For whom the church bells toll

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By Tony Deyal

A pastor discovered his bicycle had been stolen. He decided to use it as inspiration for that week’s sermon and began writing about the Ten Commandments, especially “thou shalt not steal.” When he got to “thou shalt not commit adultery”, he remembered where he left his bike. Another pastor was fired when a parishioner asked him, “Who came first? Adam or Eve?” The pastor responded, “That depends on how good they were in bed.” Then there is the killer of all pastor and priest jokes, “A pastor, a scammer and a child molester walk into a bar.”

I tend to think that whether it is about the removal of a government or the decline of an institution, the jokes come first and last (very long at that). I was right. What led me here was a newspaper report, “Jamaican Pastor Arrested for Allegedly Performing Human Sacrifices and ‘Cult-Like’ Rituals.” It was enough for me and many other Caribbean people to wonder where Christianity is heading, or beheading, and whether it is as dead or dying like those “human sacrifices” made in the name of God.

A paper by the Institute for Social Research, Centre for Political Studies, University of Michigan states that from about 2007 to 2019, the overwhelming majority of the countries studied – 43 out of 49 – became less religious. The decline in belief was not confined to high-income countries and appeared across most of the world. Growing numbers of people no longer find religion a necessary source of support and meaning in their lives.

Christianity Today (January 4, 2019) headlined the findings of a Gallop-poll with, “The 7 People Christians Trust More Than Their Pastors: Gallup’s latest poll finds Americans now believe clergy (at a record low) are nearly as honest and ethical as journalists (at a record high).” Nurses topped the list followed by Medical Doctors, Pharmacists, High School teachers, and, surprisingly (to me and many other Caribbean people), police officers. Then come accountants and even funeral directors ahead of the Clergy. Following the religious rejects were journalists with members of Congress last on the list, lower than even bankers, lawyers, labour union leaders and car salespeople.

Why is this so? An article in “CHURCH LEADERS” started a list of “5 Reasons Why People Have Stopped Attending Your Church Even Millennials” with, “The church is irrelevant, the leaders are hypocritical and leaders have experienced too much moral failure.” This, and as a way of dealing with the Jamaican and other murders, is why the jokes and comments flow, like “Being a pastor doesn’t make you a Christian any more than standing in a garage makes you a car”, or “It is easier to preach ten sermons than it is to live one.”

Then there is: “I just told my family about my secret sex life as a pastor…They now know about my altar ego.” And another, “Why did the female church secretary go to bed? It was pastor bedtime.” In fact, ads for women to work in different church positions demand, “Must be a church member in good standing.” I thought that only applied to the Pastor.

The BBC ran an article by Vicky Baker, “The preachers getting rich from poor Americans” and it started with, “Televangelist, Dr Todd Coontz, has a well-worn routine: he dresses in a suit, pulls out a Bible and urges viewers to pledge a very specific amount of money. ‘Don’t delay, don’t delay,’ he urges, calmly but emphatically.” The article adds, “Crucially, he always refers to the money as a ‘seed’ – a $273 seed, a $333 seed, a ‘turnaround’ seed, depending on the broadcast. If viewers ‘plant’ one, the amount will come back to them, multiplied, he says. It is an investment in their faith and their future.”

The other televangelists who insist they are not con-men (or women) but are merely doing God’s work include Jesse Duplantis who explained that God had told him to buy a Falcon 7X (his fourth private jet) for US $54 million because “Jesus wouldn’t be riding a donkey”, and Creflo Dollar who asked his congregation to each donate $300 to buy him a $65million Gulfstream Jet so he could travel comfortably to spread the gospel. Dollar is also among the list of outrageously wealthy preachers who are supposedly under Federal Investigation.

In a USA Today article entitled: “Fraud, private jets and a Lamborghini: Ten evangelists who have faced controversy” as well as on other similar lists the names that come up are Jim Bakker, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland (the richest and most popular Pastor in the world) and his wife Gloria Copeland (also a preacher), Franklin Graham, Pat Robertson, Joel Osteen, John Gray, Robert Jeffress, John Hagee, Jesse Duplantis (also a jet-setter), Randy and Paula White, plus Eddie Long (who said Jesus wasn’t broke, and leaders of churches shouldn’t be either). Flipping through television sets in many Caribbean countries, Osteen seems to be extremely popular here in the Caribbean. He earns US$55 million per year, has a $10.5 million mansion in Houston and his net worth exceeds $100 million.

Ted Haggard, the pastor of a Colorado mega-church, had a relationship with a gay prostitute and was forced to step aside and let his wife become pastor. Bishop Eddie Long was accused by several boys of sexual abuse, and Jimmy Swaggart had to step down because he confessed to “moral indiscretions and incidents of moral failures.”

America is not the only place that has a pastor for every sore. Pulse Nigeria in an article by Inemesit Udodiong makes the point, “So-called Men of God in South Africa have succeeded in making a lot of us wish we were not Christians”. He lists a few like Pastor Lesego Daniel who claims to have put a “gay” spirit into a young man, and Pastor Penuel Mguni who orders female members to strip and walks over them during deliverance. However, the worst of all was Prophet Lethebo Rabalago who used “DOOM” insecticide to heal cancer and HIV.

Outside of South Africa, Pastor Lazarus Mouka of Nigeria sold reflector jackets to his church members saying they had spiritual powers of being bulletproof and offered divine protection.

Adekunle Kayode of “Jesus Is the Way Evangelistic Ministry” in Nigeria inserted his finger into a female member’s genital in a bid to check if she was still a virgin. Bishop Daniel Obinim of International Godsway Ministries in Ghana was captured on tape stepping on the abdomen of a woman, who was reportedly pregnant, to exorcise evil spirits. He was also videotaped grabbing men’s genitals to heal them of erectile dysfunction.

However, as we say in the Caribbean: “God don’t sleep” and he got his way on Alfred Ndlovu who tried to fast for forty days and dropped dead on the 30th day of “dry” fasting. Another wanted to show how God would save him if he approached a group of lions but ended up with a mauled behind. He and religion both seem to have reached rock bottom.

*Tony Deyal was last seen commenting on a South African movie about an illegal immigrant from Zimbabwe being attacked by a Pastor. It’s named, “Alien vs Predator”.

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