Why should a fool have money in his hand to buy wisdom when he has no sense? (Proverbs 17:16)
Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. (Isaiah 30:10)
I am a rather plump older man with a large, flowing beard that is pure white. In fact, I get many requests to put on my red suit and portray Santa during holiday season. Which I accept, but only for free at nursing homes and for Special Ed kids. Invariably, starting this time of year, random kids gin up the courage to ask this stranger if I am Santa. Of course I play along, avoiding any promises about the presents they ask me for. For a kid, asking Santa is like offering a prayer. Because Santa is omnipresent like God – everyone knows he’s there, but no one’s ever actually seen him.
Large swaths of evangelism key in on that innate trust in other-worldly blessing. Prosperity gospel pyramid scammers like Kenneth Copeland tell their children of God to ask for affluence (like he has), and God will give it to them. (But only if you first give bountifully to Copeland ). But even after delivering truckloads of Seed-Money, God doesn’t come through with a Learjet or hand them the keys to a spreading mansion. And Santa ain’t coming.
One Christmas, I was desperate for a BB gun. (Of course, I didn’t get one). But I still believed in Santa. It wasn’t his fault; maybe I didn’t believe hard enough. After trying my best to be a good boy, next year I knew he would come through for me. Funny, how so many adults still place their hopes in a God that looks more like Santa. Maybe, with enough faith – and send enough checks – they’ll soon hit their heavenly lucky numbers. But Santa ain’t coming.
Fabulist Word-Faith preachers promise big miracles for desperate believers. When the Heavenly Amazon doesn’t deliver, posing as God’s earthly surrogates, they plead that no person can know the mind of a god whose intentions and decisions emanate from a metaphysical realm. Their trade is in transcendence. After all, these are businesses that deal exclusively in the divine, not the natural world. Santa doesn’t sell toys; he’s selling dreams. And just like with Santa, you can’t sue God when you don’t get stuff from him. If parishioners miss out on God’s financial largesse, it’s their own fault because of their lack of faith. Any questioning is viewed as a spiritual attack of the Devil. And Santa ain’t coming.
Peter Popov vowed, “I can see God leading people into new homes, new automobiles!” Never mind that Popoff is a debunked faith healer, even today he has a popular nation-wide “ministry”. He brings a “feel good” message that resonates with thousands seeking the Christian self-improvement and emotional therapy he sells – regardless whether he was an enormous fraud. He nevertheless reflects who people want to hear, offering the good life. But Santa definitely ain’t coming here.
Convicted felon, Jim Bakker, likewise has successfully resurrected his God-business. What got him into prison was a Ponzi-scheme selling condominium time-shares at his Heritage USA property that bilked hundreds of his – mostly elderly – followers out of their life savings. Today, it is an ugly, abandoned ruin that resembles eastern Ukraine. Santa never came.
Here’s Bakker’s problem: when these preachers move from commercialized transcendence to dealing in “here-on-earth” goods. You know, like ones involving legally enforceable contracts. Like the “Holy Ground Tiny Houses” manufacturer featured on social media, who promised to build 250 homes tiny homes, never delivered, and then declared bankruptcy. “He came across as a godly person”, one empty-handed buyer remarked. “It was a Christian organization,” another said. “That’s the only reason I went with it.” NBC reports that, among other things, he “spent five years in prison for bilking more than $470,000 from investors”. Bernard Ebbers, former chairman of bankrupt WorldCom was sentenced to 25-year for cooking the books in a securities fraud which drained billions of dollars from retirement accounts. But Ebbers had the balls to tell his Baptist congregation, “more than anything else, I hope that my witness for Jesus Christ will not be jeopardized.”[i] They’re full of apologies, but Santa ain’t coming here, either.
Like with my BB gun, people are often disappointed when what they wished for doesn’t materialize. Even when a big name preacher-man – or a smooth talking evangelical layman – promises for sure it’s God’s will. The moral here is not necessarily to avoid evangelical marketiers (although probably a wise decision). It’s about not being a “mark” yourself. Especially from trusting others on instinct just because they are Christians. Otherwise, you’ll be singing “I’m gettin’ nuttin for Christmas”.
[i] Jeter, Lynne W. Disconnected: Deceit and Betrayal at WorldCom. New York: John Wiley and Sons, 2004, p. 188.