Senate inquiry targets televangelists

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By Rick Howell

For many, many years Americans who hold dear their religious beliefs have been subjected to various and sundry appeals from television evangelists. Usually, it?s for money, and - given the rise of the religious right - it?s lately been for political support for some cause or candidate.

It?s true that laws regarding the tax exempt status of churches prevent preachers from directly telling their subjects to vote for a certain candidate. But in recent years, ?Voter Guides,? produced by the Christian Coalition, have done the job just as effectively.

But political guidance, as wrong-headed as it may be, is not what has prompted a recent move by a Republican U.S. senator (yes, I said a Republican) to investigate six televangelists and their organizations.

?Alleged financial wrongdoing? is what was cited in a recent Associated Press story about the decision of Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), a member of the Senate Finance Committee, to launch a probe into ?expenses, executive compensation and amenities given to executives,? of television ministries, according to the AP.

One individual targeted is the Rev. Benny Hinn, who heads what he calls the ?World Healing Center Church, Inc.? Did you notice the ?Inc.?? I did. I?ve also seen Benny Hinn?s act on television, and I?ve long wondered why intelligent people would fall for it.

Hinn puts his hand on people?s foreheads and pushes them back violently, at which point they are supposed to be ?healed.? This reminds me of the old tactic used by the late Rev. Jim Jones of Jonestown infamy. He used to use beef liver that he claimed was cancer, which he?d toss out of victims he?d supposedly healed.

The Rev. Creflo Dollar (his real name!) swaggers around his stage promising people that God intended for them to be rich. Dollar is one of many so-called ?prosperity preachers,? evangelists who insist that following God means making tons of money.

The Rev. Kenneth Copeland is also one of the ministers cited by Sen. Grassley, although I?m not sure what the concern is with him. The point is, though, that television ministries have for a long time taken advantage of people for reasons that have nothing to do with genuine spiritual concerns.

Although not cited by Sen. Grassley, things seem to be closing in on Oral Roberts University and its leader, Richard Roberts, the son of the famous namesake of that school, troubled now by accusations of financial scams, and the riches made by the people who run that school, at the expense of the students and those who have donated to it.

It?s interesting, isn?t it, that in an era when so much moral damage is supposedly being done by liberals, it?s those who claim to be Christian that are getting themselves investigated by Congress? Television evangelists have for a very long time taken advantage of those who are shut in, especially elderly people who can?t make it out to church much any more, but can easily send in a check to people such as Benny Hinn.

Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker milked the faithful for dollars that mostly went to them. Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson have led ?ministries? that were so political they were barely distinguishable from the Republican Party.

Religion has largely to do with the emotional beliefs of those who profess it. But whatever the whys and wherefores as to what people believe, they should not be ripped off by charlatans. Let?s all hope that Sen. Grassley?s investigation puts an end to those who wrongly profit from people who just want to practice their beliefs.

Rick Howell, a Bedford native, lives in Roanoke, and can be reached by e-mail at NewCenHowell@aol.com.