Evangelical Sin, Not So Private and Personal.

You drive the women of my people from their pleasant homes. You take away my blessing from their children forever. – Micah 2:9

“The bank is something more than men, I tell you. It’s the monster. Men made it, but they can’t control it.” John Steinbeck, The Grapes of Wrath.

Dave Ramsey is a so-called Christian financial planner, who mixes in a few Bible verses with his garden variety advice. Thousands have paid to attend his seminars, where he presides like a fundamentalist preacher, folksy delivery and self-assured scolding included. It’s made him a multi-millionaire many times over. His empire includes Ramsey Solutions, his signature for-profit company – featured as a“2020 Best Workplaces” – plus various investment spin-offs and 501(c) (3) non-profits. 

What is less well-known is that Ramsey Solutions also functions as church. In order to be hired, applicants undergo an extensive process – including a spousal interview. The employees attend a mandatory chapel/pep talk each week. Their work day is scrutinized and their private lives snooped upon to see if they are truly living righteously 24/7. Some allege it leads to a dictatorial culture of suspicion and gossip. Discovered secret sinners get shown the door. Dave can run his company any way he wants, as he often reminds the entire world. I don’t care about his spiritual rule over employees; his business culture is not the point of this post.

Trending lately have been comments he made on his radio show, that if his tenants are displaced because he raised the rent to meet market price, it does not make him a bad Christian. “I did not displace the person out of that house if they can no longer afford it. The marketplace did. The economy did… I didn’t cause any of that,” he challenged.

Who caused that, the renter? No, the renter is a victim. The landlord is a victim. We’re all victims. Ramsey points the accusing finger at a marketplace that demands it. This admission is a significant departure from evangelical insistence on individual sin as the cause of all evil.

For the cold-heartedness of his advice, Ramsey got a mild spanking from Christian Post. Another critic tweeted, “He benefits from the unjust weights and measures that cause housing prices and rent go up faster than wages. He wouldn’t change that if he could, because he values his wealth over his soul.”

Wealth has an amazing power to deceive us. In his Powers Trilogy, theologian Walter Wink emphasized that both individually and collectively, we are vulnerable and exploitable by structural evils – the whole Kosmos that lies in the power of the Evil One. The domination systems, to which we give imperceiving obeisance, make up our culture and society. Individualistic evangelical theology that only recognizes sin only in terms of personal behaviour is inadequate to explain how our souls are manipulated by the faceless, supernatural power structures (Ephesians 6:12) that surround us.

Thus, as a godly landlord, I can’t be personally blamed for a universally accepted economic system which compels me to pursue my own interests, even if it puts people out on the street. In fact, no single individual is guilty. We are all guilty of individual responsibility for corporate sin. As Jürgen Moltmann observed, “anyone who exists in these structures becomes sin’s accomplice, even if he wants only what is good.”[i] The domination system of mammon is participatory; no one is excluded. It entraps even “good” people into valuing money more than people.  Particularly those having the power to impact the lives of others because of their authority or position.  Ramsey’s comment reflects our complicity in the mammon system such that we cannot recognize our idolatry for what it is. Jesus calls us to a domination-free blessed community where, contrary to Cain’s impertinent reply, we together are our brother’s keeper.


[i] Jürgen Moltmann, The Spirit of Life: A Universal Affirmation, Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001, pp. 139-40.

You see if you shoot pool with some employee here, you can come and borrow money. – Old Man Potter, “It’s A Wonderful Life”

In 2020, the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act established the Paycheck Protection Program, creating a $350 billion kitty of forgivable loans for small businesses. The intent was pandemic relief for recipients to keep workers on the payroll and stay open in the near-term. The massive bailout program was rushed out, and hidden in a veil of secrecy, with the Treasury Department declining to disclose how it spent the funds or who the PPP recipients were. Eventually, the recipients were revealed – but only vague dollar ranges instead of specific awards were published. For example, records show that a family-owned shipping business related to McConnell’s wife, Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, received a loan somewhere between $350,000 and $1 million. Chao disavowed any connection to the business or knowledge of the loan, although the New York Times reported that in the past, she had repeatedly used her official position to bolster the business. Their net worth is estimated between $25 and $35 million dollars. Meanwhile, the slipshod administration of the loan program opened the door to massive fraud, waste and abuse, with the Government Accounting Office declaring “the limited safeguards and lack of timely and complete guidance and oversight planning have increased the likelihood that borrowers may misuse or improperly receive loan proceeds.”. Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner received million$, along with many in their orbit – even a golfing buddy.

Other friends of Trump made out like bandits – and evangelicals were especially keen on cashing in on free government money to the tune of $17.3 million. Joel Osteen’s megachurch received a $4.4 million check. Members of the President’s evangelical advisory board were exceptionally well-rewarded for their loyalty, with Paula White’s ministry receiving between $150,000 and $350,000, and Robert Jeffress’ church getting between $2 million and $5 million. Prestonwood Christian Academy, associated with Trumpist Jack Graham, received between $2 million and $5 million – but reported zero jobs being retained. There were numerous other ministries tied to the President that reaped a financial bonanza.

Like Daystar Television Network’s Marcus Lamb, who bought a Gulfstream V just two weeks after receiving a $3.9 million PPP loan. Ostensibly an operating expense to spread the Gospel, Inside Edition reported it was used like an airborne RV for family beach vacations. Lamb’s organization denied using the PPP loan to buy the luxury aircraft, although hastily repaid the loan.

There are so many questions here that nobody is asking. What did America buy with this bailout? Should taxpayers be obliged to underwrite debt-free ministries with plenty of cash to maneuver? These figures are so gargantuan that one questions why such an immense budget? Like the ministry leaders pulling down million dollar salaries – can’t they cinch up their belts a bit to keep the lights on, like most American households are forced to do. And why, oh why, are they considered too big to fail?

In 2008, when General Motors desperately needed financial aid to continue, the government authorized emergency loans to continue paying bills and making payroll, but tied strings to the bailout. GM would have to go through a bankruptcy reorganization, auction off assets to raise cash, reduce management ranks and cut executive pay. The CEO was ousted, shareholders like me were left penniless, and a new company emerged from bankruptcy to continue making the same old crappy cars.

The point is, if you are too big to fail, you should nevertheless pay a price for surviving on the public dole. The government doesn’t operate on grace, and everyone else shouldn’t be forced to keep a bunch of religious goofballs living the high life. The government had the leverage that Chuck Grassley wished he had in his 2008 investigation of tax-exempt religious organizations. Maybe we would have seen some genuine reform of tele-vangelism. Instead, we got shafted by people who shoot pool with some employee here.

I could have ended there, but can’t resist this apt quote about virus relief from Mitch McConnell: “Socialism for rich people is a terrible way to help the American families that are actually struggling,”

How To Become A Mega-Rich Evangelical

If you love being an evangelical so much, it makes perfect sense to make money off it. Multi-millionaire church leaders might seem like an oxymoron. But the leaders of the top 50 megachurches in America reads like Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous. Many have done it using various methods, but if you want your faith to make you stonking rich, just follow this make-bank business model developed by the top of the evangelical stardom heap:

  1. Become a minister Pastorpreneur. Never mind seminary education and ordination, that’s old school. All you need is to have “vision” and trailblazing aspiration. 
  2. Begin a church. It doesn’t have to start as “mega” – every church has the potential to be church-growthed into a prosperous economic enterprise.  Make sure you form the 501(c)(3) and by-laws to remove transparency and make yourself bulletproof. Appoint your family into all the top positions. Make sure every employee signs an iron-clad non-disclosure agreement.
  3. Make outsiders think they possess a slice of authority, but never sacrifice control. And never, ever disclose how much church finances benefit you personally. Instead, humbly state it “would be the most arrogant thing I could do.”[i]
  4. Zero in on a comfy, white exurban area with down-market churches you can harvest. Cater to their lifestyle, offering greater spectacle and more buoyant life-affirmation. With a little talent, a dynamic praise band, and heavy advertising, soon you’ll be attracting people bored with their own churches to come and own a part of “what God is doing”.
  5. Tout yourself as the community’s church. Come up with high visibility events that get on local news. Become friendly with a few wealthy locals that will share your vision of moving up into that abandoned mega-mall across town. But never, ever ruin your pristine carpet by taking in flood victims!
  6. If the Bible doesn’t fit into your revealing of the deep mysteries of Scripture, make stuff up. Just speak in the love language of God. Nobody reads the Bible anymore anyway.
  7. A rock star preacher does more than pastor a church. Podcasts, Facebook followings, books, blogs, uploaded sermons, public appearances, speaking engagements and conference: these all make Jesus – and particularly you – famous. The more prominent you are, the more you become a religious wholesaler on the path to riches. The impetus is to diversify the client base into a religious conglomerate.
  8. You have a flock of sheep people that can work for you!  Checks in the offering plate can bankroll your writing side-business. Use staff time and church resources to do the leg work behind your books, the royalties of which wind up in your pocket. There are some loosely-worded financial accountability standards, but most churches don’t mind sermons and study materials developed on church time and with church resources (double-dipping). The bigger the megapastor’s footprint, the greater that church’s stature and influence. No ambitious church can argue with heightened public image and political clout.  Having a pastor who is a “go-to” media celebrity only enhances the cult status of the church and its brand recognition.
  9. Retain the enormously profitable proprietary rights over your books, videos, etc. Set up your own parachurch organization (which by the way pads the payroll with family members) to manage all your money under the same tax-free roof. Your parachurch can be transformed into an IRS-defined “church”, with greater opacity of finances to make it hard to follow the money.
  10. Form a separate for-profit business to receive book royalties, income from video productions, freelance speaking gigs to hype your products, etc. And while these assets are produced during your work for the church, and church resources are used to develop them, the copyrights are owned by you, the mega-pastor, through your personal side business.
  11. Disguise your books to look like works of love, not lucre. Donate copies of your books to the church for a personal tax deduction. Remember that your congregants are essentially captive customers. Sell thousands of them to the church bookstore below retail cost. No need to mark them up; you will already receive royalties up to 20 percent of wholesale. The objective is for the church to spend tithe money on numerous copies of your books to drive it onto a bestseller’s list. Everything the church does must be designed around your product line.
  12. For tax purposes, pour your assets into a CRUT (Charitable Remainder Unitrust) and name yourself as trustee. This complex tax shelter allows you, the donor, to pay yourself up to 90 percent of the assets over your lifetime, with 10 percent committed to a charity. (In the time-honored tradition of Ananias and Sapphira, it’s telling just the teensiest lie when a celebrity preacher boasts about donating his book proceeds to his church. He enjoys a hefty nest egg, while the church has to wait for whatever leftovers the trust has not exhausted by the time of his death).
  13. Expand your product placement without even having to leave the building through McChurches. Because the dream-weaver can only be physically present at one venue at a time, your image can now be teleported to preach in multiple campuses via video simulcast uplink. Franchising strings together a conglomerate of satellite operations to expand the revenue base. You do the speaking and take the offering plate, while a local staffer facilitates the satellite feed locally. You continue to profit as the main attraction, without having to pastor anybody.
  14. Remember that you are not only a person, you are a trademark. And that means protecting your property from potential rivals. The congregants are your job security, and they will take their business wherever mega-grifters offer greater spectacle. You’ll need to be trendier and produce more and better theatricality because your church’s back door is as open as it’s front.
  15. Follow these rules, and soon you’ll be a celebrity-leader collecting holy piles of other peoples’ money.

[i] Morgan Fogerty, “The Get with Morgan Fogarty: Pastor Steven Furtick”, WCCB-TV, Inc., November 10, 2015. http://www.wccbcharlotte.com/news/local/The-Get-with-Morgan-Fogarty-Pastor-Steven-Furtick–345443532.html  (accessed November 20, 2015).

Oh, the Wicked Web We Weave…..

Bits and Pieces I’ve Been Thinking About:

Get Your Stories Straight:

When you try to manage a tangle of lies like a fraudulent election victory, sometimes your mouth gets ahead of your brain, and you forget which part of the truth you are trying to conceal.  Anyone who’s gotten their car repaired knows that the parts equal more than the whole. So it is with keeping track of all the little lies that keep the Big Lie going:

Donald Trump on November 15th: “He won because the Election was Rigged.” Donald Trump, about an hour later, trying to eradicate the morsel of truth he accidently said: “He only won in the eyes of the FAKE NEWS MEDIA. I concede NOTHING!”

Headline-seeking preacher Robert Jeffress, writing for Fox News on November 7th: “If President Biden succeeds, we all succeed.” Later that week, perhaps Jeffress heard the murmurings of his congregation, and put his money where his mouth is mouth where his money is. He must have realized how lonely it can get out ahead of his Dear Leader, and he backpedaled mightily:  “We do NOT have a ‘president-elect’ until electoral college votes December 14.”

The Bible is consistent on truth-telling; lying lips are an abomination to the Lord. I’m reminded of when God was paying attention to Sarah’s snicker and denial: “No! You did laugh.” If you want to be a credible voice, you can’t disavow yourself by pulling a Yogi Berra-ism: “I didn’t say everything I said.” Just like you can’t take your words back, integrity and reputation can’t exist amidst dishonesty and deceit.

Do As I Say, Not As I Do:

“Some believe such a tariff would place a practical limitation on religious freedom.” The CEO of the Evangelical Christian Publishers Association was protesting that proposed tariffs on China would effectively amount to a Bible tax on Christians and religious organizations. Large Christian publishing firms outsource printing of Bibles and other Christian titles to Chinese factories providing cheap socialist – perhaps even slave – labor. Some estimate over half of our Bibles are printed in China. Bibles that Christians in China are not allowed to possess. The Southern Baptists, for example, publicly attacked China for its human rights abuses, while its publishing arm has a deep relationship with China.What does that say about their Christian business principles?” What does it say about us? As believers living in the Land of the Free, flush with Shiny New Things – and Bibles – from China, we need to ask whether we raise concern for human rights only when it is convenient and good for the bottom line.

Too Soon Old, Too Late Smart:

Boy, did we screw up!” After decades of deep-pockets funding of right-wing causes, Charles Koch has made his peace with the culture wars. He promises working towards “a better way forward” and “break down the barriers holding people back.” Seems like a Scrooge-like transformation is underway.

My spiritual pain is unbearable. I keep having the same unsolved question: if my rifle took away people’s lives, then can it be that I… am guilty for people’s deaths, even if they were enemies?” In his twilight years, Mikhail Kalashnikov expressed regret for designing the AK-47. At age 91, he was baptized and thereafter called himself “a slave of God.”  Now a believer, he died repenting of the global killing machine he had created.

More Coronavirus Ironies

Let’s Not Meet The Lord In The Air:   Televangelist Kenneth Copeland casts the threat of Coronavirus into his own brand of spirituality. “You get your tithe in that church if you have to go take it down there and drop it off or stick it under the door or something”.[i] He runs a high-overhead business funded by ordinary people sacrificing their paychecks. If his marks are broke, he’ll be broke too. Never mind you’re unemployed; you need to keep giving him the Lord’s money even if you may not see another paycheck for a long time. Maybe a better money-raising idea for him would be to put his fleet of private jets on the block. This is Coronavirus lock-down time; no one’s flying anywhere. As he once protested against his flying commercial – “This dope-filled world, and get in a long tube with a bunch of demons. And it’s deadly.”[ii]

Guess the Country Quiz: “________ have been put at risk by the callous policies of _____________ that values retaining power, protecting its image, and safeguarding its own economic, political, and ideological interests over public health.”[iii] If you guessed this was some rational person talking about Trump, you’d be wrong.

Pooping out Christian lawyers into an oversaturated market satisfies the Fundamentalist itch to save America. Liberty is the go-to pipeline to fill out the Trump administration; they have that working for them. Perhaps its best that the University preferred a law school over a medical college. Given the prevalence of anti-vaxxers, even if a vaccine were found, these tribalists probably wouldn’t support it. Being anti-science is a quaint religious belief, until it starts killing other people.

See how they love one another!  It’s been widely reported that Jerry Falwell Jr. is not shutting down in-class studies at his Liberty University, implying that the coronavirus outbreak only affects the elderly and infirm. “I think he is dangerously wrong here and seems unable or unwilling to recognize it,” an LU professor had the temerity to write.[iv] Brother Falwell is right one respect – mortality from the virus is more prevalent among vulnerable populations. And yet, any one can be an asymptomatic carrier – and we have no idea how many people have the virus but have not been tested. We’ve always been told that brotherly love is infectious. We’ll see how Typhoid Mary plays out in the Liberty dorms.

“You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is more to your advantage to have one man die for the people than for the whole nation to perish.” Committed evangelical and Lt. Governor of Texas, Dan Patrick was speaking on behalf of all AARP-age people.  He said he and other American seniors would be willing to die from the coronavirus in order to save the economy. Patrick was mimicking Trump, who was mimicking Fox News. “My message is: Let’s get back to work,” he said. “Those of us who are 70-plus, we’ll take care of ourselves, but don’t sacrifice the country.”[v] Moral Triage: If the price is a few dead old people, so be it. Like the Nazis thought, they are simply “useless eaters” anyway.

David Brody now on Enemies List? As political reporter for the Christian Broadcasting Network, David Brody has had carte blanche access to the President. Maybe not so much anymore, after two negative tweets accused the President of providing “… false information about testing…multiple times! Invoking hyperbole in certain situations may be permissible but false statements about the #Coronavirus is sloppy & dangerous.”[vi] Does this signal an evangelical divorce from President Trump? No, but Trump will etch this disloyalty into his very stable genius. He never forgets a slight, and forgiveness is not in his moral vocabulary.

What do you say to these beans? They’re magical. Plant them overnight and …”, Jack protested to his mother. Never mind that Jim Bakker can’t sell his miracle silver Kool-Aid any more. Now he’s peddling “some of the most common and powerful medicinal herbs that can be readily grown from seed”. You can buy a bucket’s worth of this medicine exclusively from him for $99. Or you can get a similar one on Amazon for $20. You have to hand it to Brother Bakker. He may be greedy, but at least he’s resourceful.[vii] 


[i] Michael Stone, “Televangelist Copeland Commands Unemployed Followers To Keep Giving”, Patheos, March 19, 2020. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/progressivesecularhumanist/2020/03/televangelist-copeland-commands-unemployed-followers-to-keep-giving/  (accessed March 23, 2020).

[ii] Jessica Chasmar, “Televangelists Defend Private Jets: Commercial Planes Full Of ‘Demons’”, The Washington Times, January 5, 2016. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2016/jan/5/kenneth-copeland-jesse-duplantis-defend-private-je/  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[iii] James Phillips and Nicole Robinson, “Iranian Regime’s Reckless Disregard Made the Coronavirus Outbreak Worse, Daily Signal, March 20, 2020. https://www.dailysignal.com/2020/03/20/iranian-regimes-reckless-disregard-made-the-coronavirus-outbreak-worse/ (accessed March 24, 2020).

[iv] Marybeth Davis Baggett, “Dear Liberty University Board: Please Stop Jerry Falwell Jr. Before It’s Too Late”, Religion News Service, March 22, 2020. https://religionnews.com/2020/03/22/dear-liberty-university-board-please-stop-jerry-falwell-jr-before-its-too-late/  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[v] Jonathan Tilove, “Dan Patrick’s Coronavirus Sacrifice: I’ll Risk My Own Life To Keep Economy Humming”, Austin Statesman, March 24, 2020. https://www.statesman.com/news/20200324/first-reading-dan-patrickrsquos-coronavirus-sacrifice-irsquoll-risk-my-own-life-to-keep-economy-humming  (accessed March 24, 2020).

[vi] Sky Palma, “‘A Major Failure’: Evangelical Pundit Turns On Trump For ‘Confusing People‘ With His Coronavirus Lies”, Raw Story, March 12, 2020. https://www.rawstory.com/2020/03/a-major-failure-evangelical-pundit-turns-on-trump-for-confusing-people-with-his-coronavirus-lies/   (accessed March 24, 2020).

[vii] Hemant Mehta, “Jim Bakker, Unable to Sell Virus ‘Cure, Promotes ‘Make Your Own Medicine’ Plant”, Patheos, March 20, 2020. https://www.patheos.com/blogs/rolltodisbelieve/2020/03/20/jim-bakkers-at-it-again-chat-post-2/  (accessed March 24, 2020).

Random Evangelical Thoughts on the Coronavirus

The President of a large Christian nationalist university wondered on national television if the Coronavirus was a Chinese and North Korean conspiracy, premeditated to make President Trump look bad. He echoed his political hero, who himself repeatedly pointed the finger at China for spreading the virus, referring to it as the “Chinese Virus”. By that logic, history books should be obliged to teach that the smallpox epidemic that decimated American Indian tribes be called the “White Man’s Pestilence”.

At that same large Christian nationalist university, its President reportedly remarked that students aren’t treated like family but rather “like customers”.[1] Suggesting that Coronavirus was a hoax perpetrated to undermine President Trump, he kept in-person classes open, just as students were returning from Spring break. The decision contradicted the advice of health experts on safeguarding students and staff. But the university was a business, and the students were not family – just customers. Your family is precious and you protect them, but you can always get new customers.

A well-known televangelist/telemarketer reportedly went on-air to say his silver concoction could kill pathogens like SARS, HIV, and some strains of coronavirus. The miracle elixirs disappeared from his television show after several states filed lawsuits alleging false advertising. Hawking a fake cure was only a sideline, and he fell back on his survivalist food buckets. It’s a win-win deal. He finally got the great disaster to move his Armageddon rations, and his prayer partner-customers could sit back and gloat, “the world is dying and we’re having a breakfast for kings!”[2] It pays to stick with what you know.

Despite the country teetering towards financial meltdown, the White House refused to postpone its rule change imposing strict work requirements onto SNAP, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance. The White House projected that 700,000 would be kicked off the food stamp program even before thousands lost their jobs when Coronavirus measures took effect. Magnanimous display of empathy when unemployment could rise to 20%.

Wheat stockpiles are at an all-time high. The Government is sitting on a 1.39 billion-pound stockpile of cheese. Producers are sitting on 2.5 billion pounds of frozen meats. We’re running out of warehouse space to store it all. How is it then, that anybody in this country can go to bed hungry?

The average Fox News viewer is 67 years old. The average evangelical church-goer is 50. These are not normal times for the 55-to-dead demographic. It would make sense that pastors would be concerned that encouraging old folks to attend church invites them to get the virus and die. Not all of them get it. A pastor in Louisiana is not unusual in claiming the blood of Jesus would protect his church. He got the great idea of passing out “anointed handkerchiefs”. People could sneeze and cough their lungs out with no risk to the congregation.

In the midst of the pandemic, Florida tele-preacher and Presidential horse-whisperer Paula White made a pitch for $91 donations from her contributors. As she explained, she was in charge of a hospital – a spiritual one.  Meanwhile, sick people in Florida were headed into real hospitals. Many were losing their sources of income. Here’s a thought – why not dip into your millions and pay each of your congregants $91 instead. “If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacks daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, keep warm and eat well,’ but you do not give them what the body needs, what good is it?” James 2:15-16 (NET Bible).

Here’s another thought: If prosperity gospel is based on faith, it should work both ways. Tele-preachers call upon their audience to give in faith. The prosperity gospel should work both ways. The preacher should take a real step out in faith to accept only $1 lottery tickets. If he has the faith of a mustard seed, God’s blessings should flow over each prayed-over and mailed in ticket; same as cash! Such an anointing could rake in millions!


[1] Zachary Petrizzo, “Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr.: ‘We Treat Students Like Customers’”, Mediate, February 12, 2020.

https://www.mediaite.com/tv/liberty-university-president-jerry-falwell-jr-we-treat-students-like-customers/ (accessed March 21, 2020)

[2] Kylie Mohr, “Apocalypse Chow: We Tried Televangelist Jim Bakker’s ‘Survival Food’”, National Public Radio, December 5, 2015. http://www.npr.org/sections/thesalt/2015/12/03/456677535/apocalypse-chow-we-tried-televangelist-jim-bakkers-survival-food (accessed February 2, 2019).