14 August 2006

Megachurches: Shearing the Sheep

The Associated Press has the story:
Billions of dollars have been stolen in religion-related fraud in recent years, according to the North American Securities Administrators Association, a group of state officials who work to protect investors.

Between 1984 and 1989, about $450 million was stolen in religion-related scams, the association says. In its latest count — from 1998 to 2001 — the toll had risen to $2 billion. Rip-offs have only become more common since. ...

Lambert Vander Tuig, a member of Saddleback Church in Lake Forest, Calif., ran a real estate scam that bilked investors out of $50 million, the Securities and Exchange Commission says. His salesmen presented themselves as faithful Christians and distributed copies of The Purpose Driven Life, by Saddleback pastor Rick Warren, according to the SEC. Warren and his church had no knowledge of Vander Tuig's activities, says the SEC.
I have long been suspicious of megachurches like Saddleback, and this is a perfect example of the potential problems with such organizations.

Where the naive observer sees a big group of people who all love God and come together to serve Him, scammers see just another big group of suckers. When the Body grows beyond a small, closely knit group into a vast, unwieldy organization that, like Soylent Green, is MADE OF PEOPLE, it has the potential to become a great big sitting target that does little to glorfiy God and much to glorify the Organization itself.

More disturbing, perhaps, is the fact that conmen can have such wild success among those who self-identify as Christians. Imagine what $2 billion could do for the poor in the Third World, or even in New Orleans's Ninth Ward. Imagine what it could do to spread Christ's message of love in the U.S. Heck, imagine how many little communion cups of grape juice it could buy.

So why are these "Christian" businesspeople sinking money into get-rich-quick schemes? How does the pursuit of mammon suddenly trump God's commands for how Christians ought to use their resources?

The scammers use a pretty impressive line with megachurch members. They depend on the "prosperity theology" of people like Benny Hinn and Robert Tilton, along with their gross misreadings of the Bible, to justify this pursuit of money. "Claiming" verses like "Seek first the kingdom of God and all these [material] things shall be added unto you," the predators set up an imaginary world where God's will for His followers is that they be rich, have an olympic-sized pool, drive a Mercedes. And the key to this dreamworld is investing in a real-estate deal, a Ponzi scheme, a promising "Christian" business.

Once again, as with the misguided political machniations of the Religious Right, this is a case of Christians losing sight of the Biblical imperative that Christ's kingdom is not to be of this world. They forget that this world is not the true home of those who place their faith in Christ; our hope lies beyond, and all the material goods we accumulate here will go through the fire and come out on the other side as ashes.

Only through genuine sacrifice and a willingness to surrender all to the God who saved them can Christians experience true success. And that has nothing to do with getting rich in this life.


LQ said...

I grew up very near Saddleback Church; in fact, during the last two summers I spent in California we lived a stone's throw from the SC complex. I got used to seeing SC license plate frames attached to expensive cars. Traffic near our house was wretched for some time because the church was having a (none-too-cheap) bridge built for more convenient access to the complex. As a result, I'm not particularly surprised by this article.

Of course, I'm biased. Megachurches make me nervous for one thing (made of people, indeed!), and for another, since I wasn't raised Christian I often found myself on the receiving end of my (nominally) Christian peers' disdain. I'm sure there are plenty of SC members who practice their faith, but unfortunately, they don't tend to be the ones drawing attention to themselves...

Unknown said...

well written sir :)

Anonymous said...

Sad but true. Keep on reminding us what it's all about, buddy. Always good to hear. Especially since I recently moved to Ecumenical City.

luaphacim said...

You know, Dallas, of course, doesn't hold with any of that worldly ecumenicalism. But I'm sure you'll have FUN in CHICAGO. :-)

Anonymous said...

Hehe... yeah. WHEATON! PARTAY! They don't allow alcohol on campus... or off campus. And no dancing. But I'm sure I'll have more fun than at one of those SERIOUS seminaries!