"We treat God like a slot machine, yanking on the prayer cable, hoping that the triple 7's will appear," writes Karens Spears Zacharias. With humor and wit, she unpacks story after story of those who use the name of God as a means to living their own "good life," as well as some unlikely folks who have found that their faith led them to a different understanding of wealth.
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Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide?('Cause I Need More Room for My Plasma TV)
By Karen Spears Zacharias
ZONDERVANCopyright © 2010 Karen Spears Zacharias
All right reserved.
Chapter OneTHE EVANGELIST
A gazillion people lined up on a sunny spring day, the kind of day best spent lounging poolside, to have a television evangelist autograph copies of her latest book. She's reportedly authored sixty such books.
The Evangelist lives like the celebrity she is, in a multimillion-dollar parsonage. She has a multimillion-dollar corporate jet at her disposal and a hairdresser who sometimes travels with her. The Evangelist does not apologize for her lavish lifestyle. She believes that as a child of God she's entitled to it.
The attraction to the finer things of life is only natural, says the Evangelist: "Who would want to get in on something where you're miserable, poor, broke and ugly and you just have to muddle through until you get to heaven?" she asks. "I believe God wants to give us nice things."
A sign posted at the bookstore stated that there would be no "personal autographs." The Evangelist would sign her signature only. I mused over what author and historian Shelby Foote would think of all this hoopla. Foote reportedly refused to autograph books for anyone but friends. He said friends were the only ones his signature meant anything to. Rumor circulating among the frenzied crowdwaiting on the Evangelist claimed 1,300 people had waited in line in Birmingham the day before. There were seven hundred-plus on that day.
Event planners had roped off Church Street in Fairhope, Alabama, and set up a stage. They had dancers, singers, and a praise and worship band. I was new to town and unaccustomed to celebrities of any sort. I'd grabbed a latte at the coffee shop and was sitting outside at a table, reading, when a sweet-faced woman with a halo of white hair asked if she could join me. Why sure, I said.
Her name was Evelyn. She was eighty-five but didn't look a day over seventy. She said she and her daughter had driven over two hours for the chance to get a glimpse and a signature from the guest author.
Evelyn didn't look like the sort of person who reads Rolling Stone or People magazine, consuming celebrity culture. She seemed to be the real sensible sort, so I asked her why she went to all that effort for this event.
"I tune in to her television show every morning," Evelyn said about the Evangelist. "She teaches the Scriptures but she talks plainly." Evelyn said that sometimes the Evangelist could sound like an upset schoolmarm, but Evelyn found that charming in an old-fashioned sort of way.
Evelyn didn't suppose she was actually going to read the autographed book that her daughter and hundreds of others were standing in line for. No need to, really, she already knew the woman's story from watching her television program every morning.
The Evangelist had grown up in an abusive home with an alcoholic father. That alone provided her with an immediate audience. Experts estimate that one in five children grow up in homes with an alcoholic parent. Evelyn said she thought many people could relate to all that this Evangelist had been through.
I wasn't sure if Evelyn knew about the U.S. Senate's investigation into the Evangelist's financial affairs, but I decided not to mention it. The Evangelist was only one of several high-profile celebrity evangelists whose financial shenanigans had drawn the attention of Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, a member of the Committee on Finance. Grassley called for an accounting of expenses, executive compensation and perks, gifts, etc. Because these ministries are run as church-based nonprofits, they aren't held to the same accountability and oversight as other corporations.
When Grassley made his request some of the ministries balked at it. Some called in their own chariots of accountants and attorneys. They decried that this was a violation of the separation of church and state law. To her credit, the Evangelist has been cooperating with Grassley's investigation. In the wake of the current recession, she's even scaled back her lavish lifestyle, put some of those mansions of hers up for sale.
As I studied all those women snaking down Church Street, I wondered if they had read Grassley's reports. Did they know that the homes, bought and paid for by the ministry, were valued in the millions? Moreover, I wondered, does it matter to them? Or did they just see all that wealth of hers as proof of God's adoration of the Evangelist?
The Evangelist touts a prosperity message: God wants to bless us. He wants to pour out his goodness upon us. He wants us to lead a life more abundant, specifically, a life filled with more creature comforts.
I was befuddled because Evelyn didn't seem to be the sort of person who cared much about money. In fact, she told me as much herself. Evelyn lives in a part of Mississippi that was hard-hit by Hurricane Katrina. Her home was fine, but her son and his family, they lost everything. Every bead board of their home was destroyed. They moved in with her until they got their FEMA trailer. They'd lived in it for nearly two years and had only recently moved into a new home.
Evelyn lifted her glasses and wiped the tears from her eyes as she told me how thankful she was that her family had all survived the storm. That wasn't the case for some in her town.
"I'm sorry," she said, apologizing for her tears.
"Don't be," I replied. "If these things aren't worth crying over, what is?"
As her daughter inched up in the line, Evelyn took leave to join her. I sat alone at the table until well after dark, enjoying the music and marveling at the multitudes. When the last of the books had been signed, around ten p.m., the Evangelist walked through the coffee shop crowd, her entourage following like obedient children. Dozens of people, who had not stood in line for her autograph, still pressed their noses up against the windowpanes, trying to get a glimpse of the Celebrity Evangelist. I wondered if it was because we are all hungry to be part of something special or if it's because we're all so sick we need to touch the hem of one that has the power to heal.
* * *
This notion that God wants to prosper us isn't a new one. Its roots are most often traced back to the emergence of the postwar middle class, and a couple of evangelists, Oral Roberts and Kenneth Hagin. Television played a huge part in getting their version of the Cadillac Gospel before an emerging middle class.
"What Oral did was develop a theology that made it okay to prosper," said David Harrell Jr.. Harrell is a former Eminent Scholar at Auburn University in Auburn, Alabama, and Roberts' biographer. "Roberts let Pentecostals be faithful to the old-time truths their grandparents embraced and be part of the modern world, where they could have good jobs and make money."
This "name-it-and-claim-it" brand of Christianity is preached in various denominations today, although it's most often attributed to Pentecostal or charismatic churches. Believers are encouraged to tithe and then some, with the insinuation, if not outright promise, that God will return to them tenfold, or abundantly beyond all measure.
Rev. Otis Moss of Trinity United Church of Christ in Chicago says that such a theology is more focused on making money than it is about religion.
"Televangelists are presenting a prosperity gospel where they are promoting a Jesus that is more like a cosmic bellhop, versus a Christ who is engaging in the current issues," Moss said.
No question about it, the Jesus-factor is a great selling point for everything from bobble-head dolls to theme parks to presidential bids. Senator John McCain was shuffling through an anemic race for the nation's highest office in 2008 until some savvy marketing team saw the light and yanked then Alaska Governor Sarah Palin up to the podium. Once McCain enlisted help from the Lord's Army-Palin is a Pentecostal-his value rose significantly among the evangelical ranks. That Jesus-factor momentarily locked McCain into a dead-heat with Senator Barack Obama.
More importantly, within hours after McCain introduced his running mate, the Republican National Convention took in $1 million in donations, most of that flowing in over the internet. Sure enough, when it comes to the power of media marketing, the name of Jesus is a better brand than Coca-Cola, Aflac, and Nike combined.
* * *
I once read a book written by a man with Dr. in front of his name, who claimed that God nudged him awake in the middle of the night and spoke audibly to him. I don't know about you, but if God woke me in the middle of the night for a chitchat, I'd probably die of fright. Surely God of all people knows better than to disturb a woman in her sleep, right?
But this fellow said he woke straight up and heard God clearly speak Proverbs 3:5-6 over him: Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths (NKJV).
(How odd. God has apparently grown so accustomed to us doing it that he refers to himself in the third person. He's like a lawyer that way, I guess.)
Or, if you buy into this man's theology, more like a financial advisor. During his brief encounter with a chatty nocturnal Creator, this man said he learned the perfect will of God for each and every one of us: Get saved. Live right. Build the kingdom. Prosper. And we should dress well while we go about it. The good author points to Scripture to make his point that "It would seem that God doesn't want us to look weird. He wants us to look better than everyone else."
Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels. We will make you earrings of gold, studded with silver. Song of Solomon 1:10-11
Dolly Parton might want to rethink that image of hers. As she so often says, "It takes a lot of money to look this cheap." If this fellow is right, God doesn't shop at Walmart. It seems God is the sort of man who knows the personal shopper at Nordstrom on a first-name basis.
Who knew Christ was so class-conscious? This fellow suggested that Jesus purposely surrounded himself with people who could help finance his ministry: "The people Jesus called to follow him were people who were working or wealthy." And contrary to popular notion, so says this author, Jesus wasn't a poor man. "He could attract the rich to him primarily because he was rich himself."
All part of that "takes-one-to-know-one" discipleship approach, I guess. To be fair, these quotes are lifted out of a nearly two-hundred-page book, so, yes, they are out-of-context, but the bulk of that content is built upon the thesis that God's good pleasure for us amounts to us being rich, very, very rich. Millionaires, in fact.
This is golden-calf theology personified.
It brings to mind an image from David Sedaris's book, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim.
Sedaris tells of the night the Tomkeys, their neighbors, came trick-or-treating, the night after Halloween. His mother had already given out all the candy. The only household sweets that remained was what the Sedaris children had gathered the night before. Mrs. Sedaris instructed her children to grab some of the candy from their bags to share with the Tomkey kids.
Being children and all, they weren't inclined to share. Instead Sedaris dumped his candy on the bed and began to rip through the miniature chocolate bars, stuffing his face. When his mother showed up, aiming to collect the candy herself, Sedaris lunged for the pile and tore through it in an effort to keep his mother from giving out even the least favored sweets. "These were the second-best things I had received, and while it hurt to destroy them, it would have hurt more to give them away," Sedaris later recalled.
Finally, as a bit of remorse began to settle in, Sedaris began to see himself as his mother may have seen him: "Here is a boy sitting on a bed, his mouth smeared with chocolate. He's a human being, but also he's a pig, surrounded by trash and gorging himself so that others may be denied."
I wonder if that is the image of us that comes to God's mind whenever we go around boasting that it is his Sovereign will that all God's children be rich.
Excerpted from Will Jesus Buy Me a Double-Wide? by Karen Spears Zacharias Copyright © 2010 by Karen Spears Zacharias. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Foreword Steve Brown 13
Foreword Susan Isaacs 17
1 The Evangelist 31
2 The Sister 39
3 The Children 51
4 The Mayor 59
5 The Ambassador 65
6 The Lawyer 75
7 The Veteran 87
8 The Beautician 93
9 The Mogul 105
10 The Bookseller 111
11 The Jubilee 121
12 The Marine 129
13 The Preacher 147
14 The Grill Man 155
15 The Giver 161
16 The Missionary 169
17 The Employee 179
18 The Redhead 187
19 The Entrepreneur 199
Discussion Questions 215
Author's Note 225
What People are Saying About This
“An honest, raw account of some who use God for their purposes and some who seek to allow God to use them---a huge difference!” -- Rev. Dr. Layne E. Smith, Senior Pastor
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Karen¿s new book is a collection of short introductions, mostly anonymous personas such as ¿The Bookseller¿ or ¿The Grill Man.¿ Some are inspirational in the way they spread kindness with their lives and/or money, while others are downright sickening in their greed or coercion through a prosperity gospel. Think TV evangelists who promise that if you send your $100 now, today, God will bless you by returning far more. The book is sometimes heartwarming, sometimes disturbing.Karen writes with wit and passion. She¿s opinionated and direct, and she gets on her high horse a bit as she exposes The Secret as utter hogwash, money-grubbing TV evangelism as downright fraud, and Bernie Madoff as the embodiment of evil. But she¿s serious about learning from the example of Jesus, and I dare say she has Jesus on her side. That is, if Jesus' teachings about money and its use are to be taken seriously.Worth reading!
This book has stories of inspiring people. The name of the book made me think that it would be more comical, but I didn't find a lot of humor in it. The author gets on her soapbox often about evangelism and is not shy in pointing fingers at people who are radically evangelical. Although I support her stance, she seemed to get hung up on her point about evangelism. With that being said, the people in this book are inspiring. Their stories made me contemplate on my faith and how I live my life. Reading about their lives and what they've done, what they're doing and their views of Christianity; it makes me want to be a better Christian.