#5 Televangelism: The Leaders and their community

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While having dinner at my friends home one night, I mentioned that I enjoyed watching sermons on television from preachers such as Joel Osteen and Charles Stanley, I was immediately met with skepticism when my girlfriend while sipping on her water nervously whispered "oh. *ahem* you like that?" Her reaction was certainly not one I was unfamiliar with. Just a few days ago I was having a conversation when another friend made a troubling statement "almost all TV evangelists are criminals who are involved in some sort of scandal."

I can appreciate this skepticism because I continually find that evangelical approach has moved toward self-righteousness and away from what it’s intended to be which is witnessing with a gentle voice. In 1st Peter 3:15 , God commands us to witness with meekness and respect. "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear." Because of many evangelicals have not witness according to his command, evangelical is now a dirty word. I continually find myself defending these men and their ministry because I believe it is with good intentions that they spread the message, but with a failing tactics.

The media has had great success when portraying ALL evangelist as criminals. It’s not all that often that a prime time story is based around the wonderful things an evangelical church has done. Who would watch that? Americans like stories of doom and gloom and the media gives us what we want. I understand that it’s all about ratings, but I do believe that traditional media is partly to blame for only highlighting the bad that comes from these mega churches.

Not to mention, televangelist usually are bringing in millions upon millions of dollars. This alone is enough to raise some eyebrows. Where is all the money going? What are the salaries of these preachers. I was delighted to read that one of my favorite pastors, Joel Osteen actually draws no salary from his sermons. 100% of tithing goes directly into the church. That fact warms my heart since that’s usually the biggest problem people have with these churches. I like to see the shift in perspective for people who view ALL evangelists as "greedy criminals" when they hear of Joel’s generosity.

Somehow it just doesn’t resonate with me that it’s okay to have riches if you’re Donald Trump because you chose to be in the real estate business, but it’s not okay to have riches if you devote your life to God and that’s your business. For some reason when you’re a man of God, people expect you to drive around in a 1990 station wagon because you get paid from tithing and you receive compensation from "other peoples money". If you have a luxury car, watch out! You must not be for God but for yourself. I say who cares if you ride a luxury car but have given 5 million a year to the poor? I would like to see good preachers make millions for spreading the Word. However, I think it’s much like preaching the word of God to prostitutes. You must hold strong in your faith and pray that God works through you to get the message out so you’re not tempted while working on His behalf. Because temptation in any form can bring about sinful nature. I think if one can be content when you’re rich as well as when you’re poor, then it is okay to enjoy the financial blessings you receive. But of course that’s my opinion, not something I found in scripture.

In 1 Timothy chapter 6 beginning in verse 5. Paul has been talking about false teachers, and he says there are false teachers: who think that godliness is a means to financial gain. 6 But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7 For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8 But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9 People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. 11 But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.

It seems to me that the warnings here from the Bible are for those godly men who are tempted by the love of money, not money itself. I think in many cases, this is what we’re seeing when Evangelist are giving in to the temptation that comes from having so much money coming into their churches.

Some televangelists have been grave disappointments and brought much embarrassment to the Baptist and Assembly of God denominations from which they represent. Falwell, Swaggert, Baker and Gorman have publicly done things that clearly do not serve as an example of Jesus’s desire for our lives. However, these are merely men. And they fall short. Like we all do. And of course it makes the televangelists appear to be broken and it fosters doubt that their teachings are rooted in the Word of God. But I have certainly heard God’s voice in their messages. And it appears millions of other people have to which is why they have gained in popularity.

Joel Osteen’s book was on the best sellers list for months. I know personally Charles Stanley planted a seed in my father’s heart that encouraged him to be a seeker of Truth. There is NO DOUBT that these ministers have ignited the desire within peoples hearts to know God. It is also undeniable that many people who heard about God through a TV program never would have been subject to it had they not been able to have the convenience of hearing His message by simply changing the channel on their TV sets. That alone is enough I believe, for seekers to support their ministries, while at the same time revealing to their fellow Christians the truth in the scripture regarding the love of money.

If millions upon millions of dollars are spent. Who cares? If some of them have their sins exposed on national television and the world rebukes them. So be it. That one person who has turned to God because of them, makes it all worth it. Of course I hope that these ministries are led by holy men who exemplify the characteristics of Christ. I hope leaders are honest, generous, kind, peaceful, and non-judgmental so they can encourage even more non-believers to learn about God. But if God can forgive a man like televangelist Swaggert for sleeping with a prostitute, and so can his wife.....well then certainly so can I. And I hope he continues to share the Love of God with everyone he meets and I pray that through his suffering, he learns that his will alone is not enough in the face of sin and that his pain reminds him that only GOD can renew him. Isn’t that what the message should be? That we can’t be holy men? That even the best of us are the worst of us and that is the entire reason we needed Christ to die on the cross?

I don’t think it really matters if we are the head of our families, heads of our churches, or the head of the nation...we are nothing and we all fall short of the glory of God which is why we need Jesus in our lives. That’s the message. So when a public figure who is a man or woman of God publicly admits his sin after preaching about God for years on TV we should use this as an opportunity to rejoice in the coming of Jesus instead of write them off as "less than" Christians. Since when did we get such authority?

I had a really hard time finding fact based research about the origins of televangelism. I watched Charles Stanley preach a beautiful message this morning on the TV about the need to obey God but I won't go into all of it here.  I'm a bit disappointed that televangelism even became one of my prayers for this project, but when the weather strikes, you do what you can! 

If you’d like to learn the history of televangelism, I found this article and it seems to be written from reputable resources. http://hirr.hartsem.edu/ency/Televangelism.htm Enjoy!

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