"It is in the name of blessing that they bring the gifts of pain and poverty." --- Trey Smith
The Prosperity Gospel (originally known as Seed Faith) began as what could be considered a "grift" (scam) that took shape in the early to mid 50s through tent meetings that moved from town to town, and city to city, in a procession of eighteen wheeler trucks. It initially attached itself to the Pentecostal movement who were excited to hear about the advertised claims of miracles that would happen at these tent meetings --- the precursors to the cleaner looking multimillion dollar "healing and miracle" events of today. Many of the early tent meeting miracles apparently involved gags, trickery and, in some cases, the most outrageously colorful fraud. According to news articles archived by the Trinity Foundation (perhaps the oldest religious fraud investigative unit in the US), at one Miracle Crusade a casket was brought up to the stage and a supposedly dead woman was resurrected back to life. The performance was apparently so convincing that people in the audience were said to have fainted. Shortly afterwards it was reported that the dead woman was actually a prostitute the minister had been with the night before.
Never-the-less, it is assumed that it was at these events that the world was first introduced to the tag line, "You have to plant a seed to get a harvest"
You will be blessed if you give and cursed if you don't.
The most widely used Bible scripture by Seed Faith --- and now Prosperity Gospel evangelists in nearly every Christian media today --- is found in the the Old Testament, Malachi 3:10 "Bring the whole tithe into the storehouse, that there may be food in my house. Test me in this," says the LORD Almighty, "and see if I will not throw open the floodgates of heaven and pour out so much blessing that there will not be room enough to store it."
But, when going deeper than just the surface issues of alleged narcotics use, claimed prostitution and reported fraudulent miracles; the dark and blinding heart of the problem was that even the people coming to the meetings were so focused on that single Bible passage, that they forgot about this one."The love of money is the root of all evil, and those whose hearts were fixed on it turned away from the faith, and have been wounded with unnumbered sorrows." 1 Timothy 6:10 Greater still, the money collected had no visible or true public benefit other than to those directly collecting it. However, it would be difficult to argue that the founders of Seed Faith were not inventive and persistent to take many, many practical Bible scriptures and sculpt them with a twist that always led to a high pressure close.
The men of Seed Faith were also masters at something else. Although they may not have been giving back to the public, they did understand that they wanted to spread the "Good News" to larger audiences at lesser cost. You see, they needed more money so that they could expand into more places.... and from those places they would need even more money so that they could expand into even more places... and more places... and places upon places.... so that they could spread the "Good News" to everyone.... the Good News that God needs your money....
The term "Seed-Faith," as well as the more glittery phrase "Prosperity Gospel," truly began to take shape when the tent meeting founders began investing in large, mass mail-out operations that were monumental in scale. As I understand it, the "golden" lists of those selected to receive Seed Faith letters were generated from US census records targeted at those with low or no education. It was in these mail-outs that the Prosperity Gospel's most financially successful tool against the faithful was birthed, "The Seed-Faith Blessing Plan." This was the first time in history that hard-working Americans would begin receiving professionally produced materials that used the very same Bible scriptures they were familiar with as children. Yet these letters would go on to explain that their monies (prior to that point likely supporting their local church and community) were now "urgently" needed to go to claimed Christian efforts in foreign locations and with distant PO Boxes.
It was success beyond measure.
In fact, the Seed Blessing Plans were so successful that similar versions of them are used by Prosperity Pastors on almost every major Christian show, broadcast and station today (2011). The math on this is simple ---- They get the blessing, and you get the plan.
By the 1960s - 1970s these mailing operations were boasting millions of tax free dollars annually, almost no expenses, no oversight, no consequences.... and piles of money large enough a man could swim in it. It was time to expand again --- to truly get the Seed Faith / Prosperity Gospel message out there farther than it had been before. After all, there were still millions and millions of people in the US alone who had not yet heard the "Good News" ---- the Good News that God wanted their money or He would not bless them.
The rise of Seed Faith -- The founder of the extremely profitable Seed Faith Blessing Plan mail-outs (the very man once accused of having a prostitute pretend she was resurrected from the dead in a coffin) and the world's first televangelist (with an enormous Christian university in severe financial distress at the time) sat down together for a meeting in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was like a match touching gasoline.
The message of Seed Faith would now begin pumping into living rooms through television screens all across the nation. The original message of the Azusa Street Pentecostal Movement (the Charismatics) shifted one hundred and eighty degrees from its focus on Christ, the Holy Spirit and his redemptive work for the poor, the lost and the needy ---- To a new focus. The new message was simple; God wants to bless you, He wants to prosper you.... in fact, He wants to make you rich. It is just going to cost you a little something, an act of faith. You are going to need to plant a seed, make that a monthly seed. The more you give, the more God will give you back; a few loose scriptures, a dash of emotional hype... and a pinch of good old fashion devilish greed --- Prosperity Gospel was born.
The mailing operations moved to Oklahoma.... Tulsa became dubbed the, "Christian Mecca." Management teams were now needed to handle donor lists (prayer partners) which were, and now even today, generated largely by "prayer-lines" where personal information is collected at the onset of every call. People seeking help (prayers) from the mega-ministries generally receive a standard 3 minute prayer after which their personal information is used repeatedly (relentlessly in many cases) to solicit them for money. These mass monthly solicitations, hand-in-hand with the message of the "prosperity" television programs themselves, pushed Seed-Faith and the Prosperity Gospel harder than any message before it; now acting as predators on their own listeners, and the weakest of our society.
There is a quote by Hubert Humphrey that says, "The moral test of a government is how it treats the sick, the needy, and the handicapped." These had become exactly the Prosperity Gospel's prime targets --- the soft-hearted, the sick and the elderly now being pressured into the sacrifice of basic needs and occasional luxuries to pay for jet-planes, mansions, and even private zoos owned by claimed "Men of God." It is reported that 80% of Prosperity Gospel's targeted donors are women, the elderly, those on Social Security, and low / fixed incomes. Our government permits it and our churches endorse it.
The free-for-all Prosperity Gospel financial pillage:
The International Bulletin of Missionary Research reports that Christian religious leaders will have committed an estimated $34 billion in financial fraud this year, 2011 (More). And, researchers from the Center for the Study of Global Christianity estimate that Christian religious leaders are committing roughly $90 million in financial crimes every single day (See Citations at bottom of blog).
But none of this is actually a secret. To the contrary, off-camera, the men of Prosperity Gospel are often arrogant, evasive, boastful of their playboy lifestyles and seem proud of exploiting others. One of the attorneys supporting the practices of current Christian television boastfully stated to Trinity Foundation investigators that they, "have the right to defraud the public in the name of freedom of religion."
I can remember personally sitting on a patio at the lake house of an ex-wife of one of today's most powerful men in Christian television. She said, "When I first met my husband, he was good man. The devil never rose his head until we got involved with the money-mailer men." I had no idea at the time what this meant. I knew about the corruption... I had lived with that. But I didn't know its roots. I also didn't know at the time who was being talked about when terms like "Grand-Daddies of Prosperity Gospel" and "Fathers of Seed-Faith" were used.
She went on to say, "I can understand that examples had to be set, but what happened to Jim Bakker really was going too far."
"What do you mean?" I asked. "Bakker was the bad pastor of the bunch. Even the Christian mega-ministries will tell you that."
"Are you kidding?" She laughed. "None of them go to prison for what Jim did. He was a builder. Jim was making Christian theme parks, massive family-friendly hotels and finding entertaining new ways to express the message of Christ...... I guess they figured that since Jim liked Jesus so much, they'd put him on a cross right up there with Him. Bottom line, Jim Bakker was sending ordinary Christians the wrong message --- that they deserved something in return for their money..... They hated him for it."
I was brought up to believe that the church should be as a candle on the hill ---- a beacon of both light and hope. Right now it is most certainly NOT either of these.
Even though I understand that many of those in the "ivory towers" of mainstream Christianity have deliberately taken advantage of people's faith, cost them their resources, preyed on their generosity, and managed to weaken a new generation's perception of honorable leadership in the process; I am not angry with the men. I am angry at the model under which they do business. With Seed Faith and the Prosperity Gospel... the best hustlers will always come out on-top.
The United States, a country I believe to have been blessed by the very hands of God Himself, was built by a great many who were not perfect, but many were Christian in their beliefs. They also were not asking for hand-outs, like cleaned-up pan-handlers ..... as these men on our TV screens do. This nation was built with blood and sweat and endless labors that we today could not even imagine..... some laid down their very lives on the grandest alters of sacrifice so that we could have this precious gift of freedom.... a gift that only 5% of ALL humanity has ever tasted.
I can only think to myself as I type this page: What a dishonor to the very memory of those who labored before us that we have allowed, endorsed and created.
It was Benjamin Franklin who said, "I believe in one God.... And that the most acceptable service we render to Him is in doing good to His other Children."
When the church endorses manipulation, theft and the ability of a select few to act as predators on the many ---- why are we shocked when those in power in our nation do the very same. Abraham Lincoln stated, "In regards to the Bible, I have but to say it is the best gift God has given to man...."
When the god of our country and the god of our churches is the great god Greed; then I too (just as the founding fathers) fear for our future.
In closing, it was John Adams who declared, "The general principles on which the founding fathers achieved independence were. . . . the general principles of Christianity. . . . Jesus is .... an example for all men..."
That being said, I find it appropriate to end with what would appear to be the feelings of Christ Jesus Himself conserning the matter.
And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all of them who sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers.... And said unto them, "It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." --- Matthew 21: 12-13
Thank you for reading,
Trey Smith ---
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-----------------------Citations for religious crime statistics--------------------------------
1. The table "Status of Global Mission, 2011, in Context of 20th and 21st Centuries", line 56, notes an estimated $90 million per day ($34 billion per year) lost to ecclesiastical crime as of mid-2011. Reference is Todd M. Johnson, David B. Barrett, and Peter F. Crossing, "Christianity 2011: Martyrs and the Resurgence of Religion", International Bulletin of Missionary Research, Vol. 35, No. 1, January 2011, pp. 28-29.
2. The Atlas of Global Christianity (on p. 296, in the article "Christian finance, 2010") says "The annual total [for 2010] of USD 35 billion embezzled exceeds the worldwide Church's foreign mission expenditures of USD 32 billion." That is the first sentence of a paragraph on embezzlement/ecclesiastical crime (I can send you the whole paragraph is you wish). Reference is Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth R. Ross (eds.), Atlas of Global Christianity (Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press, 2009).
THIS PARAGRAPH (BENEATH) WAS EDITED OUT OF THE BODY OF THE BLOG. HOWEVER, I WANTED IT TO BE AVAILABLE TO YOU
In fact, I saw an evangelist on TV last night that I had never seen before. It seemed that every other word he said was something about "planting a seed" or "getting a harvest." Joyously he announce that he had just come back from Haiti. He said that he was encouraged that, "...such a poor, hurting people would reach so deep to give (him) an offering of what little they had." Just before asking viewers to plant a seed on his program, he stated that he intends to return to Haiti as it is "untapped" and plans to use the money he collected from the last visit on a better motor home.
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