Dec 27, 2007
(AP) — The message flickered into Cindy Fleenor’s living room each night: Be faithful in how you live and how you give, the television preachers said, and God will shower you with material riches.
And so the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Florida, area pledged $500 a year to Joyce Meyer, the evangelist whose frank talk about recovering from childhood sexual abuse was so inspirational. She wrote checks to flamboyant faith healer Benny Hinn and a local preacher-made-good, Paula White.
Only the blessings didn’t come. Fleenor ended up borrowing money from friends and payday loan companies just to buy groceries. At first she believed the explanation given on television: Her faith wasn’t strong enough.
“I wanted to believe God wanted to do something great with me like he was doing with them,” she said. “I’m angry and bitter about it. Right now, I don’t watch anyone on TV hardly.”
All three of the groups Fleenor supported are among six major Christian television ministries under scrutiny by a senator who is asking questions about the evangelists’ lavish spending and possible abuses of their tax-exempt status.
The probe by Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the ranking Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, has brought new scrutiny to the underlying belief that brings in millions of dollars and fills churches from Atlanta to Los Angeles — the “Gospel of Prosperity,” or the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
All six ministries under investigation preach the prosperity gospel to varying degrees.
Proponents call it a biblically sound message of hope. Others say it is a distortion that makes evangelists rich and preys on the vulnerable. They say it has evolved from “it’s all right to make money” to it’s all right for the pastor to drive a Bentley, live in an oceanside home and travel by private jet.
“More and more people are desperate and grasping at straws and want something that will alleviate their pain or financial crisis,” said Michael Palmer, dean of the divinity school at Regent University, founded by Pat Robertson. “It’s a growing problem.”
The modern-day prosperity movement can largely be traced back to evangelist Oral Roberts’ teachings. Roberts’ disciples have spread his theology and vocabulary (Roberts and other evangelists, such as Meyer, call their donors “partners.”) And several popular prosperity preachers, including some now under investigation, have served on the Oral Roberts University board.
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