You there, reader! Turn on your television immediately! Start flipping through the channels until you see a phone number at the bottom of the screen. Are they selling Hummel figurines? Keep flipping. Don’t stop until you come upon a well-dressed man with a mad gleam in his eyes who is surrounded by hundreds of rapturous followers. Do you see it now? Do you see the light?
Televangelists are an incredibly powerful, and uniquely American phenomenon. To become one, you need only three things: bad hair, great charisma, and a perfect smile. By some odd coincidence, those are also the requirements to become a game show host. Knowledge of religion is not actually required, because you can just pull out your bible and quote from it at random, or speak in tongues for a few minutes if things ever get awkward. You’ll soon have millions of viewers hanging upon your every unintelligible word.
When it comes to economic power, televangelism is right up there with the big corporations. The Trinity Broadcasting Network pulls in an estimated $190 million each year, which they use to spread Christianity to impoverished nations, fund amusement parks that have robotic versions of Adam and Eve standing alongside dinosaurs, and to prevent God from calling Oral Roberts home. All in all, a much better use for one’s life savings than paying off the home mortgage or sending little Suzy to college of her dreams.
It has been noted that the messages spoken by televangelists are often contradictory. The Reverend Gene Scott, for example, regularly interspersed his angry tirades about the moral downfall of America with ten-minute long video footage of himself lounging about his vast estate in a black Speedo while a well-endowed blonde girl in a bikini would roller-skate around him, occasionally stopping to jiggle for the camera. The phone number for the Ministry remained at the bottom of the screen while this occurred, of course, asking for donations.
A sizeable number of televangelists have ended their careers in scandal. Jim Baker was jailed for accounting fraud (which included, among other things, ill-gotten money for air-conditioned dog houses), Jimmy Swaggart was involved in a sordid sex scandal that led to a tearful confession to his TV viewers, and Ted Haggard received numerous “massages” from a male prostitute who sold him methamphetamines. The unifying theme for each of these cases appeared to be, “Do as we say, not as we do.”
No, hold on. Don’t do what they say, either.
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