Having grown up in a small town in the deep South during the 1970’s and 80’s, it was not uncommon to view televangelists on weekends, especially when only four or five channels were available to watch. Claims made by these people were seemingly noble and altruistic, but they always asked for money to do God’s work. They wore sharp suits, had fantastic hair, and convinced many that if money was sent, then God’s glory could be delivered.
I will never claim that all televangelists were and are shady. Billy Graham has been an inspiration to many here in North Carolina. My mother read his books and watched his sermons. He never came across as greedy and truly seemed interested in helping people.
But there are some people who seemed to cross a line and used the Lord’s name as a resume builder, a salary raiser, and a policy shaper.
Think about Jim and Tammy Bakker and the PTL Empire. Think about Oral Roberts and his claim that if he didn’t raise enough money that God would take him from the earth. Think about Jimmy Swaggart and his famous admission of infidelity.
I especially remember seeing Ernest Angley (a native North Carolinian) asking for people to touch the television screen so that he could heal people through the air waves. It was fascinating and even I as a young boy would touch the static-laden screen. But one day I asked myself, “If he could do that through the TV, then why couldn’t Rev. Angley just go down to the local hospital and heal those people for free?” Certainly that would be favorable to God.
From then on, I became understandably more skeptical of those who profess a strong faith but whose actions seemed to alienate the very people who needed the most help.
Claims of helping the poor and those in need seem to have been very profitable for many of these televangelists. It allowed them to raise massive amounts of money and garner enough power to control the emotional and moral compass of many. There is a strong correlation between those televangelists and many that we have in elected office in Raleigh who make the same claims of altruism and preach a common sermon that has raised massive amounts of money to do the great work that needs to be done.
These politicians need a name befitting their purpose in mixing personal politics with evangelical callings; therefore, I submit a new entry into the lexicon of our language: legivangelist.
Legivangelist – (n.) one who preaches to constituents about how holy his cause is in hopes of obtaining votes in elections to maintain power over those he claims to help
Ironically, like many of the televangelists of the 80’s and now, legivangelists are being somewhat dishonest about their true intent in helping the poor and trodden. They are singing what Ulysses Everett McGill calls in O Brother, Where Art Thou? “songs of salvation to salve the souls” to voters. And it is not for the glory of the Lord. It is for the advancement of a political agenda.
Take for instance the Opportunity Grants. Many of these legivangelists told North Carolinians that we needed to help the poor to get a good education. Rather than fully funding public schools and competitively paying qualified teachers, what happened was a voucher system that allows taxpayer money to be diverted to private (ironically mostly religiously affiliated) schools for someone else’s profit.
What was presented as a solution for poor students was really a way to weaken public schools by siphoning money and resources away from where they were originally intended.
Another example is the idea for school choice and charter schools. Legivangelists saw an opportunity to use more tax payer money to finance privately-run charter schools so that all people could have a “God-given” right to choose the school for their students even when that charter school makes a profit and can be selective in its student body and totally bypass regulation and testing.
Again, it is a tactic to present oneself as holy and giving, but in reality it is hurting others (public school students) for a profit of money and/or political power. Charter schools have shown to be less diverse than traditional public schools; they have a highly selective process in building a student body.
The HB2 passed into law in the last two years was aimed at protecting women and children from “certain” but nonexistent attack from sexual predators. However, in reality it was nothing more than a scheme to allow for more discriminatory legislation and a power grab over local municipalities. It was using the ruse of protecting our women and children for the sake of politics. In fact, it was using women and children as pawns in an unholy scheme.
When a state has almost one in four children in poverty and facing hunger, homelessness, and uncertainty, real believers in the tenets of Christ do not adhere to exclusionary practices; they attack the source of the problems like income inequality and equitable resources.
When health care costs are rising at vast rates, real believers in the tenets of Christ do not neglect the sick and ill. They certainly would not decide to withhold Medicaid expansion from the very people, especially children, who need it most just to make a political statement.
When coal ash deposits are allowed to poison drinking water sources people, real believers in Christ would not still call for deregulation and not punish those companies involved. Simply changing the criteria for what is considered clean water does not make the water any cleaner for children to drink. That’s like changing the definition of water so that it can be called wine, and none of these legivangelical politicians could ever really change water into wine.
Tears for “repentance” have been shed many times by televangelists with or without gobs of mascara, and people like Jim Bakker were eventually found out and served time in jail or were disgraced in the court of public opinion. There was a judgment day, so to speak, for all of these people who misguided their followers for profit.
However, a judgement day for North Carolina’s legivangelists comes every election cycle when people have the opportunity to vote.
The book of James states (1:27), “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”
Jesus did not discriminate, God has no grandchildren, and those who profess a true adherence to Christ’s teachings let their actions speak louder than their spun words.
Just watch how they treat all children.