Millionaire pastors, hungry followers

2013-03-10 09:59

What do Pastor Chris, Ray McCauley and Benny Hinn have in common? Most people would answer and say that these are men of God who spread the gospel and help people worldwide. What their followers would refuse to accept is that these men are millionaires who have pimped out religion for their own benefit. Yes, many evangelists are running multinational money-making crusades, exploiting poor followers in the name of God.

Scores of desperate people flock to evangelical ministries, desperate for help with their problems and hoping for some miracle. There is just one catch; these miracles come at a heavy price. Followers are coerced into making pledges, giving gifts and all sorts of donations, especially monetary ones. Apparently this is all good and well because religious teachings encourage followers to bequeath some of their wealth for the benefit of some god and spiritual cause. But how far does this go? How rich must the church and its top leadership get before it amounts to exploitation, especially considering that the poor make up a huge part of the demographic of these churches.

A prime example is Pastor Chris of Christ Embassy. His ministry is worth well over $30 million and has a publishing house worth millions from the sales of his books. Add a private jet and couple of luxury cars to that and you have a mogul, no different from a millionaire owner of a multinational corporation. It is concerning to think that these millions are raked in from the tithes and church offerings made by thousands of impoverished people, coerced into doing so for the supposed benefit of the gospel.  

Locally, the likes of Ray McCauley of Rhema Bible Church live extravagant lives, with riches funded by people who are coerced into making “voluntary” offerings. It would be less concerning if churches took the millions accumulated from followers and actually used them for the betterment of the lives of the very same people.  Numerous studies on the subject have revealed that, on average churches give less than 1% of the wealth in their coffers to charity. Where does the rest go? The affluence of evangelists suggests that a large portion of that money goes towards maintaining their luxurious lifestyles. Detractors of this exploitation call it prosperity gospel, but that term is nowhere near describing this behaviour accurately.  “Religious fraud” and “pimp evangelism” are more appropriate phrases here.

We have to ask ourselves if the laxed regulation of religious movements is not to the detriment of society. If evangelical movements are given free rein to solicit money out of followers, especially the desperate and impressionable needy people, how do we distinguish between offerings and plain extortion? Is that not enough to justify some form of regulation of the money-making machine that is evangelism? Naturally, the proponents of prosperity gospel will defend it using all sorts of bible verses that encourage church offerings, and claim that people offer their money at will. This is not entirely true; the need to offer your money to “God” is emphasized so strongly that it is tantamount to force. Also, many of these evangelical churches always seem to have some extra book, some "holy" water that you supposedly need to buy. This is the psychology used to prey on followers, having them feel obliged to give away their money. Considering how desperate some people are for miracles and help, and what lengths they will go to when they genuinely believe in someone, it is necessary to not only protect them from exploitation by these gospel capitalists but also from themselves.

Regulate churches and make it mandatory for them to fulfil some financial duty to their followers, and a duty towards society in general. It is only fair to demand that because those are the very people who fund churches anyway.  The tax responsibilities of churches are little to non-existent; government involvement is avoided, based partly on the presumption that they provide a crucial social service and the incorrect assumption that all churches are hubs of nobility. If the cost of this spiritual service is exploitation of those who seek refuge from churches, then perhaps more stringent regulation of churches is needed.

If nothing is done, the poor will continue to fund the lavish lives of pastors who seem to serve themselves more than their followers or whatever religious cause they claim to stand for.  Either that or we stand by and watch as evangelists pimp out the gospel and accumulate wealth.

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