Every time a Christian huckster appears on television and urges viewers to send in “seed” money that God will surely multiply and return, it’s easy to dismiss it as a giant faith-based con and move on. But plenty of believers fall for the trick.
The BBC’s Vicky Baker has a disturbing story about one couple that gave far more money than they had to these televangelists in the hopes that God would reward them for it. (Spoiler: God doesn’t reward anyone for anything.)
[Larry Fardette] sent off two cheques [to televangelist Todd Coontz]: one for $273 and another for $333, as requested. Then he waited for his miracle.
And if the seeds never flourish? Some are told their faith is not strong enough, or they have hidden sin. In Larry’s case, he often interpreted small pieces of good fortune — a gift of groceries from a neighbour, or the promise of a few extra hours of work for his wife, Darcy — as evidence of fruition.
He estimates he gave about $20,000 to these operators over the years. A little here, a little there. A few years ago, he started tallying it all up. The list is like a who’s who of all the established players, including those who have made headlines for their lavish lifestyles — those such as Kenneth Copeland and Creflo Dollar, who have asked followers to fund their private jets.
When Fardette’s daughter’s health went into decline, he wrote to some of those ministries for financial help, but of course they said they couldn’t (or wouldn’t).
Here’s the amazing thing: Fardette has since learned how televangelists are scammers. Guess what did the trick?
John Oliver‘s memorable segment on Last Week Tonight:
“I never watched John Oliver. I had never even heard of the guy,” says Larry. But his attention was immediately caught by a skit that ripped into money-grabbing televangelists. Larry and Darcy sat up in shock, recognising all the names.
They say they felt as though God was lifting a veil. “We had been so ignorant,” Larry says, shaking his head.
There’s a somewhat happy ending to the story: Earlier this year, televangelist Todd Coontz was sentenced to prison for not paying taxes and filling out false returns. (The BBC notes that he “reported to jail in early April, but was freed by the judges, pending appeal.”)
But many televangelists are still up their tricks, and plenty of people give money to their churches without demanding any kind of financial transparency. That means local pastors may be as corrupt as televangelists, but unless donors demand accountability, there’s no way to guarantee your money is going to a good place. You’re much better off donating to groups that are open and honest about where the money goes without making any promises that can’t be verified.
It’s too bad so many gullible Christians have to learn that the hard way. It also says something about religion that the con continues to work despite repeated exposés.
(Screenshot via YouTube. Thanks to Nick for the link)