Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Faux Faith

A little more than a week ago, I started hearing rumblings that Glenn Smith from Shem Ministries (aka Gemstones Ministries) had been caught "planting" stones in a recent meeting. I checked their website, only to discover that they had taken it down for "personal and technical reasons." Although there is still no official public statement from the Smiths at the time of this writing (or at least none that I am aware of), other information has been circulating... including an email from one of the pastors who was co-hosting the meetings where the questionable behavior was discovered.

My first response was definitely not shock -- I was around during the gold dust mess back in the 90s... (remember my souvenirs from the fringe?) I wanted to believe it back then--I had friends and leaders telling me all sorts of things about how God had worked in their lives through this and stranger things. But still... it never quite felt right... and even though I defended it at times, I wasn't truly surprised then either when its main proponent was exposed as a fraud. In that case, both the natural origin of the "gold dust" (being planted in her hair before services started) and the actual authenticity of the "gold dust" (which was craft store glitter) was exposed.

This case is a little different. The people who have called Glenn Smith to account over this apparently still believe that the gemstones are actually from God... but also believe that he was "seeding" them into the meetings and leading people to believe that God had put them there, not Glenn. In other words, what is being admitted is not outright fraud... but exaggeration. Some might even call it evangelistic license.

From where I stand today, the whole gold dust / gemstones / "orbs" of light / and anything else even remotely similar just don't appeal to me. I'm not even tempted to wonder if God is really doing that stuff. Even if He is involved... I'm not worried that I'm "missing something" there.

But this does bring up an uncomfortable issue for me: how do I tell the genuine from the false?

Some things are easy to explain naturally -- craftstore glitter, cheap cut stones that jewelers can purchase in bulk, lens flare and dust in a picture... but what about the testimonies of those who claim to have been touched by these things? Can it all be attributed to hypnosis / suggestion / or the placebo effect? I tend to think now that it can...

But then what about the less extreme stuff?

I've seen some very convincing faux finishes--paint jobs that make a cheap material appear to be a higher quality, much more expensive material. It's hard to tell the difference if you're just looking at it. But once you touch it you can feel the difference in the weight and the texture. It might have wood grain... but when you knock on it, it doesn't sound like wood. It might have a marble finish, but when you touch it, it isn't cold like marble.

So what's the test for separating faux faith from the real thing?

To be continued, I'm sure...

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