

That is nothing but spiritual abuse and strong-arm tactics, and instilling fear into the hearts of people so they won't question your methods or your biblical soundness. Convenient, isn't it? Bordering on...dare I say it? Cult-like.

I have seen it done over and over and over again by people who do not want to be questioned - so, rather than responding to questions with "Biblically sound" answers, they cryptically throw out scare tactics and veiled threats about how if someone speaks against their sermons, they will be cursed by God.

Quote from Kenneth Copeland:
There are people attempting to sit in judgement right today over the ministry that I am responsible for, and the ministry that Kenneth E. Hagin is responsible for. ... Several people that I know of called that faith bunch out of Tulsa a cult, And some of them are dead right today in an early grave because of it, and there's more than one of them got cancer.

Well, I've found that I can speak out against ungodly things, and guess what? I'm not dead yet. And until I do die, I will speak out against charlatans and money-hungry ministers of the prosperity gospel, and strong-arm spiritual abuse. I will also pray for those ministers who are preaching this garbage; I will pray that they will be exposed for the frauds they are.

I pray for the people who have been inexorably harmed by the psychological manipulation of these high-pressure sales pitches from the pulpit. I have worked in a counseling capacity, and you would not believe the people who come to me simply because they have been harmed by these so-called "men of God." My husband and I were harmed as well, to the point that my husband was suicidal for self-condemnation. That, again, is another story, which you can see in the first post on this blog.

So, before my pondering comes to a stop, a message to all of you well-meaning folks out there who feel they need to warn me about what horrible curse may befall me for speaking out against false doctrines and false preachers: Save your breath. I don't buy it.

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