Monday, March 5, 2007

Evangelistic license

Sometimes, it's so easy for things to just roll off my back. They don't bother me. I never give it a second thought. Other times... I can't seem to let go. I replay the situation over and over in my head. I get angry.

An advertisement for a Pentecostal "crusade" hit one of those hot buttons for me recently.

I'm used to seeing a lot of "pull-on-your-heartstrings" stuff, so much so that maybe I dismiss it too easily. It doesn't bother me so much when ministers are promoted as larger than life heroes who do everything from build orphanages to raise the dead. I'm not phased by emotional clips and soundbites from past services (even if I have good reason to believe that the lady who got up out of the wheelchair at the fall 2002 conference was the same one who got up out of the wheelchair in another minister's spring 2003 conference and who knows how many other places). But this one promotional video in particular just made my blood boil. It hit too close to home.

I'm originally from the New York City area. Images of 9/11 are permanently etched in my mind. The fact that some people have tried to profit financially from the losses of others is just about the worst kind of ugly I can imagine. The fact that some of these people are ministers is downright disgusting--and I would feel the same way no matter what "flavor" of minister they were.

The offending promo video was produced sometime last summer. It featured clips of the minister at a conference in NYC in the 90s. He was warning them to get right with God, what if a missile were to hit Manhattan? Images of the 9/11 attacks flashed across the screen. The implication was that this minister had predicted the 9/11 terrorist attacks. That's outrageous enough in and of itself. I've been around ministry long enough to know that most itinerants preach the same basic message wherever they go. I wonder how many other cities had been warned of impending attacks that never happened? Even a stopped watch is right twice a day.

OK, so maybe that could be chalked up to "Evangelistic license." After all, he did say it, and something did happen, and perhaps his staff was just a bit too zealous in promoting him.

But what they were promoting was a new series of meetings, and they were seeking financial support to make them possible. They used images of people dying in NYC to raise money for their ministry.

I felt like screaming: If you're such a good minister, if you have such an "in" with God, why didn't you intercede for the city and make it stop? If you believe that your prayers are answered, what the heck were you praying for??

It was horrible the first time I saw it months and months ago, it was still horrible when I saw it again just recently. It makes me a little sick just thinking about it.

It also makes me wonder about what I believe and what I used to believe. What do I do with all that supernatural stuff? Is it really supernatural at all? Is it just luck? Is it fake? I think I've seen some genuine miracles, but I know for sure that I've seen a lot of fluff and attention seeking and outright fakes. I wanted to believe in divine protection, but I didn't want to be in a church where every time I got sick, had to fix my car, or had something happen in my family, people were wondering what sin I had committed to get outside of God's favor.

I've heard a lot of so-called "Words from God" or prophetic words... and often wondered how much of that was God and how much was an expression of that person's desires. I've seen them horribly misused. If your pastor has a "word" and you disagree with it, you're either disagreeing with God or challenging the pastor's relationship with God. If you say nothing, but don't do what the "word" directs, you're rebelling against authority. That's a terrible spot to be in.

What if I wasn't from NYC? What if 9/11 was just an impersonal tragedy to me? Would I be cheering that minister on, contributing to his crusades?

For now, I guess I just have to put this whole mess on the back burner.

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