It’s no secret that the entire mega-church industry is built on the emotional manipulation of the congregation. From the lighting to the music to the message, and everything in between, there is no detail that isn’t carefully planned to achieved the desired effect. Admittedly, mainline churches of a more liturgical bent certainly attempt to create a mood, but those churches that use the Revised Common Lectionary to determine what Bible passages are read in church each week and have their music limited to what is available in their hymnal don’t have the freedom to be intentionally manipulative on the scale that the mega-church industry can. To be quite honest, in the context of worship many people find these experiences very rewarding – and if the manipulation began and ended with the worship environment, who would really care?
You have probably guessed by now that the culture of manipulation doesn’t end with worship. The high-profile mega-church types who use television to spread their propaganda use take advantage of people’s fears to manipulate and control them. When Franklin Graham, for example, says that he believes that President Obama is a Muslim he is engaging in manipulation for political reasons. He’s not the only high-profile preacher who manipulates people in this way, he’s just the latest example of those who regularly violate IRS regulations for non-profit organizations by interfering in the political process.
My objection is that there is a dishonesty in all of this that has no place in a person who claims to be a religious or spiritual leader. Make no mistake about it, Franklin Graham doesn’t believe that the President really is Muslim. Anyone who really believes the Muslim nonsense, or the birth certificate nonsense, at this point is either too stupid to tie their own shoes or they have voluntarily donned a set of blinders larger than most automobiles. The truth is that Franklin Graham and others of his ilk care only about profit margins and continuing to build power and control over their constituents – and they would sell their soul to the devil (if there was such a thing as the devil) to do so.
At the beginning of the movement that we today know as the televangelist mega-church movement, it wasn’t like this. There were good and wonderful people who really wanted to make a difference. Before long making a difference became a very expensive proposition. Fund raising became a priority. The movement birthed the non-denominational movement, which brought with it a lot of freedom without much accountability. Say what you will about the shortcomings of the denominational system, there is at least oversight of clergy and churches. The oversight isn’t perfect, as we have seen over the past fifty years, but when one hears that a mega-church pastor who has imploded recently is willing to let someone take over their ministry for three million dollars a month – and that’s a ministry in trouble – we begin to see just how out of control things have become in what was once a religion but now is quite clearly an industry.
If the current economic collapse has taught us anything, it has taught us that captains of industry seldom act in the best interest of either their employees or their customers. They act in the interest of their profits and their own bottom line. As an aside, I wonder how many CEOs need three million dollars a month just to stay afloat? I can’t even being to imagine the kind of pressure that someone like Jim Bakker was under when he needed to raise one million dollars each and every day to keep PTL afloat! What kind of staff does it take for Joel Osteen to be able to fill what amounts to a huge stadium every Sunday, and what would his people have to do if the collection dropped off? If you came to realize that what you were preaching wasn’t true, how could you possibly change the message if you thought it would impact the collection?
That question is precisely why “ministry” on the scale we are discussing cannot possibly be done with integrity if the ministry is to survive on the scale to which it has become accustomed to operating. Sooner or later, the leader will be faced with a choice between financial survival and personal and spiritual integrity. The only person I know of that has ever made the right choice is Bishop Carlton Pearson, and I am privileged to know him.
I feel sorry for those who are under the influence of the Franklin Grahams of the world. The people who are under the influence of such charlatans are good people who have been sucked in by master manipulators. In what amounts to little more than a spiritual Ponzi scheme, there cannot be a good ending.