Earlier this week, televangelist Oral Roberts died at age 91.
In case you’ve forgotten, he was the preacher who popularized the idea that God rewards people financially for acts of faith.
In other words, if you’re rich, you are likely a good Christian. If you are poor, you are probably a sinner.
Sound reasonable? Of course not. It’s absolutely idiotic.
That noted, countless people believed in the Gospel of Prosperity and sent Roberts millions and millions of dollars.
In one particularly memorable incident, the televangelist claimed God would call him home unless US$8 million was raised for scholarships to Oral Roberts University by March 31, 1987.
Guess what? People sent in more than the amount of money requested.
Other televangelists and even some preachers, who never appear on TV, have since picked up on the Gospel of Prosperity idea and are using it to great effect in their fundraising.
A recent Associated Press story tells the sad story of a woman named Cindy Fleenor who sent cheque after cheque to a variety of television preachers and then waited for God to shower her with material riches.
Guess what? The expected windfall never arrived.
Instead, the 53-year-old accountant from the Tampa, Fla., simply fell deeper and deeper into debt.
Roberts and other famous preachers became experts at using computerized databases and sophisticated direct-mail campaigns to raise hundreds of millions of dollars, and those techniques are still being used today.
Even so, Oral Roberts University has apparently fallen on hard times.
The elder preacher turned it over to son Richard a few years ago, but he resigned in 2007 amid allegations that he had spent university money on personal expenses when the school was more than $50 million in debt.
Meanwhile, a senator from Iowa named Charles Grassley is investigating six major Christian television ministries that promote the notion that God wants to bless the faithful with earthly riches.
According to the Associated Press, Atlanta-area pastor Creflo Dollar, who is fighting Grassley’s inquiry, owns a Rolls Royce and multimillion-dollar homes and travels in a church-owned Learjet.
A number of other televangelists are also living high on the hog and abusing their tax-exempt status.
Still, if you want to send your money to such people, go ahead. After all, a fool and his money are soon parted.
But, as one old country song notes, beware of preachers who tell you to send your money to God while they give you their address.
Lee Giles is an Advocate editor.