By Mark Snider
“The minister of the Gospel is really the yardstick by which the nation measures its morals.”
In other words, to understand the the morals and character of the nation one can look at the condition and performance of the pastors and church ministry. If they are doing well then the nations morals are in good shape. If these ministers have joined the ranks of the “world”, then the nations morals are doing poorly indeed since these people are paid to behave and do good and help people avoid “sin”.
However,there is an alarming rate of incidences where pastors and ministers of various denominations have abused their privilege and power for their own financial gain or to satisfy their own agenda or addictions and twisted sexual desires.
Take for example, the author of the above quote, Jimmy Swaggart. Swaggart was having sex with a prostitute, Debra Murphree in 1988. He denied the allegations, then later admitted to them and repented. In 1991 police found Swaggart with another prostitute, Rosemary Garcia. In 2004 Swaggart threatened to kill homosexuals, “I’ve never seen a man in my life I wanted to marry… if one ever looks at me like that, I’m going to kill him and tell God he died.” Jimmy Swaggart’s ethics included repeated relationships with prostitutes, death threats, he lied to his followers and even stated his intentions of lying to God.
Is Swaggart’s behavior an isolated event or is there a trend that is occurring in our pastors and ministers? Perhaps we should take a look at some more facts.
Oral Roberts has been accused of payola, and of faking miracles and healings. According to Carroll Stegall, a Presbyterian Pastor, Roberts paid three phony doctors to testify that his healings were real. Jerry Sholes, a former employee, charges Roberts with deception and hypocrisy. Roberts has an extravagant lifestyle that rivals those of the rich and famous. In 1987 he told his followers he had seen Jesus and was told that if he didn’t raise 8 million dollars in one year he would die. The “O Timothy” magazine says this about Roberts, “It is obvious that Roberts is a deceiver and a false prophet. He prophecies have been proven wrong time and again. Sadly, he has deceived multitudes with his lying words… and has robbed God’s people of hundreds of millions of dollars…”
In another scandal, Jim Bakker with the “Praise The Lord” ministries admitted to having sex with the church secretary, Jessica Hahn. He was dismissed by the Assemblies of God for “conduct unbecoming to a minister”. In 1989 Bakker was convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy for bilking believers of 3.7 million dollars that he put to his own personal use. Some charges originated from misappropriation of money from a Christian resort called the Heritage Village. Bakker was guilty of immoral sexual behavior, fraud, conspiracy, lying, and misappropriation of money that was given to his trust by his followers.
Swaggart, Roberts and Bakker are unfortunately just the tip of the iceberg.
Another church leader, Kent Hovind of Creation Science Evangelism Ministry was convicted of 58 counts of tax related offenses. In addition, his organization sold millions of dollars worth of Christian merchandise but was unlicensed to do so. His ministry wasn’t even registered as a non-profit but continued to do business as if it were. Hovind has been charged with other offenses such as assault and battery, falsely claiming bankruptcy, threatening law enforcement officers, filing false complaints, failing to get building permits and tax evasion. His ministry is accused of teaching misleading and deceptive information in their representation of geological history and using false or flawed science.
Or take Larry Davis, pastor of First Baptist Church, who pled guilty of charges stemming from misappropriation of church funds that he used for his own enrichment and for racetrack gambling. Because he lied about his illegal activities his devout supporters ousted those who questioned his character and the church split. Sadly, the elders who reported his fraud were suspended. Davis was later convicted of falsifying loan applications, tax evasion and misappropriation of church funds.
Douglas Goodman’s extravagant lifestyle rivaled the wealthiest businessmen. He was convicted of misconduct and mismanagement of church funds. When allegations from dozens of women about sexual misconduct and rape occurred, he denied the allegations. In retaliation, his loyal church supporters poured acid on the faces of his accusers.
You may remember Peter Popoff who faked miracle cures and healings and who made millions with his lies and deceptions? His wife used a hidden microphone to gain information from people prior to the service and then passed the information along to Peter who claimed he had heard from the Lord. Peter sold “miracle spring water” to his followers to cure illness and solve financial problems. He is accused of a fraudulent scheme to send money to Russia for which he had received kickbacks.
Televangelist, Ted Whittington was convicted of money laundering, mail fraud, conspiracy and interstate transportation of stolen property.
Ted Haggard has repeatedly used methamphetamine and admitted to having sex with a male prostitute named Mike Jones. At first, Haggard lied and tried to cover up his behavior while preaching at church against the gay lifestyle. However, on his off time he reveled in it.
According to Glenn Rupple and John Stussel of ABC News, Kenneth Copeland of Kenneth Copeland Ministries asked followers to cough up 20 million for a jet and promised that the plane “will never, ever be used as long as it is in our care, for anything other than what is becoming to you, Lord Jesus.” However, the jet, including the Copeland entourage, flew to Australia, then to Maui, then to Fiji and even took them to nearby Steamboat Springs Ski Resort. It also took them to a Texas exotic hunting ranch so Copeland could kill a few rare animals. I tried to find examples of this lifestyle in the life of Jesus and/or His followers but could not find an example in my Bible. Are these holidays for the Copeland’s “becoming” to Jesus? Unfortunately, this circus of deceit and poor moral fiber has become our model to the world of Christianity.
Rusty Leonard of Ministry Watch has tracked and published the transparency of many ministries such as Benny Hinn Ministries, Bible Broadcasting Network, John Hagee Ministries, Kenneth Copeland Ministries, TD Jakes Ministries and Trinity Broadcasting Network (Paul and Jan Crouch) and has rated them total failures in their financial transparency. This means, at best, they are not accountable for many millions of dollars with which they spend on the lavish lifestyles of their questionable leaders. Unfortunately, there is a long list of deceptive and/or questionable ministries. Ministry Watch has taken great care to be fair to these ministries and it is disheartening to know many so-called Christian organizations have purposefully chosen to practice unethical business practices and enriched themselves at the expense of their brothers and sisters in Christ.
Of course, we are not even listing the thousands of cases of pedophile and sexual predator cases against a multitude of priests and pastors of various Christian faiths. The fact is, even the small churches and ministries, the ones in which most of us attend, have severe and ominous problems with their morals and in the way they conduct their business and decision making policies.
Are the solutions to poor business ethics and personal immorality such as fraud, sexual misconduct and embezzlement to be found in our spiritual leaders or pastors or churches? Can the American public trust religious leaders? According to the activities just listed, I think not. It is like asking the Nazis to question Hitlers morality, it just doesn’t happen. There is no accountability and no supervision, far too many so called Christian leaders take advantage or their position and privledged lifestyle.
Business and politicians control and rule us by laws and standards they do not live up to. Unfortunately, our churches and religious organizations have adopted the same logic and systems of doing business and can offer no moral advice or solution unless they make drastic changes in the way these organizations are being managed. These hypocrites need to lead by example, not by what they preach.
The leaders of most businesses work to satisfy their cravings for power, money and influence and do so at any cost. The church unfortunately has chosen to imitate this image rather than rebel against it. If Swaggart’s quote, “The minister of the Gospel is really the yardstick by which the nation measures it’s morals” has any truth to it then we are in deep trouble.
It is my personal experience that the immoral and unethical practices of our church leaders are systemic. Furthermore, it is my contention that they have no right to preach to others regarding morality, ethics or personal conduct for they are part of a corrupt and immoral religious system bent on controlling and manipulating believers to “fill the pews” or for personal gain, power or other psychological needs.
In order to make this point, let’s look at some more facts regarding pastors. In April 2011, pastor Julio Perez was arrested for recruiting two men from his congregation and killed his wife. Pastor James Webb at the Antioch Baptist Church in Berkley was arrested for stealing $21,000 from his employer. Associate Pastor Stephen Berry of The New Life Baptist Church in Union SC was arrested for lewd acts on a child under 16. Pastor Jason Phillips at Covenant Community Fellowship was arrested for multiple sexual assaults on girls under 16. Pastor Owen Davis of Faith Lutheran Church was arrested for sexually assaulting a woman and video taping it. Pastor Tommy Pitts of Midway Assembly of God was arrested for molestation of 3 children. Pastor Thomas Kreiser was arrested for stealing $25,000 from Rockland County Roman Catholic Church. Pastor Royce Shorter of the Greater New Bethal Missionary Baptist was arrested for multiple rapes. Pastor Ricky Hawes of the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church turned himself in after stealing $127,000 from his church. The list is enormous.
These leaders are admitted “born again, spirit filled” followers of Jesus. They have the baptismal records to prove it, they have the authority of their title and the certificate from their school of divinity, they had the blessings of the church they serve and have many people supporting them as being anointed by God.
It is obvious that pastors and church leaders are no better ethically or morally than their followers, non-believers or believers of another faith. Most pastors judge, condemn and punish others for their shortcomings yet retain in secret their own. They bicker and put down other denominations of the same faith. Not one has taken the log out of their own eye, yet they tell others they are sinners and doomed to hell if they do not follow the advice they advocate. They are the worst of all hypocrites.
This is my personal experience, my former pastor, James Fillingame admonished me not to read letters of many other church members exposing his misdeeds and that one should not “take up the cause of another”. Later, when I told him the Worship Pastor, Tony Cena admitted stealing thousands of dollars from me, he said, “That was just business”. And when I divorced my wife after many miserable years and after admitting to sexual misconduct, he threatened me saying “If you leave your wife, I will use the whole weight of the Church against you”. And he did and began procedures to force me out. I was treated like a “heathen” and the elders and church members alike ignored, once more, his mean, unforgiving and hypocritical judgement.
One can reason that because of this mistreatment and the poor record already stated, I have a grudge against pastors and, due to this, am writing an unfavorable report about them. It may have been true a few years ago, but time heals and every religion asks us to forgive others. Hopefully, I have done so. Unfortunately, my former pastor nor the worship pastor has ever repented from what harm they have done. Neither one has gone trough a restoration process and are today more than likely still stealing and hurting other Christians and drawing shame to Christianity.
All of this has finally helped me see pastors as they really are. They are just men, like all others, no better and no worse. They have no powers, anointing or special status before God. They certainly are not “holy” anymore than “holy water” or “holy cows”. However, because of what they publicly advocate and their position of authority and leadership, they need to change. They are paid to be decent people and so far have failed miserably. Hence this essay and a call to repent.
I cannot count the number of religious people including leaders who when upon hearing of someones misfortune say they will pray for the situation or individual. However, few of them have actually reached out and offered to help with the problem.
Most religious people, including pastors, when hearing of the misfortune of others justify the persons troubles saying God must be punishing the person or it is Gods will that one loses his home or family for some greater good or some reward in the future or in heaven. An example is when hurricane Katrina destroyed much of New Orleans, many pastors preached that it was Gods vengeance due to the wickedness of the city.
Trite religious sayings, dogma, prayer and Bible quotes will not feed a hungry child nor fix a leaking roof. Unfortunately, just as in any religion or philosophy, it takes a human being to be the answer of prayer. Honestly, I would rather have two hands helping me than a thousand just praying for me.
Most Christians pastors have no oversight and no one to hold them accountable. They have turned to the dark side of both humanity and religion because no one is looking and no one has authority over them. There is nothing preventing them from imitating the world rather than Gods love and mercy, it is human nature turned against God and they don’t even know it. Most have a log in their eye the size of the Vatican.
Gandhi said the following: “I like your Christ. I do not like Christians. Your Christians are so unlike your Christ.” This is so obvious to all of humanity, yet completely ignored by Christian leaders and most lay people, it is a shame. They have turned Love into a religion and a way for personal gain instead of an example to imitate in their own life. Even the Catholic Church has stated that the Republican Party is anti-Christian in its treatment and attitude towards society.
The first step to help heal this situation is is recognize where it comes from. Most of it comes from the “far right” or “conservative” side for they do most of the preaching, judging and hating. Their leaders must start to imitate the founder of their faith in all they say, do and think. That is, to love others and treat others as they would like to be treated. When that occurs, Christianity will be validated as a moral or ethical religion, although many would say hell may freeze over first.
The second thing any pastor or church must do to get Christianity back on track is to hold each other accountable. For example, we as a society ask the Muslim community to kick the terrorists out. So why do we allow liars, cheats and unkind and ungodly people in church leadership? The reason is they know how to play church, they sound very religious and they organize and propagate religion and create a business out of it. They like the status quo and hold on to traditional precepts and expectations of what a church should be like which in turn allows them to get away with more and more misdeeds.
Those who do not mirror the love of Christ must be turned out of leadership until they learn to abide in love. Truly, the first will be last at the time of judgment. Those who tend towards division, hatred, superiority, unforgiveness, judgment, condemnation and other negative behavior or thinking is ungodly; for God, according to the Bible, is love. A true pastor and man of God cannot preach hate or take advantage of others and at the same time say he knows or loves God.
According to the Bible, there is only one “Bride of Christ”, one church, the true church. So why do we have man made denominations vying for members and fighting each others theology? Because of mans selfish nature for power, money and ego that justifies separation rather than unity. This should not be so.
Another thing pastors should do is teach and lead as Christ did, by example, by forgiving others and accepting others as Christ did, even those who denied Him or spat on Him at the Cross. They should be examples of the Good Samaritan and the woman at the well rather than agents of wrath, judgment and negativity. They do not yet know what is it to have a servants heart.
If Christian leaders and pastors repented of their self serving power trips and obvious hypocrisy, Gandhi and others would say, “I like your Christ. I like your Christians. They are so much like Him. Tell me, how can I become one.”