Greg Allen: God is not a vending machine
In the 1950s, Jim Jones began the People's Temple in Indianapolis. Witnesses said that during one service he made a lady take her clothes off for some sort of insurrection she’d committed. He then proceeded to whip her with his belt. Oddly enough, no one questioned his disturbing behavior or left the building that night in protest. His irrational behavior only intensified and at his leading Jones and over 900 of his parishioners met their fate in the largest mass suicide in history at a place called Jonestown, Guyana, in the fall of 1978.
My family and I attended a large church sometime back for about four years. The pastor seemed like a decent person at first, but his behavior grew disturbing with time. He began saying things from the pulpit that were downright inappropriate. We later learned none of the Sunday school departments were funded and a project he'd collected $60,000 for never got done, nor did anyone know where the money went. When a friend of mine asked for a financial statement, he was asked to leave the church. I, too, was asked to leave when I began questioning things. We learned the pastor had no board of directors and he was the only one who had access to the church’s checkbook. (It was quite evident something was wrong.)
In 2007 a Republican senator opened a probe into the finances of six televangelists who preach what’s called “The Prosperity Gospel.” The Prosperity Gospel also goes by such names as “The Health and Wealth Gospel” or the “Name it, Claim it Theology.” Those who preach such things primarily rely on Malachi 3:10, Deuteronomy 8:18, John 10:10, and 3 John 2-4 as a basis for what they teach. Which in essence basically is: As a believer, you can have anything and everything you want! It’s the presumption God wants you to be rich. In other words, God exists to pay off your faith. To become prosperous all one has to do is believe and receive.
For those who believe in The Prosperity Gospel, God could be seen as a slot machine. Put in a little faith and out pops blessings: Money, homes, cars, a beautiful spouse, clever kids, good neighbors and plush vacations.
A few years back a prominent televangelist swindled millions from the faithful who believed in him and that message. He was caught and eventually served a five-year prison term. Another televangelist, not quite as well-known, swindled the faithful as well and got a lesser term. But he's back on television once more, doing the same thing. A college roommate of his once said the evangelist made the claim: “There’s a lot of money to be made at this!”
Of those six televangelists under investigation only half cooperated with Congress. They're all nonprofits and thus pay no taxes. Sadly enough, after two years of mediocre investigative work, the senator dropped the investigation with no charges brought forth.
I saw a video sometime later of one of those televangelists standing outside a hotel. He was surrounded by three bodyguards. When he was approached by a reporter and cameraman, the bodyguards slammed the reporter head first into a wall and destroyed the camera. (Needless to say I was horrified.)
It was revealed one of the televangelists had a $30,000 toilet in his house. Others claimed they had multiple luxury vehicles like Rolls-Royces and Bentleys and were proud of it. It wasn’t unusual for them to have private Lear jets costing millions either. And one said he had multiple homes that were valued in the tens of millions. One would even claim in an interview that “He had more money than he knew what to do with.” “After all,” another would say, “I deserve it!”
They may think they’re larger than life, religious all-stars per say, for they tell all who will listen: “Give until you can’t give anymore - God loves a cheerful giver.” They claim God will make you rich if you send them your money.
My premise is that’s flawed theology - don’t be fooled! For God sees one’s heart. If you give of your time and money because you care about your fellow man with no strings attached God sees that and will bless the intent. On the other hand, if you give with the thought of: “I’m handing this over, but God better do something for me … or else!” that’s more along the lines of extortion. The creator of the universe isn’t some vending machine at our disposal prepared to dispense whatever our desire may be at the slightest whim.
To prosper is to be successful, flourish, or have good fortune. The Bible says God will supply all our needs. I have a roof over my head and something to eat; isn't that what he means? (One need only look through a simplistic lens to grasp the point.)
I'm not into watching televangelists on TV. I'm beginning to think many of them are charlatans. Widows and those on fixed incomes send them their money in the hopes of whatever, but in reality those on television are the only ones getting rich. We know, first hand, that the need in the world is so great. And it’s repulsive to see such squander, when scores of poor souls are starving to death.
As the founder of a nonprofit myself I believe we are to be transparent, have our books open for all to see, and be held accountable for every last dime!
Ask questions of those who claim to represent God. Don't be naïve like me in years past and believe all ministers are reputable - some aren’t - some have a tainted faith.
Greg Allen’s column is published bi-monthly. He’s a published author, syndicated columnist, songwriter and the founder of Builder of the Spirit Ministries in Jamestown, Ind., a nonprofit organization aiding the less fortunate. He can be reached at 765-676-5014 or www.builderofthespirit.org.