Show Notes - Episode78
Precisely how much money is there in Texas? Jesus Fucking Christ these televangelists' bank accounts are bottomless pits and some of the key players are in Texas (and throughout the south but...).
It amazes me how much money there seems to be to go around to these guys and even though donations come in from around the world, their churches are situated in ways that make me wonder how they manage to fill their arenas every Sunday. I mean, that's A LOT of people and not all of them have the kind of disposable income it would take to keep ONE of these guys in mansions and planes let alone the actual numbers of these shysters who have them...
Well, there actually is an answer to that question which we will get to later, but first... Shelle is here to rock you like a Hurricane rebuked by Kat Kerr and I'll give myself a trigger warning for both false prophecy fuckery and more COVID bullshit. You may find it entertaining. Me? I'm just looking for a wall to bang my head against just thinking about what we're about to convey....
So before we get into the meat of this topic I want to revisit a concept that I've brought up repeatedly in the past: the idea that it's not the individuals who are to blame for most evangelical fuckery, but the system that created them. That's true for the average pew-sitter and I dare say it's true for the average pastor who devotes his life to serving others in this way, but let's be clear about one thing: televangelists are not PASTORS. They are marketers who have done a stellar job of finding their niche and they have the magnetism it takes to fleece people for billions of dollars with no central product to sell, no guarantee that anything they say is going to have any personal benefit for the believer, and they weaponize faith in a way that IF this fictional god they reference was a real thing, they'd probably have lots of 'splainin to do when they arrive at the pearly gates.
Televangelism and evangelical Christianity are NOT the same thing. It's just that one has figured out a way to harness the power of the other and ride it all the way to the bank. Televangelism is big business and it hides under the cover of religion so the charlatans that practice it can make money hand over fist and never be effectively questioned about how they make it.
How big is the televangelism industry? The simple answer is that no one really knows. In our episode on Christian charities, we brought up the fact that U.S. tax laws make it easy for religious organizations to hide their tracks because they don't have to account for the money that comes in like a secular charity would. For all intents and purposes, televangelists are protected by their religious affiliations and as long as they can keep up the appearance of being the head of some kind of church or religious body, they never have to account for a single penny that they receive and many don't even pay income taxes because... technically they aren't on any payroll.
So when you consider how easy it is to shelter all that cash, it's no wonder that the vast majority of televangelists operate in the United States. I mean, the numbers outside the US are so tiny they aren't even worth factoring in, but guess what... the ones who operate in other countries target viewers in the US and many barely even have to purchase airtime in this age of live streaming, paypal, cashapp, and patreon all of which deal internationally with collecting and disbursing funds.
Many, however, are ok with the overhead involved in things like buying airtime on a LOT of stations, spending millions on huge buildings and having a massive staff of largely minimum wagers to deal with everything from returning texts and emails to snail mailing prayer cloths.
Around 1987 it sure did look like the jig was up. A number of sex and financial scandals bored their way into the televangelism industry in America and shined the spotlight on a few of the more vile offenders out there.
Jim Bakker and Jessica Hahn
Jimmy Swaggart and his love for prostitutes – yes, plural – after “I have sinned against you...” he was caught AGAIN three years later.
Benny Hinn – financial probe
Larry Lea – Financial probe
Oral Roberts – God will kill me if you don't send me money ($8m by the end of March or God will 'call me home')
All of this and more came to light in just two years and yet no charges were ever brought against most of them because of the imbecilic way our laws are written to shelter church organizations from minor irritations like paying taxes. Jim Bakker was a little more brazen than most. In 1989 he was sentenced to 45 years in prison under federal charges that the funding for his Heritage USA theme park and resort had been acquired by defrauding their viewers and donors. The sentence was later reduced to eight years, and he was released in 1994.
Why they establish churches and don't just take to YouTube and spare themselves the overhead [ad lib] (lends more credibility, establishes a functional “ministry” with significant numbers of adherents, and what performer doesn't like the idea of his or her own stage?)
In real money terms, televangelism is a bottomless pit and it's one of the most magnificent grifts there is because, at the end of the day, the merch is secondary. They are selling a concept with no product. Sales of merch are contingent on the buyer already being on board with the concept(s) the televangelists are selling. Things like:
“Name it and claim it:”
Faith giving (planting seeds)
Their own self-worth (Joel Osteen has MASTERED this concept to the point of weaponization)
In other words, they're all members of the beloved “word faith” aka “prosperity gospel” movement and, like everyone in this Christian Mafia, the key players in our discussion this time are the only ones prospering.
Kinda reminds me of MLM. These are the things we're going to train your brain to want. Then we are going to convince you that we have the most direct roadmap to those things in your life, then we are going to get you to open your wallets. Buy these books, CDs and DVDs (and yes, MANY televangelists still use antiquated media like this because a physical product will ALWAYS have a value added advantage) and when you start using these support materials they will help you get closer to your goals.
Lifestyles of the Corrupt and Shameless
I don't know about you, but I have to muster up the courage to ask a stranger at the breakfast counter to pass me the salt. I have never approached a stranger and asked for money. It would be too uncomfortable. But these people? Shame is not an emotion they seem to feel and they seem hopelessly devoid of conscience t'boot. Let's look at what some of them have managed to accomplish by doing little more than putting on a good show and making aggressive calls to action to give – with or without the promise of any tangible reward.
And if it isn't bad enough that so many of these idiots have airplanes, let's talk about Kenneth Copeland. This MF has his own fucking AIRPORT. I mean, he needs one. He has TWO private jets: a $20M Citation 10 and a Gulf Stream 5. Of course, the Gulf Stream is a hand-me-down. Tyler Perry apparently got tired of it. And apparently Steamboat Springs, CO is a vast mission field. Lots of ministry work to be done there considering that Copeland has flown there from Forth Worth (again!) a documented 143 times since 2000. What's really in Steamboat Springs? Copeland's favorite ski resort. I wonder how much ministry work he does while he's there...
“Tubes full of demons”
Many of my comments going forward are from various pages on a site called inplainsite.org and since I already mentioned him, let's keep talking about Kenneth Copeland for a few.
Source: http://www.inplainsite.org/html/evangelist_lifestyles_1.html – keep in mind as we go that this is a THEIST source. Even other evangelicals can't get behind this mongrelization of their faith.
According to beliefnet.com Kenneth Copeland is the wealthiest pastor in America. His net worth at the time of the writing of this article was $760 million. The article was written in 2018 so that number might actually be higher or, at least, holding steady. His ministry operates out of a 1,500-acre campus near Fort Worth, TX. This is the site of the private airstrip, and a hangar I just mentioned.
In 2007 REPUBLICAN senator Chuck Grassley opened an investigation targeting six megachurch/televangelist ministries but very little came of it because, well, tax laws and other laws governing finance don't pinpoint any of these people's MO as being in any way, shape, or form illegal. It sucks, but I feel like I could've told him that and saved the American public the expense of the investigation. I also have my suspicions about why a republican would launch this kind of investigation...
These ministers were the foundation of the investigation. Let's call them the Grassley Six (and he had loads more to choose from)
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
Creflo and Taffi Dollar
Randy and Paula White
Bishop Eddie Long
Benny Hinn (who was no stranger to financial probes by then)
In the end, none of them were charged with anything. The senate finance committee put it this way: “[The] lack of governmental, independent or denominational oversight is troubling when considering that churches can reach the size of large taxable corporations, control numerous taxable and non-taxable subsidiaries, and bestow Wall Street-size benefits on their ministers".
And like I said so many episodes back, if you think this is wrong, tell your state representatives to start taking steps to change it and vote for candidates who are more likely to at least try. At the moment, those are our options.
Of the six ministries probed, only two chose to cooperate with the investigation – Joyce Meyer's ministry and Benny Hinn's. The others showed considerable resistance which only forced investigators to do their own digging, which they did. We won't go into every story here tonight but I do want to cast a light on two of them and another protege who learned his grift from the best of them. I'm talking specifically about Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and Jesse Duplantis. Let's start with him since he's the odd man out on the list.
Jesse Duplantis – Like a lot of televangelists, this guy's lifestyle is off the charts. He brags about having chandeliers that cost more than most people's houses. And he's one of more than a handful that have VERY expensive private jets. The one Duplantis owns cost his $54M.
“The world is my congregation,” he said. “I need the plane.”
...to fly home. Evidently. And 16 trips to his favorite mission field: Hawaii, all this according to a piece on Inside Edition a few years ago.
Oh how they LOVE that line. Duplantis has used it, Creflo Dollar has used it, Kenneth Copeland...
So I guess that means he's only using it for ministry work, right? Well...
Let's talk about a flight from Fort Worth, TX to New Orleans. About an hour. Total cost for that one flight: about $14k. A commercial one-way flight on the same day? Under $200. Which seems like a better use of “God's money” to you?
When asked by a reporter from Inside Edition why he needs a $54M airplane, two of his thugs PHYSICALLY dragged her away from his table at a book signing event. These people have no shame and they seriously think that it's ok to manhandle women like that. I would have LOVED to see how a male reporter would've been handled.
We'll get around to talking about some of the other subjects of that investigation in a few, but Kenneth fucking Copeland, man...
“In 2016, Copeland and fellow televangelist Jesse Duplantis defended their use of private planes on Copeland's TV show 'Believer's Voice of Victory saying that flying on commercial airlines was getting in 'a long tube with a bunch of demons'. (so that whole business is already five years old).
In January of (2018) The Kansas City Star reported that Kenneth Copeland Ministries paid cash for a Gulfstream V private jet that they bought from actor and filmmaker Tyler Perry. This private jet that seats 14 is reputed to be one of the highest performance private jets in the world owned by celebrities including Jim Carrey, John Travolta. Billionaire Mark Cuban is said to have bought one in 1999.
According to one church member this is the plane the Lord "set aside for the ministry.” Although the price was not disclosed, at the time of writing no Gulfstream V is priced at close to $5.9 million on AV Buyer.” [ibid]
He even said that he got the plane at so low a price, “I couldn't help but buy it!” I think a majority of your donors could. And I think some of them sent you their mortgage payments so you would have the luxury of making such a “tough decision.”
Another one who made news by making the “tough decision” to panhandle to his congregation to buy him a plane was a lovely specimen of humanity called Creflo Dollar. I did some digging and that IS his birth name. The grifter's life was his calling from birth. He considers Kenneth Copeland one of his key mentors and friends. So basically he learned from the best. He learned how to get deep into people's pockets even to the point of convincing people to... you guessed it – buy him an airplane. In 2015 he successfully convinced his followers to donate funds in excess of $65M to purchase a Gulfstream G650 twin-engine jet. He also framed it as a necessity.
“A long-range, high-speed, intercontinental jet aircraft is a tool that is necessary in order to fulfill the mission of the ministry.”
Compare that with Copeland's claim that “I couldn't do 65 percent of what I do with out [my planes]” and Jesse Duplantis' statement that “The world is my congregation...” so a way to travel the world is necessary... even if your world is small enough to include just Texas and Hawaii.
Such similar explanations and yet no one wants to come up with a more compelling argument for flying commercial than that commercial planes are tubes full of demons. No, they're just full of regular people that you don't want to show your faces in front of because you just might get your ass handed to you verbally when you're someone's captive audience for two, three, five hours or more. These people know who they are and they know it's a far better plan to ONLY put themselves in front of people who agree with and admire them and if that's not you, be prepared to be physically carried out of their presence.
These three guys – Kenneth Copeland, Jesse Duplantis, and Creflo Dollar all used the same grift to acquire airplanes via private donations. And there's a reason for that. Copeland is friends with both of them and there is literally no one better at this particular grift in the United States than him. I hate even giving this piece of shit a back-handed compliment but there you have it. He's the smartest and most savvy when it comes to his target market and he has proven his ability to duplicate his own successes in others more than once.
I think it's a shame that this is how he chooses to do it because... imagine a world with a moral, philanthropic Kenneth Copeland – a version of himself that offered legit marketing and financial advice that got these kinds of results and helped change people's lives for the better, instead of coming up with compelling ways to get people to hand over their mortgage payments and grocery money with no guarantee or even hope of return on investment.
But back to Creflo Dollar for a minute...
“The ministry's income is unavailable, but newspaper accounts say the ministry paid $18 million in cash for his new 8,000-seat World Changers Church International on the southern edge of Atlanta. He flies to speaking engagements across the nation and Europe in a $5 million private jet and drives a black Rolls-Royce. Dollar's ministry became a focus of a court case involving boxer Evander Holyfield in 1999. The lawyer for Holyfield's ex-wife estimated that the fighter gave Dollar's ministry $7 million. Dollar refused to testify in the case. Additionally, in 2005 the couple bought a home in Manhattan for $2.5 million that they sold about 6 years later for $3.75 million.”
Dollar was the least cooperative of the six ministers targeted in the investigation. This forced the committee to “piece together a puzzle about his finances through public documents, third parties and news reports.". The probe revealed that in 2006, World Changers ministries (Creflo's ministry) had received an estimated $69 million in contributions at its Atlanta church alone. That's just tithes and offerings. They found that the Dollars also owned two multimillion-dollar homes in Georgia, and that the the ministry entities had owned four aircraft that were utilized primarily for personal use.
Now, I do want to give dishonorable mention to a few others. We'll leave Joyce Meyer and Paula White alone for this round, not because they're women, but just because they're the least successful and least worrisome. They don't have the same magnetism and largely come across as garden-variety batshit and unworthy of the attention they get.
...that and we've given Paula White's angels from Africa enough airtime already. Honorable mention to her South American angelic peeps, tho. South America represent!
Benny Hinn has gone so many rounds with investigators, I'll leave it to Google to provide the fine details but he's one of the more diabolical of the group. Remember how I referenced the Christian Mafia? It's not an exaggeration. Here's just a sample of some of Hinn's remarks over the years:
“Sometimes I wish God would give me a Holy Ghost machine gun. I'd blow your head off!”
“If you attack me, your children will pay for it!”
Very loving. Very Christlike. Very pastoral, Toufik Benedictus Hinn. That's his real name. Sounds a lot like “two faced” if you ask me.
I want to round things out by talking about one more shyster preacher and one of the worst organizations I've ever had personal dealings with.
First, let's talk a bit about another glowing example of the putrescence of televangelism: Robert Tilton.
Let's just be clear: this guy is not, nor has he ever been a Christian. There is well-documented evidence (including video evidence of him lampooning faith healers) that this guy is nothing more than a charlatan with a good business plan. And he has had decades and decades of success by just repeating the same shell games and parlor tricks over and over and over and over again.
John Oliver did a wonderful exposé of Tilton on his show Last Week Tonight that is readily available on YouTube so, again, not going to spend a lot of time on this guy but John Oliver does an impeccable job of breaking down what Tilton does and it goes way beyond the common grift. He has learned how to use tangibles to bolster people's confidence in him. He sends tons of useless trinkets, fake religious artifacts, talismans, even small amounts of money (that's right – he sends things like nickels and sometimes dollar bills that he expects to get back with tons of interest) to keep people in the game.
But at the end of the day, he's a complete fake and I could do a fucking SERIES on him and the shit he's pulled over the years if I had the notion to give him that much of a spotlight, but I don't (at least not now) so let's move on.
Lastly I want to talk about an organization called TBN and its founders Paul and Jan Crouch. While it's not in my nature to revel in anyone's death, I'm nonetheless pleased to report that both of these yay-hoos have taken leave of our universe at least in a conscious, active, and potentially influential way. Paul died in 2013 and Jan died about three years after.
I bring them up because this organization was, and is, a TV network dedicated to word faith grifters and has been providing them a platform for decades. They started out in 1973 and by the mid 1980s they were saturating an international market with word-faith bullshit.
From the Wikipedia entry:
“TBN owns and operates six broadcast networks, each reaching separate demographics. In addition to the main TBN network, TBN owns Hillsong Channel, Smile, Enlace, TBN Salsa and Positiv. It also owns several other religious networks outside the United States, including international versions of its five U.S. networks. Matt Crouch is currently TBN's president and head of operations.”
They did downsize in 2017 when they sold their largest broadcasting facility, Trinity Christian City in Costa Mesa, CA but they are still out there and still wreaking havoc in a way that I'm sure is keeping Paul Crouch's rotting, dead corpse chuckling with delight from six feet under.
Unless he was cremated.. I don't know and I don't care. It's a caustic visual and I like it.
[My TBN Story]
But TBN was also really good at getting and maintaining donors. They actually offered a tangible return on your donation, usually in the form of cheap trinkets that they would sand you in exchange for your “love gift” in any amount. At least that's what they claimed. I know my grandmother got every useless piece of shit they had to offer from the mid-late 80s forward and some of it was embarrassingly gaudy. [ad lib]
To close things out I just want to put a cap on a few of the comments we've made.
First, keep in mind that televangelists fail to identify well with evangelicalism. Most evangelicals will steer clear of many of them, but plenty of the smaller players still manage to book speaking engagements and crusades at local churches and, yes, tent meetings and local church crusades are still a thing for word-faithers who can't afford to build mega churches.
These people are marketers who have learned precisely how to target the average pew sitter. They offer things that the local pastor won't in terms of promises of prosperity, healing, etc. based solely on “faith giving.” You get some of that shit on an average Sunday but it isn't inflated to the embarrassing caricature of evangelical doctrine that you see coming from televangelists and their messaging.
Next, these people care nothing for the people they fleece. They unabashedly beg for money and guilt people who are already not getting by to plunge themselves deeper into debt so they can take private planes to the same ski lodge 143 times.
We will never know how much some of these people are worth because the government has concluded on more than one occasion that it's none of our (or their) business based on current tax laws – laws that change every single year but somehow leave the laws that allow these dirtbags to do what they do firmly in place and without contest. If our government is still one of the people, by the people, and for the people, then it's the people who need to change that.
And I'm sitting here thinking, “dude, no Joel Osteen?” Well... his messaging is a lot more secular. At least as secular as evangelical pseudo-doctrine can be. His message is broader and more inclusive than most. He doesn't present the rhetoric the same way as most. His approach to televangelism is unique. It is also more dangerous than the average because of how it hijacks things like psychology and self-help to get even deeper into people's pockets. Osteen targets a slightly higher-earning, more intelligent segment than most and I think what he does deserves more of a light shined on it so... tune in next week. We're going to talk about Joel and how and why he does the things he does. Once you know how the illusion works, you can't be hoodwinked so come back to hear more on him next week.
So with that to look forward to, just one final thought. Actually, it's a two-parter. First, like I say about anything else, if you ever gave to thee people, don't feel guilty. These people can be very charming, they speak with a lot of authority, and they have what they have because they're good at their grift. You know better now and they've lost whatever you were sending them and every penny that stays out of the organization is one that takes them a step further away from that new jet.
Secondly, if you have ever been hypnotized by the siren song of a televangelist (or televangelists), you're in good company. These people weaponize psychology to get deeper into your pockets and their methods work for numerous reasons. This is why we need to change the structure of the law as it pertains to church organizations so that if separation is what they want, they can have it but they cannot keep luring the general public into their grift.
There never was, nor is there now any constitutional reason not to tax churches. Our government is responsible for these people's successes and their ability to hide behind a banner of faith. We all need to be active in politics and start getting loud about our desire to hold televangelists accountable for the damage they do. It starts in the voting booth and extends to more proactive steps like staying in contact with elected officials about laws that allow the grift to continue.
Lastly, we must continue to talk about these people and damage they do. Attract attention to it. Do what we can to let people know who they're really supporting and why. It may not seem like much, but the right information in the right hands can, and will, lead to a few people deciding not to send Kenneth Copeland their mortgage payment and that decision could be their first step toward getting and staying unbound.
Guess who's back in CBB News today? It's our favorite charlatan prophetess, Kat Kerr!
As it turns out, she doesn't just make up shit about heaven to entertain and amuse...she also likes to “take authority” over hurricanes! You can imagine her track record, but you don't have to...because the Friendly Atheist has done the work for you!
(quotes from Friendly Atheist about the various hurricanes she didn't weaken)
And with hurricane Ida, she said that she and her “weather warriors” were going to take care of this and claim that there would be no tolerating any destruction or death.
How'd that go?
Well when she said this, it was a category one storm. It finished as a Category 4 storm, caused power outages for half a million people and at least one death.
Maybe she should...just leave the weather well enough alone.
Christian evangelist Mario Murillo has spent the last two years or so downplaying the effects of COVID so as you can guess, the Hammer of Narrative Causality slapped him with a case of COVID last month. He even had to go to the hospital.
But apparently, once he went to the hospital, the COVID just...went away! Amazing!
And he attributes it all....to his prayers. Not the doctors, not the medicine. Just...prayers.
So I'm confused. If 'only prayers' cured your illness, why did you need to stay for three days, after which you said the symptoms are gone? Did they give you nothing for it? No care, no medicine, no therapy of any sort?
Or maybe that's just the story he wants his congregation to know. After all...healing rakes in the dough.