This is a book review is of “The Gospel of self: How Jesus Joined the GOP.” It was written by an evangelical Christian for evangelical Christians to show them how he, as the senior producer of Pat Robertson’s “The 700 Club” duped them out of their morals and money.
Pat Robertson played a key role in shifting the GOP to the far right. He established the Christian Broadcasting Network (CBN) in 1960, eight years before Rush Limbaugh’s national radio show, and 16 years before Fox “News”. Pat Robertson is in many ways to blame for Trumpism today.
Though our problems with authoritarianism, conspiracy theories, and magical thinking go all the way back to the settlers who first came to America. Read all about it in Kurt Andersen’s book “Fantasyland. How America Went Haywire. A 500-Year History” (9-part reviews here: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 )
Today over 20% of Americans are evangelist / fundamentalist Christians, and 80% of them voted for Trump. Their crazy beliefs in a literal bible make it easy for them to believe fake news and outrageous conspiracy theories. They believed there were millions of Satanic cult baby killers and rapists and succeeded in jailing 200 of them over 10 years in the biggest Witch Hunt since Salem. They never apologized for this, and today, QAnon is following in their same path.
Author Heaton feels responsible for his role in shifting fundamentalist religion in an extremely selfish and right-wing direction. So successful that followers appear to be permanently brain-washed. It’s not clear how they could ever become less extreme.
But he hopes to change evangelical minds with this book, “because Christians are the only ones who can make this right. The angry mob of the early 21st century won’t listen to anybody else—certainly not outsiders—for they’ve been taught that everybody else is in it for unrighteous reasons. This is the sad state in which we find ourselves today.” Yet later in the book, Heaton admits this is unlikely: “The church desperately needs a season of self-examination and the courage to stand up and say, “Enough!” The hope for this is virtually nil, however.”
Heaton goes on to say that “The degree to which fundamentalist Christianity dominates people of lesser intelligence and education is one of the most under-reported cultural shifts of modern times. Consequently, these people tend to come off as clumsy, radical, and dangerous, and their actions often defy even an ounce of reason. Their faith seems able to override sense as poor Southerners vote with the Republican Party, which has little or no regard for their status whatsoever. Religion, as a result, can influence people to vote against their own best interests in the name of social issues that aren’t really under the authority of the church in the first place. Such contrarian decision-making is found in those who can’t or don’t really take the time to study or learn to think for themselves, and it’s truly as breathtaking as it is heartbreaking. Pat says some remarkably insensitive and indefensible things today on The 700 Club, and …his current followers have likely become even more narrow and insensitive as a result.”
In the conclusion, he muses: “Over years of introspection, I gave a great deal of thought to what we had done in those years in the 1980s. We had actually redefined what it meant to be a conservative Republican. We altered the balance of power in the GOP by bringing in millions of Christians who were able to look completely past the reality that Republicans represented the wealthy first. This was an amazing accomplishment, but one that has left our culture in a really bad situation, for fundamentalist Christians were a key element of Donald Trump’s election.”
Below are excerpts and paraphrased material from the book. There are many other posts about authoritarianism, the right-wing and so on in this category, which I see as playing a role in a faster collapse during the energy crisis: http://energyskeptic.com/category/fastcrash/politics/
Alice Friedemann www.energyskeptic.com author of “When Trucks Stop Running: Energy and the Future of Transportation”, 2015, Springer and “Crunch! Whole Grain Artisan Chips and Crackers”. Podcasts: Derrick Jensen, Practical Prepping, KunstlerCast 253, KunstlerCast278, Peak Prosperity , XX2 report ]
Terry Heaton. 2017. The Gospel of self. How Jesus Joined the GOP.
John Kenneth Galbraith : “The modern conservative is engaged in one of man’s oldest exercises in moral philosophy; that is, the search for a superior moral justification for selfishness.”
Thomas Paine: “To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead. “
Selfishness and self-centeredness are the most dangerous epidemic facing Western Civilization today. And what is extreme selfishness but intolerance itself?
Selfishness breeds intolerance, especially in religion and politics. Why should I have to tolerate you if I’m right? My religion, my political party, my opinion is what’s right and best, so everybody just get out of the way. The mind of an ideologue like Pat Robertson is totalitarian, and nothing gives purity to such deception like the zeal of religion, especially if the perception of absolute authority governs that religion. It’s not really my opinion then; I’m speaking for God!
Evangelical Christianity has refined the message over the years and turned it today into the means for blessings in this life as well. What was once a powerful motivator for overall good behavior in the community has become a motivator for obtaining a better position in life, and it has profoundly altered everything in our society, especially politics.
The evangelist’s message has always been self-centered, for it preaches the gospel as a means to saving one’s own ass from eternal hellfire and damnation in the afterlife.
Pat’s acclaimed manual for living, The Secret Kingdom, is a diagram for using the Bible to justify a lifestyle that is built around self, self-gain, and self-betterment based on these selfish beliefs — a self-help book disguised as theology. Every “law” proclaimed is designed to help individual people, families, and communities get ahead in the realm of human competition. You can make yourself healthier, wealthier, safer, happier, and more dominant in the culture simply by living within these “laws of the Kingdom.” It’s further evidence that we were really teaching a very insidious form of selfishness, the gospel of self.”
Heaton laments bringing the Republican selfish Jesus about at Pat Robertson’s show The 700 Club. “We altered the course of political power in the United States. Taking positions on social issues such as the sanctity of life, religious liberties, patriotism, family, school prayer, and respect for individualism and tradition, we spoke to primarily rural and suburban Christians on behalf of the Republican Party.
Even if one can make the case that the heart of Jesus might be closer to the Democrats, that’s not how it’s being played out today. Instead, a deeper examination reveals that the gospel being most preached today is a form of self-centeredness: the gospel of self.
This form of Christianity blends in well with the Republican Party because both are formed around a circle with self at the center.
Pat saw our task as one of building faith even if we had to stretch the truth. Hence, our mandate was to show that God was busy doing miracles today just as He had in the days of Jesus. We were trying to stir the faith of individuals everywhere, so that they could claim results for themselves. This is a direct appeal of the gospel of self, especially for people in need for themselves, their families, their friends, their communities, etc.
How Pat Robertson and the Christian Broadcasting Network pushed the GOP to the far right
We presented as Biblical mandates or “laws” economic views that catered to the haves of culture, teaching that being one of the haves was available for everybody.
Our arguments and teachings helped move the GOP to the right on the political spectrum and created a following that continues to baffle even the smartest political analysts in the country who are confounded by how such people would act against their own best interests in giving power to Republicans.
I was a willing participant in his social engineering, because I agreed with him that the world was going to hell, and I was proud to be at his side in trying to change that.
We created—or at played a major role in the creation of—the extreme Christian element that has dragged the Republican Party today to the edge of fascism. There is no zeal quite like that of religious zeal, for it comes with blinders to alternative views of reality. When this zeal is aimed at pleasing God Himself, it’s impossible to negotiate or reason with it or its consequences.
The stakes are simply too high for us and for our progeny to ignore the facts of what we did and mostly how we did it. Fast-forward 30 years, and America is now a bitterly divided nation. It is as though a new civil war has emerged led by polar opposites on the political spectrum.
Pat Robertson, a master manipulator, showman, and salesman has seized power in Washington by exploiting fear, repeating themes that resonate with certain Americans, and promising simple solutions to complex problems facing the country.
This is why evangelicals (and fundamentalists and Pentecostals and charismatics) voted for Trump.
Intellectuals, media, and political observers are still puzzled by how Donald Trump was elected President and are positing theory upon theory as to why his followers heeded his call. The reality is that they were never heeding his call; he heeded and responded to their call. Donald Trump is skilled at deciphering the voice of those who feel disenfranchised by the culture and where it’s heading. As a salesman, Mr. Trump sensed an entry point into the minds of his sales targets, initiating his innate ability, which then enabled him to articulate a product that sold. All he had to do was to paint a black and white, dystopian view of America and offer himself as the solution. This is not original thinking, for all he was doing was repeating the things discussed in the back rooms of white evangelicals, and we at CBN were the ones who planted many of those thoughts. These people are many of the same ones we organized and nurtured 30 years ago with The 700 Club, and I feel responsible, at least in part.
Evangelicals are now so connected and important to the Republican Party that those wishing political office within the GOP, including Donald Trump, must cater to their every wish. It makes it very difficult to judge the character of Republican candidates outside the circle of faith. What had started as an attempt to arm Christians with the tools of government has turned into a celebration of fools who seem to believe that their religious convictions qualify as a trait of good character and that these convictions make amends for intellectual deficiencies. This is what happens when religion and politics cross paths, especially with Evangelical Christians, where faith bridges any gap in logic and reasoning.
I helmed every part of what we put on TV, the result of which was a very deliberate and profound turning of the Republican Party to the right.
We knew exactly what we were doing. Armed with research at every step, we presented a form of Christianity that included getting involved in politics at every level. [It was clear to us that] God wanted us to wrest control away from those who were destroying the Christian foundation of the country.
Everything we presented was done with a sense of urgency due to what we felt was the pending return of Jesus Christ as prophesied in the Book of Revelation. Israel was the key to our understanding, for certain Christian teachings state that Jesus won’t return until God has given Jerusalem back to Israel, which had begun in 1948 when Zionists—through an executive order from the United Nations following World War II and the subsequent “war” against Arabs who disagreed—began to seize land, water, and structures from Arabs who had lived in the Holy Land for millennia. Now that Jerusalem was back on a map labeled “Israel,” we taught that the return of Jesus was imminent, and that meant we had to prepare. This gave us license to say and do whatever we felt was necessary in establishing God’s kingdom on earth.
This belief was furthered by the words of many others and in books like 1970’s The Late Great Planet Earth and later in the Left Behind series of novels, which reference the re-establishment of Israel. We taught a literal interpretation of Jesus’ proclamation that, in the end, He will remember those who support Israel and cast aside those who do not.
We certainly weren’t alone in this task. Billy Graham had been telling the story of salvation for decades and was the friend of presidents from Harry Truman to Barack Obama. Jerry Falwell and his Moral Majority grassroots political movement was certainly also vocal. However, CBN had at least two unique aspects to the ministry that would put us at the forefront of change. One was Pat Robertson, his pedigree, his knowledge, and his insightful and brilliant political mind. Two, we fronted for Charismatic Christianity, which was a key part of the revival of the late 1970s and early 1980s. This gave us advantages over other Christian leaders and ministries and made our work singular in shifting Republican Party emphasis to the right.
If the Jews of Israel were our friends, then the Muslims of the Arab world had to be the enemy, for there were no shades of grey in the worldview we presented.
At the 700 Club, we transformed everything into a doable action plan for people who were angry over the direction in which the country was headed. We were heroes swooping in to rescue America from the influences of the devil. And we were quite serious.
It would be foolish and naïve, however, to portray this fully as a religious movement, for to do so would dismiss very similar strategies and tactics we saw during the candidacy of Donald Trump. We were the ones, after all, who led the movement of politics to the right, the result of which we have with us today. Christian or otherwise, the Republican Party is now so far to the right that it’s beginning to resemble historical fascism.
Mr. Trump bragged that he was the only candidate telling “the truth” about Muslim immigrants.
Pat Robertson went on the air the day after the Orlando massacre of 49 people at a gay nightclub, and condemned both the killer and the gay victims, saying that Christians should just wait on the sidelines and let the homosexuals and the Muslims kill each other.
Pat Robertson, and now Donald Trump, address the same people, those who practice a form of Christianity so foreign to orthodoxy that it truly boggles the intelligence. We stood high atop our satellite-based pedestal in the 1980s and shouted down to a citizenry whose minds were fertile for a different perspective. We fed them. We nurtured them. How we did it and got away with it holds a key to unraveling the frustrating reality we have before us today.
CBN was a ministry. It paid no taxes as a media company, and the tax exemption was worth far more than any for-profit business model.
Here’s what motivates people to give to CBN, and in this order: It helps me. It helps my family. It helps my community. It helps my nation. I’m fulfilling the great commission, spreading the gospel to the world. It’s my duty. I’ll get blessed if I do. I’m helping others who are poorer than me. Helping the poor is at the bottom of the list.
We knew what percentage of 700 Club Members—at 15 dollars a month—would covert to 1000 Club Members—at 83 dollars a month—and we knew, on average, how long that conversion would take. We had the same data in terms of converting 1000 Club Members to 2500 Club Members, and turning those members into Founders Club members. Based on past growth, this allowed us to extrapolate a budget projection, and that’s what we used to make our plans.
I learned how to raise money directly from Pat Robertson, and his methodology might surprise the faithful, for it is built on self-centeredness. And if the core of its ability to raise money is built on selfishness, then it must follow that the CBN message itself must do likewise. This is the secret truth behind what we intended to present as a movement of God’s spirit on the earth.
We don’t necessarily have to present everything as a crisis, but it’s impossible to make a change when everybody feels good about existing circumstances. That’s the mistake Reagan has made. He got re-elected but now faces difficulty in implementing change, since he sold the country on the fact that everything is hunky-dory.
We took in $248,000,000 in contributions during 1984, in what turned out to be a record for the ministries of CBN. That’s an enormous sum of money even by today’s standards—over half a billion in 2016 dollars.
At the beginning of 1984, Pat came back from the mountain with the message from God that the year would be one of “deep darkness and trouble” for the nation, and we followed that theme throughout the whole year on The 700 Club, especially when it came to fundraising. The theme of our record-setting telethons that year was “deep darkness and trouble,” and the evidence that it really did resonate with our viewers was their $248 million in contributions.
On one show, Pat said “I’ve been in prayer. I put this out as what I feel God is telling me. Here’s what I see in 1984: Toward the end of 1984, there will be a period beginning of deep darkness on our nation. I believe that we’re going to have a time of trouble. And I believe that there may be convulsions in the world, shifting of leadership in a number of nations. As the shifts in leadership take place, there’s going to be a call for Christians to understand how the system works and to prepare for sort of a general collapse. And to God’s people, God will give wisdom, and He’s going to give solutions to them just like He did to Daniel and to Joseph and those people who found favor in God’s sight. We will understand the solutions to the world’s problems. And so the world is going to start coming and saying, “You’ve got something we don’t have.
[ Trump followed the same script of painting a dark future and is part of why he was elected. No wonder 80% of evangelists voted for him—Robertson had prepared the way].
All that money was viewed as a blessing from God and validation that we were in His will in everything we set our hands to accomplish.
I would like to be able to say in truth that all of that money was used for righteous purposes, but I can’t. Most of it went to running the ministries of a television network with over 2,000 employees, but some went to our foreign ministries, such as operating a radio station in southern Lebanon, and that had both political and missionary motivations; some went to political activities, such as funding the Freedom Council; and some went to interfering with government policies, such as helping fund the Contras in Nicaragua.
We exploited everything possible in the spreading of our message, including the powerful motivator of envy. Testimony stories about healings or fiscal prosperity always led to the proclamation that “this is available for you.
Presenting the suggestion that we had a hotline to God was also helpful in the extreme when it came to fundraising or offering Pat’s political views, for who could argue with somebody capable of bringing about miracles like that?
Contributions fell off a cliff in the wake of Oral Roberts’ pronouncement during his January 1987 telethon that unless he raised $8 million over the next couple of months, God would “take him home,” a Christian euphemism for ending his life. This preposterous and self-centered statement gave reporters in Tulsa the ammunition they needed to open the doors of the “faith healer’s” ministry, and soon coverage spread nationwide and beyond.
At nearly the same time, Jim Bakker fell from grace at his PTL (Praise The Lord) ministry in Charlotte, North Carolina. The discovery of his tryst with Jessica Hahn and the subsequent cover-up broke a dam of pent-up mistrust of televangelists in the press, and what followed was a broad brush with which they painted every television ministry, including the one founded by the guy now in the White House. The Bakker debacle occurred on March 19, 1987, just weeks before my return to CBN. The ugly spotlight was on everyone, as the ghost of Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry visited all levels of society, including those we had worked so hard to recruit since the beginning of the 1980s. It is impossible to overstate how badly these events impacted Christian ministries, and especially evangelicals on TV, including the ministry of Pat Robertson.
The CBN’s “the 700 club” mission statement said nothing about politics, and yet, as the son of a US Senator, Pat Robertson was a political animal, perhaps even ahead of his calling to the ministry.
The fine line between preaching and government influence was breached time and again and included such activities as funding political action with ministry money.
As the Republican Party drifts farther to the right, Evangelical Christians find themselves in the position of having to deny that they’ve become exactly what they despise—a group of elites trying to force their beliefs on others. Within this denial, the twisting of truth is self-serving. Democrats are demonized as socialists, communists, Marxists, and of course, liberals who want to steal from them in the name of government control of their lives. The obvious conflict here is the idea that God is somehow unable to deal with this absent their help.
During one show, Pat said that since our country was founded on Judeo-Christian principles, only Jews and Christians were qualified to run it. Many people—including NBC News—pointed to this moment as evidence that Pat was far outside what journalist Daniel C. Hallin calls the “sphere of legitimate debate,” because the Founding Fathers were more inclusive and tolerant. But Pat was speaking directly to his constituency and didn’t care how his critics would interpret it.
At a staff prayer meeting, Pat prayed that God remove those Supreme Court justices who voted against prayer by any means necessary, including their deaths. It’s hard to say if Pat actually calculated or even considered his words before making statements like killing Supreme Court justices.
Pat envisioned himself in the driver’s seat of a great vehicle that God Himself had provided for the purpose of moving America away from its liberal drift. Pat didn’t like liberals and thought they were a curse on society because they placed dependence on government ahead of dependence on God. Pat was also a strong proponent of personal responsibility and rejected any thoughts that people needed others to take care of them. Democrats were liberals, so Democrats were easily thought of as deceived enemies of God.
We relentlessly painted Democrats—all Democrats—as a liberal enemy that was after everybody’s money. Our show turned many to the Republican Party.
When arguing against so-called “liberal Democrats,” Reagan called them “tax and spend” liberals, meaning they wanted to take “your” money and use it for social programs that would benefit the have-nots. If one honestly examines this premise, however, those most concerned about having “their” money taken away are those who not only have it but will be the ones to lose the most dollars with the programs of liberals. They are the modern-day Pharisees, who preach a form of religion but actually serve the “gods” that gave them wealth. A perspective that points this out would truly represent a Biblical worldview, but that was not the case with us at the ministry of CBN.
As the months and years went by and the Reagan presidency was beginning to wind down, The 700 Club became more and more political. In retrospect, we were preaching that having faith in God to change people’s hearts and in that way change culture wasn’t enough, and that He wanted us all to get involved in politics. It was a subtle shift, but we weren’t alone. The entire televangelist world was slipping away from its first love and drifting into the traps of power and influence. As The 700 Club evolved, we were educating people that the Republican way was God’s way, and that went on to become one of the most remarkable feats of social engineering of the twentieth century.
Before Fox News ever claimed to be “fair and balanced,” there was CBN News. Moreover, the study of life deep within a major Christian ministry is unlike studying any other kind of organization, for Christian people are capable of expressing great love as they’re stabbing you in the back or otherwise trying to get their way. People don’t stop being human just because they proclaim Christianity, but Christian behavior is often quite the opposite. One would think that the common bond of being in the same lifeboat would produce a sweet form of humility, but it more often did the opposite, and nowhere was this more evident than in our political views. Despite proclamations that our war was spiritual, we fought at the grassroots of culture to “win” for God at all levels.
The “Biblical worldview” that we offered was overflowing with conservative political perspectives, largely because political conservatives—the Republicans—seemed most likely to embrace our point-of-view. They were with us on abortion. They were with us on prayer in schools. They were with us on Israel, and many, many other issues. Fox News would never have found the success it has known if CBN News hadn’t blazed the trail.
The choice of directing believers to the Republican Party is illogical and unreasonable. I can say without question that the ministry of Jesus was most definitely not one of “pick yourself up by your bootstraps and get to work!” This is why we are reminded many times throughout the Bible to “plead the cause of the poor and the afflicted,” for this is the very heart of God.
Ronald Reagan was running for re-election in 1984, and CBNoffered a book raving about him to our viewers to remind them of the president’s Christian upbringing, roots, and thinking. The book jacket notes that … the president’s faith will be welcome information to everyone who genuinely cares about our nation, under God.
Pat Robertson wants Christians to take over the world starting with a shadow government
God’s people are coming to the fore. You know, God said we were supposed to be the head and not the tail. We’re supposed to be on top and not on the bottom. And I think the long-range trend is that God’s people are going to move into positions of leadership—I mean in all kinds of areas. I mean, there’s going to be general growing prosperity and blessing for the people of God. Now that’s my opinion, but I think that’s going to happen. It’s going to get better and better and better, and God’s going to begin to thrust His people into positions they never dream they were capable of taking on. They’re going to move into new areas of responsibility in the next few years.
“We must form a shadow government,” he began. “We must begin to find and train Christian people, so that they can be placed in every position that matters, because the country is on the verge of collapse. The Lord is showing me that when it goes, nobody is going to know what to do, and they will turn to us, because we will have answers. We won’t be afraid. We’ve got to work to make sure God’s people are in the schools, the school boards, the city councils, the county commissions, the trash collectors, the tax collectors and all local government positions. We need to be in the state legislatures, the statewide offices, Congress, the courts, everywhere.
To prepare God’s people for this reigning and ruling during or after this period of “confusion,” Pat believed we needed to assist in creating a shadow government that would “take over” when everything collapsed. But “we can’t be overt and obvious about this; we must create a shadow government quietly”. A government be run by Pat, who believed that God had called him to run for president.
[ You can imagine what sort of a President Robertson would have been when Heaton describes Robertson’s ministry as ] “not like a business corporation, where power and control flow down a hierarchical pyramid. A ministry more closely resembles a cult of personality, where the person with the “calling” is the sole authority, and everyone else is assembled to bring that about. I viewed my own personal calling as helping Pat Robertson do just that.
Taking over the country for God wasn’t posited as a duty; rather “you need to do this for yourself and your family, which is a much more powerful motivator, and its outcome has been chaotic, divisive, and dangerous.
We’ve got to wipe out the forces of evil; in prayer, in Bible knowledge, in evangelism and that kind of thing. There’s got to be an effort like never before, especially in prayer for revival. And if there’s one word, I would think, is the concept that the Church is getting ready to reign and rule. That is what God has in mind.
Pat had been trying to encourage conservative Christians to get involved in the political process since at least 1981, when he formed the Freedom Council, a 501(c)(4) tax-exempt organization with the authority to lobby on behalf of political candidates. But the Freedom Council was a part of the CBN family, and as such it received attention on The 700 Club and especially during our telethons. The reality is that we used the 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status of CBN’s ministries to raise money that went to the Freedom Council. During 1985 and 1986, according to the New York Times, we gave $250,000 a month or more to the Freedom Council “to mobilize Christian voters behind Mr. Robertson’s candidacy for the Republican Presidential nomination in 1988.” The total estimate reached as high as $8.5 million to the Freedom Council, according to the Times.11 Despite the fact
The real weakness and danger of Pat’s shadow government can be seen in Sarah Palin, the former governor of Alaska and vice presidential running mate of Senator John McCain in 2008. Readers need to understand that before Sarah Palin ran for anything, she was an outspoken charismatic, Evangelical Christian who believed in the “gifts of the Spirit” as practiced by many other fundamentalist believers. She spoke the language and knew how to communicate on the edge between faith and politics.
Sarah Palin was a fan of The 700 Club and learned the many phrases and tactics that eventually put her in the Wasilla City Council, the mayor’s office, and on to the governor’s office in Juneau, Alaska. At every step, she brought along issues like abortion, gun control, term limits, and others that resonated with conservative Christians and, more importantly, Republicans. They had nothing to do with local government, but she was very effective.
The sad thing to me is that only a comic, satirical television program like The Daily Show is willing to talk about Sarah Palin, and the dark side of evangelical Christianity.
The Coming of Jesus Christ
The Christian Broadcasting Network The mission of CBN and its affiliated organizations is to prepare the United States of America, the nations of the Middle East, the Far East, South America, and other selected nations of the world for the coming of Jesus Christ and the establishment of the Kingdom of God on earth. Our ultimate goal is to achieve a time in history when “the knowledge of the Lord will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Evangelicals perceived to be ignorant, overweight, polyester-wearing bible-thumping morons for whom church going was a cover for hypocritical behavior
Everything about The 700 Club was carefully researched and strategized. We had as our guide the work of Pat’s great friend George Gallup, and his studies of religion in America. We knew how evangelicals were perceived, and a key component of our strategy was to counter those views. Most people thought of evangelicals as ignorant, overweight, polyester-wearing, Bible-thumping morons for whom church going was a cover for hypocritical behavior.
We were, in fact, largely talking to ignorant, polyester-wearing, Bible-thumping morons, and they didn’t possess the wherewithal to do anything but parrot and follow. This is a big part of the problem today.
We showed the young, handsome, slim people, avoiding testimonies of those who were overweight. We wanted stories of smart, young people, who would give the appearance to our viewers that evangelicalism was a good thing for them and their families. They could love God, have a strong family, be prosperous, feel a sense of “rightness,” be respected leaders in their communities and make a difference. We needed to recruit people outside the bias demonstrated by Gallup, and that meant “coloring” our program to reflect different kinds of people while avoiding those who fit the stereotypes.
Many of the intelligent, upscale, young, and attractive people we recruited abandoned the ministry—all TV ministries—in the wake of the televangelist scandals that were to come. This left few except the stereotypes.
What began as the dream of building a political army of intelligent, thinking people for the GOP has produced the opposite.
The prosperity gospel
Personal income was one of the major themes of the ministry of CBN. The idea that God wants His people to prosper in all ways—and especially financially—is based on an interpretation of certain scriptures, including John’s letter to Gaius, also known as 3 John. Here’s Chapter 1, Verse 2, in the King James translation: “Beloved, I wish above all things that thou mayest prosper and be in health, even as thy soul prospereth.” Since Christians are God’s beloved, this appears to be a message straight from God to believers and is open to interpretation as wealth. In the New Living Translation, however, it’s presented thusly: “Dear friend, I hope all is well with you and that you are as healthy in body as you are strong in spirit.” Now, I’m not a deep expositor of scripture, but the letter is from John to Gaius, and the verse clearly is John’s greeting to him and not a message from God to certain believers.
The Year of Jubilee—the ancient Jewish resetting of the economy—has been conveniently removed from modern times; for it would do the opposite of providing vast wealth for the few.
We chose stories of prosperity for the ministry only of people who met our criteria. They were young. They were good looking. Their testimony provided a witness that others would wish to emulate. They always ended up on top. They were always prospering after giving to CBN. In this way, we presented the tilted view that those who gave money to CBN—the greater the donation, the bigger the blessing—were always blessed by God.
Jon created a pilot in which his character tried to use the Law of Reciprocity (from Pat’s Secret Kingdom that referenced “Give and it shall be given unto you”) in order to pay his bills. If he needed one-hundred dollars, he would give ten dollars, and so forth. He wound up deeper and deeper into debt and finally gave up, looking at the camera and asking with arms outstretched, “What am I doing wrong?” I thought it perfectly represented what we were trying to create, and I was very proud to show it to Pat. It was funny. It was right on, because we knew that this was one of the trouble spots for people in living out their Christian lives. Pat Robertson was not amused, not in the least. He stared at the screen as I played Jon’s tape. We were alone in the dressing room, and I grew more uncomfortable the longer his eyes didn’t blink. When it was done, he looked at me and said, “If you put this on the air, it will cost this ministry millions.” He explained that we were all about helping people with their faith, and we dared not put anything in the show that might—not would, might—produce the opposite.
Evangelicals embrace the idea that everything in life is a choice. Everything.
I remember being lectured by a Christian friend after rehab and entering into Alcoholics Anonymous that if I could trace back my life, I would discover that at some point I had made a decision to sin and that while it may have been imperceptible at first, eventually the different path I had chosen separated farther and farther from the path of God. This is a form of logic that begins at the wrong place and presents a very simplistic, black and white, all or nothing view of life. Armed with this logic, it’s easy to understand how, to Christians, everything that doesn’t match their path is sin, to which the answer is always Jesus. One is either for or against us.
If I could trace back my life, I would discover that at some point I had made a decision to sin and that while it may have been imperceptible at first, eventually the different path I had chosen separated farther and farther from the path of God. This is a form of logic that begins at the wrong place and presents a very simplistic, black and white, all or nothing view of life. Armed with this logic, it’s easy to understand how, to Christians, everything that doesn’t match their path is sin, to which the answer is always Jesus. One is either for or against, and there is no middle ground.
Evangelicals make perfect Republicans, for many conservative political beliefs flow from this same kind of logic. Welfare is a good thing only insofar as it directly aids the poor, but when, in their judgment, it becomes a crutch for those who are otherwise able (to get a job), it falls into the category of sin. Never mind all of the other factors contributing to poverty.
To turn our backs on poverty, because our core belief is that the poor are somehow faking it, is a violation of our calling as a religious people.
[ I’ve left much of the book out, if you want to find out more, buy the book! ]