Wednesday, November 07, 2007
Television Evangelists Under Investigation . . . Again!
I plan to return to the subject of Heaven and Hell, but I couldn't let today's hot news story pass without comment. I am speaking of the news that U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) is spearheading an investigation into the financial dealings of some top televangelists. Among those under investigation: Creflo Dollar (ironic name, isn't it?), Joyce Meyer, Benny Hinn and Kenneth Copeland.
Normally, I dislike the idea of the government getting too high-handed in its meddling into church affairs. However, the horrible high-profile scandals of the 1980s ensured that both government investigators and the media would begin paying a very close eye to the ostentatious side of "ministry." Remember the PTL scandal? Remember the falls of Jimmy Swaggart and Marvin Gorman? Remember Bob Tilton? Some television ministries today still refuse to join the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, set up in part to help guard against such shenanigans and misuse of donor contributions. Unfortunately, it appears there are many out there who haven't learned a thing.
Yes, I know that I shouldn't prejudge this before the investigation is complete, and I don't intend to. However, I can be justly critical of lavish lifestyles that border on the obscene when that lifestyle is supported by sometimes naive people who think they are giving to the Lord's ministry. It is alleged that one of these televangelists spent thousands of dollars for a marble commode. That's a pretty expensive trip to the bathroom if you ask me.
Do I think that it is a sin to be wealthy? Not necessarily. However, I do believe -- with biblical justification -- that to whom much is given, much will be required. God expects His people to be good stewards of what He has provided. That includes me, and I don't make anywhere near what these televangelists probably consider as chump change. But compared to other parts of the world, I live pretty well and I have been convicted about how I've used money over the years. Beyond all of that, there is a pretty serious reason why stories such as this should be troubling to Christians.
What sort of witness does this kind of thing provide? I have personally traveled to places like Russia and Belarus where many Christians are very, very poor. They can't afford to pay their pastors and the vast majority have trouble even renting small, shanty-like houses to hold church meetings. It's heartbreaking.
And some of these types of Western preachers have flown over to these countries on so-called ministry trips, and then chide these dear saints for not having enough faith to be prosperous. They don't have a clue of what these genuine saints deal with every day of their lives, and how they sacrificially give of what they have to both advance the Gospel and to be hospitable to guests. I have seen how their dinner tables are laden for visiting Westerners, knowing full well that it probably means their families will have to eat fairly skimpily for the next week or more. But they lovingly give the best that they have. After seeing things like this, for me to see the palatial mansions of some of these televangelists truly makes me ill.
Again, it's one thing if this money is made from book sales, music sales or some other product. But if it's done using donations from people who think that their money is being used to advance the Gospel, that's quite another thing. I can't help but think the Lord is grieved, all the more so because His name is profaned by unbelievers who see that kind of ostentatiousness and think that example is representative of both the Lord and His people.
We'll see how all this ends up, but I am not optimistic in the short term. Lavishness is often hard to give up when one becomes used to it. However, they might well be forced to live a more humble lifestyle when the donations dry up. If the charges are false, I hope they will be exonerated. More than that, I hope that they will learn the lesson that God is trying to teach them. We all could learn something as a matter of fact.