Most Americans are completely disconnected from the source of their daily sustenance. In the 1950’s, the decade of my birth, 12.6% of the American work force consisted of farmers. In 1900, 38% of American workers worked on a farm. Today, only 2% of American families operate a farm or a ranch. Small family farms have become a relic of a bygone era as major corporations and large acreage farmers dominate farming. Our food supply is increasingly in the hands of multinational corporation who care only about the bottom line. Years ago, a farmer in the church I was pastoring at the time told me that the on-hand American food supply was dwindling, and that it would only take one nationwide crops failure for Americans to find themselves starving. Disconnected from where food really comes from, Americans go to the grocery thinking that there will always be a ready supply of eats.
Ask the average child raised in the city or the suburbs where hamburger comes from and they will likely say the supermarket. Even here in the rural heartland, children are increasingly ignorant about where their food comes from. Our supply of meat is controlled by a few multinational corporations and large concentrated animal feeding operations (factory farms) These farms hide from public view the horror that goes on behind closed doors. Why is it factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses never offer tours of their facilities? I would think they would want everyone to know where their food comes from. For most Americans, all it would take is one tour to turn them into vegetarians.
I have spent most of my life in farm country. Though my Dad wasn’t a farmer, we lived in many a farm-house and often visited the farming operations of my Dad’s brother and brother-in-law. At an early age I learned where food came from. Knowing what I know, I have struggled for years with eating meat. Knowing what goes on in factory farms and industrial slaughterhouses, I often find myself sickened by the very thought of eating a burger or streak. Yet, in time, my guilt will assuage and off to Fort Wayne I’ll go with Polly to eat a steak at Texas Roadhouse. This is one area where I deliberately ignore what I know to be true, going against my moral and ethical values. I know what I SHOULD do, but my craving for meat almost always wins the battle between desire and morality.
Is there a question you’d like me to answer or a subject you’d like me to write about ? If so, here’s your chance. If you have a question you’d like me to answer or a subject you’d like me to write about , please leave your request in the comment section. Any subject…ask away.
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In response to readers requesting it, I have added a Facebook page for The Life and Times of Bruce Gerencser. Every post will be published to this page. If you are on Facebook, I’d really appreciate you clicking LIKE. This page is NOT my personal Facebook account. If you would like to be BFF’s on Facebook, please click here.
May 20th, I will have a colonoscopy performed by Dr. Virendra Parikh at Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne. Doctors are still baffled by what is causing my lack of appetite, weight loss, changed bowel habits, temperature spikes, and stabbing pain in the upper left quadrant of my abdomen and back. Earlier in the year, I had an endoscopic ultrasound and the colonoscopy is the last diagnostic test for the common reasons for my symptoms. Six months now, $25,000 in tests, and one thing I know for sure…n-o-t-h-i-n-g.
I continue to battle the health problems I’ve had for years. These problems are not going away, but I’d sure wish the gods would pick on someone else for a while. My plate is full, like the buffet plate of a Baptist preacher right after Sunday morning church. Every small problem becomes a crisis because of what is already on my plate. Last time I mentioned a nasty fall I had while trying to take a photograph. I ended up with a nasty wound on my leg that became infected. The good news is that the antibiotic beat back the infection. The bad news is that on the eleventh day of taking the antibiotic I had a reaction to the drug that resulted in three days of incessant scratching. Once I stopped taking the drug the scratching went away. I still have some swelling in the leg. It makes me wonder if I have a small hairline fracture. I had a similar fracture in the late 1990’s.
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Songs of Sacrilege Series
Thank you for all the submissions for the Songs of Sacrilege Series. If you come across a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
Over the next few weeks, I plan to tie up the unfinished series that are lacking a post or two. I am easily distracted, THANK YOU Christian fundamentalism, but I need to finish up these series. It Zeus is willing, the crick don’t rise, and I don’t fall and break my neck, I will do my best to finish these up.
I have started a new series titled Sacrilegious Humor. If you come across a comedy bit that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please leave the name the song in the comment section or send me an email.
I have asked readers to submit questions they would like me to answer. If you have not yet asked your question, please do so.
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When I started attending a Christian church in the late 1950’s, hymns, hymns, and only hymns were the songs of the church. In the 1960’s southern gospel music started to influence what was sung on Sunday morning. From there came the Gaither era, the contemporary Christian era, and finally the praise and worship era. Drums, guitars, praise teams, and worship leaders are standard fare in churches now. Seniors tend to not like it, millennials think it is boring, and baby boomers say, FINALLY, rock music in the church.
Over the last eight years I spent in the ministry, the churches I pastored used a blended worship approach. We’d sing hymns, but we also sang a lot of praise and worship songs. My three oldest sons played bass and guitar, so they became the church band. At the time, I thought it was wonderful, but now that I am years removed from singing love songs to Jesus, I have a far different opinion.
Just for fun, I clicked the Praise and Worship channel on Rdio. I listened to many of the songs we sung years ago, mixed in with new praise and worship songs. As I listened to the instrumentation, I couldn’t help but notice how the songs stirred my emotions. It’s the instrumentation that gives the syrupy, Jesus is your boyfriend lyrics their sexual appeal. I thought, these songs are love-making songs. And that is exactly why so many Christians love them. Hymns generally appealed to the intellect. Praise and worship music makes no pretense of appealing to the intellect. The music is meant to agitate the emotions, putting the listener in a frame of mind that makes it easy for Jesus to have sex, commune with the believer.
Many praise and worship songs are little more than aids for spiritual masturbation. Often the lyrics are shallow and repetitive, focusing on self and not God. Some of the lyrics are so shallow that just by changing a few words you can change the song from a love song to Jesus to a love song to your boyfriend or girlfriend. Take the song (Trading My Sorrows) Yes Lord by Matt Redman. The next time you are making love to your significant other, speak or sing these lyrics, changing the word Lord to the name of your partner:
We say yes lord yes lord yes yes lord Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord Yes lord yes lord yes yes lord amen
Make sure you sing it loudly so the neighbors will know it is your lucky night.
The draw of praise and worship music is its emotional appeal. Visit a local we are the hippest church in town and observe the effect the music has on parishioners. All around you will be people lost in the love of Jesus. Some will be so enthralled that they begin making love to Jesus, not caring a bit that they are participating in the equivalent of a YouPorn video. It’s emotional sex with your clothes on.
On one hand, the effect this music has on parishioners reflects the power of music to move our emotions. When Polly and I attended a Darius Rucker concert last year, both of us noticed the emotional connection attendees made with the music. Both of us were stirred emotionally by the music. The problem with praise and worship music is that it is sold as a way to get closer to God. Uncounted Evangelicals go to church on Sunday to get their emotional fix. Forget the sermon. They are there to wrap their arms around Jesus and do a slow dance with the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. It is in this highly emotional state that parishioners are open to whatever their pastor is selling that day. While worship leaders will likely object and say that the music prepares the believer to hear from the Lord, I am convinced the music is used, whether purposely or ignorantly, to weaken defenses and make it easier for parishioners to “hear” what the pastor, uh I mean God is trying to tell them.
The music puts the parishioner in an altered state. This is by design and any pastor or worship leader who tells you differently is lying. Even with hymns, it is possible for the songs to elicit a specific emotional response. The ebb and flow of the average worship service is a highly designed and scripted affair meant to achieve a certain goal. If this is not so, why don’t churches start their service with the sermon? Instead, the music is used to open the heart (mind) of the listener to whatever the pastor is going to say. By manipulating emotions, the pastor has a greater chance to get those under the sound of his voice to do what he wants them to do. Again, if this is not so, why do most pastors and worship leaders choose songs that perfectly dovetail with the sermon? Why not take requests from the floor if what song is sung doesn’t matter?
But it does matter. And it is not just the music. Modern church services have turned into tightly scripted affairs. Sound, lighting, and program structure is used to set the mood, no different from me coming home and finding the lights dimmed, candles lit, rose petals on the floor, and the sweet voice of Karen Carpenter quietly wafting through the air. The former is meant to help the parishioner get lucky with Jesus. The latter is meant to remind Bruce that sometimes the ballgame doesn’t come first. 🙂
Even in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) church, a sect known for hating contemporary music, certain songs are used to elicit an emotional response from the congregation. The goal is the same regardless of the style of music. Through emotional manipulation the words of a man are more easily received. In most cases, little harm is done. But, sometimes, by manipulating the hearer’s emotions, they are led to make decisions or do things they wouldn’t have ordinarily done. Those slobbering IFB preachers were right about secular music. Certain “satanic” songs can lower inhibitions and pave the way for a romp in the sack with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Such evil! But, what they don’t tell you is that certain “godly” songs can lower inhibitions too and pave the way for a romp in the sack with Jesus.
Earlier this year, Polly and I took a road trip to eastern Indiana that eventually landed us in Amish country. Here’s a few of the photographs I took of some horses on an Amish farm. The young horse on the ground was either sick or injured and could not stand. We watched for quite some time as both adult horses nudged the young horse, trying to get him to stand. For readers upset at the farm owners for allowing a sick/injured horse to lie on the ground, the Amish often treat animals as a commodity or a tool. Those who have not lived around the Amish often see the Amish as kind, loving folks who wouldn’t hurt a fly. Sadly, some of them can be quite cruel towards their horses and livestock. Last week, I posted some photographs of Amish sheep that were being used to clear ditch lines of weeds. All of the sheep, save one, were quite indifferent to us and went about their work as if we didn’t exist. One sheep, however, was terrified of us and repeatedly tried to flee, only to be violently jerked back by the chain around their neck. Surely the sheep’s owner knew of its fearfulness. Why put it out by the road where it would be terrified every time a car or person came close? We quickly moved away from the sheep, not wanting to cause it further harm.
Earlier this year, Polly and I took a road trip to eastern Indiana that eventually landed us in Amish country. Here’s a few of the pictures I took of some ducks on an Amish farm. I found their synchronized movement quite fascinating.
Imagine, for a moment, that every time someone told me they were a Christian I told them that they weren’t really a Christian because there is no such thing as a Christian. It says right here in the Book of Bruce Almighty® that everyone knows that Bruce Almighty exists and that anyone who says they are a Christian is suppressing their knowledge of the existence of Bruce. The Christian would likely say that they know they are a Christian because Jesus saved them and they believe the teaching found in the Bible. Imagine if I REFUSED to allow the Christian to authentically tell their own story. Can you imagine how outraged Christians would be if I refused to accept their story at face value?
Yet, this is EXACTLY what fundamentalist Christians like Dr. Jason Lisle do. Last week, Jessa Duggar and her husband Ben Seewald Duggar visited the “Institute for Creation Research in Texas, where they spoke to members of the self-described leader in scientific research within the context of biblical creation.” When Seewald asked Institute scientist Dr. Jason Lisle if he could prove the existence of God, Lisle replied:
“The evidence of God is ubiquitous. It is everywhere. In fact, Roman 1 tells us that God has revealed himself to everyone, and what that means is, there is really no such thing as an atheist.”
According to Lisle, humans are hardwired to believe in God and God reveals himself to everyone, so there is no such thing as an atheist. Lisle went on to say:
“So I don’t really have to give new evidence to a professing atheist. All I have to do is expose his suppressed knowledge of God.”
Lisle is a perfect example of an educated idiot. No matter how much scientific knowledge Lisle has, the words of the Bible are the final arbiter of truth. For example, in a game I have often played with people like Lisle, I willingly accept the premise that creation reveals to us that there is a God. I then ask them to give me evidence from creation that the God creation gives testimony to is the Christian God. Discussion over, because the fundamentalist is forced to retreat to the safety of THE BIBLE SAYS! You see, it’s not creation that reveals that the Christian God exists, it’s the Bible. At best, creation reveals that a deity, a divine being, or an advanced species created the earth and its inhabitants. If it is abundantly clear just from creation that the Christian God of the Christian Bible is God, why do other cultures and religions claim that the creator God is a different deity? Humans, over their long history, have worshiped a plethora of Gods. If creation makes it clear that the Christian God created everything, why do billions of people worship other Gods? Perhaps God has a marketing problem and should hire Don Draper to write a God advertising line that every human will know and understand. As soon as anyone hears it, they will say, Oh, that’s the Christian God jingle.
Ben Seewald, showing his deep understanding of science said:
“I know there is also a lot of scientific evidence, we are here at the Institute for Creation Research, and there is a lot of — really, all science points to the validation of the Genesis account,”
It’s true…you can’t argue with stupid.
One more quote that I am sure my fellow atheists will love. Lisle said:
The atheist is like a little child sitting on his father’s lap, slapping his father and spitting on him, and insulting him, and so on. He are only able to do it because his father is supporting them. And the atheists are like that. Their using God’s laws of logic, their using a sense of morality that God gave them in order to argue against the very God who makes such things impossible.
To which, Ben Seewald said, WOW, that’s really amazing!
Yeah, my thought e-x-a-c-t-l-y.
Here’s the video of Ben Seewald’s “discussion” with Dr. Jason Lisle.
A new Girl Scouts of the USA policy states it will extend membership to boys who identify as girls…
…This means girls in the organization will be forced to recognize and accept transgenderism as a normal lifestyle. Boys in skirts, boys in make-up and boys in tents will become a part of the program. This change will put young innocent girls at risk.
Adults are willing to experiment on our kids – both the boys who are confused and the girls who will wonder why a boy in a dress is in the bathroom with them…
Girl Scouts is proud to be the premiere leadership organization for girls in the country. Placement of transgender youth is handled on a case-by-case basis, with the welfare and best interests of the child and the members of the troop/group in question a top priority. That said, if the child is recognized by the family and school/community as a girl and lives culturally as a girl, then Girl Scouts is an organization that can serve her in a setting that is both emotionally and physically safe.
Simply put, if a child is recognized as a girl by their family and school and lives culturally as a girl, the Girl Scouts will allow the child to be a part of their group. OMM refuses to admit that matters of sexual orientation and sexual identity can be fluid and complex and that biologically sexuality is nuanced and complex. In their mind, God made male and female, end of story. If you are born with a penis you are a male and if you are born with a vagina you are a female. However, if you have done any reading on sexual orientation and sexual identity, you know that, thanks to science, matters orientation and identity are complex. These days, to be conversant on these issues, one must understand terms like heterosexual, homosexual, bisexual, asexual,pansexual,polysexual, androphilia, gynephila, intersex, cisgender, transsexual, transgender, etc. In the simplistic world of the OMM, God, through genetic voodoo makes humans male or female. However, God’s genetic voodoo act can result with in a child being born with the “wrong” genitals or other chromosomal aberrations. God must have been having a bad day, eh? ( Transgender, Intersex, Sexual Orientation)
As with seemingly every American culture conflict, Christian fundamentalism and literalistic interpretations of the Bible are the primary agitators. Science continues to undermine and discredit fundamentalist beliefs. Christian fundamentalists have two choices: they can grudgingly accept the findings of science or they can ignorantly and blindly wage war. Sadly, most fundamentalists choose the latter. Until the light of reason finds a way into their mind, there is no hope of reaching them. All we can do is keep them from hurting others. Like children with scissors, we need to make sure that OMM’s scissors have blunt ends so they can’t hurt themselves or others.
The same Bible that tells us the gospel message that we are told we must accept as truth also presents a Christian lifestyle radically different from how Christians live today.
A lifestyle, it seems, that despite having their sins forgiven, being made a new creature in Christ, and having God live inside them, Christians are unable to live it.
We live in a nation inundated with Christian churches, Christian books, Christian TV and radio. Christianity is the professed religion of 78% of Americans. One out of four Americans are Evangelical. The United States is the most Christian nation on earth.
Yet, for the most part, those who profess they are Christian live are no differently than their non-Christian neighbor.
They preach Jesus is the answer, but the non-Christian looks at the Christian and says “how’s that working out for you?”
If Christians truly want to impress the world, if Christians want to give the world a reason to pause and consider the truth of the gospel, then live like it matters.
Stop preaching and start living.
In other word put up or shut up.
While I believe the Bible to be an errant, fallible, non-inspired work of men, if Christians truly lived their lives according to the words of Jesus, it might make me pause for a moment to consider the message of Jesus.
But, I know I am safe. Christians love money, food, power, sex, pleasure, entertainment, material goods, etc just like the rest of us. For all their talk of heaven, they seem to want to stay alive right here on earth with the rest of us.
The product produced shows that the advertising is false.
Change the product and people might start believing the advertising.
I see nothing within Christianity that says to me “come home.”
Bruce, have you ever heard of Russell Earl Kelly and his book, “Should the Church teach tithing?”. And if so, do you plan to blog about it? I promoted it as much as I could, and got ZERO attention for it, probably because I was not important enough to be noticed or because wherever I go I seem to become the proverbial black sheep. Considering that I have lost every single popularity contest I have ever been in, both inside and outside the church, I suppose this is not surprising. Anyways, even as a freethinker now, I still agree with the majority of what this guy teaches about tithing, to the best of my memory.
Russell Earl Kelly is an American Christian theologian, apologist, author, speaker and blogger. He writes nonfictional theological books. Russell is best known for evangelizing and debating why tithing 10% to one’s church is not a Christian obligation…
Russell graduated Cum Laude from Sprayberry High in 1962. From June 1962 until June 1966 he was in the U. S. A. F., received 22 semester hours in Chinese Mandarin at Yale University and was soon promoted to the Transcription Department while serving in Taiwan. Russell graduated Cum Laude from Southern Missionary College in Tennessee in 1976, now called Southern University Of Seventh Day Adventist, and served two churches in Georgia, four in North Dakota and one in South Carolina.
Although legally blind since 1989, Russell subsequently completed a Th. M.. and a Ph. D. at independent Baptist-oriented Covington Theological Seminary in Ft. Oglethorpe, Georgia in August 2000. His dissertation was on the subject of tithing. From that dissertation came his first book, Should the Church Teach Tithing? A Theologian’s Conclusions about a Taboo Doctrine. His second book is Exposing Seventh-day Adventism, published in 2005. His third book, From Gethsemane to Ascension, An Ultimate Harmony of the Gospel, Easter and Resurrection Plays, February 2008, is in conversational style…
You can check out Kelly’s horrible looking Front Page/Windows 95 era looking website here. According to Sitemeter, the site averages about 500 page views a day. You can read his blog here.
Kelly is a 70-year-old New Covenant Independent Baptist who loves to put PhD after his name and talk about tithing. One would think that Kelly has a degree from a respected university, but he doesn’t. He earned his PhD at Covington Theological Seminary, an unaccredited Independent Baptist institution in Ft Oglethorpe, Georgia. Want a doctorate? It will cost you $2,395. Work required? 40 credit hours and a 25,000 to 50,000 word thesis. You can check out Covington’s catalog here.
New Covenant giving is: freewill, sacrificial, generous, joyful, regular and motivated by love for God, fellow Christians and lost souls. Do not burden or curse God’s poor who struggle to feed and shelter their family. Although there is no set percentage for Christians to give, all should give sacrificially or lower your standards of living in order to further the reach of the Gospel.
Kelly, like many Independent Baptists, is a dispensationalist. There is no possible way for one to be a dispensationalist and still believe tithing is for today. There’s nothing in the New Testament that remotely teaches that Christians should give 10% of their gross income to the church (the storehouse). Preachers who believe in tithing must use Old Testament proof texts to prop up their beliefs. IFB preachers pretty much ignore the commands of the Old Testament except for the verses on tithing, women wearing men’s clothing, and sodomy. Many preachers added to the tithe requirement demands for special offerings and Faith Promise missionary offerings. It is not uncommon to see poor IFB church members giving 10-20% of their income to the church, believing that if they did so God would open the windows of heaven and pour them out a blessing. Like their faith healing counterparts, IFB preachers promise wonderful blessings from God if people will just open their wallet and give an above 10% offering to God.
While I think that Earl Kelly, based on what I have read on his blog and website, is full of himself, I do think he is essentially correct when it comes to tithing and what the New Testament teaches about giving. His teachings haven’t caught on because, for many churches, abandoning the tithe would bankrupt them and force their preacher to get a real job. Preachers have a vested interest in maintaining good cash flow and the tithe is the best way to do so.
When Polly and I were first married, we were tithers. We also gave a lot of money to missions and every time the church took a special offering we gave liberally. I would preach sermons on tithing, rebuking those who were stealing from God. I would preach from Malachi 3:8-10 sermons about those who robbed God:
Will a man rob God? Yet ye have robbed me. But ye say, Wherein have we robbed thee? In tithes and offerings.Ye are cursed with a curse: for ye have robbed me, even this whole nation. Bring ye all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be meat in mine house, and prove me now herewith, saith the Lord of hosts, if I will not open you the windows of heaven, and pour you out a blessing, that there shall not be room enough to receive it.
As my theology began to evolve and I was influenced by New Covenant theology and Calvinism, I came to see that tithing was an Old Testament command no longer in force. This change in belief was helpful because it allowed me to put an end to me receiving a pittance of a salary and then making it even more of a pittance by giving a tithe and offering. It made no sense for me to tithe when the church was not even paying me a living wage. Now, in the end, we often gave more than 10% of our income to the church or to parachurch ministries. Instead of seeing the church as the bank through which all funds must go, we gave some money to the church and then helped ministries and individuals as God led us to do so. Buying a homeless man a meal was just as important as giving the church $20.
Generally, I think most churches have way too much money and are poor stewards of what they do have. I had a banker in Somerset, Ohio tell me one time that I would be shocked if he told me how much money many of the local churches had on deposit. He told me this because he thought the church I pastored was different, knowing that we rarely had a $100 checking account balance.
I was of the opinion that money was meant to be spent. Yes, take care of the church building, fund ministries, and pay the preacher. Anything above that should be spent on ministering to others. The last church I pastored was sitting on a pile of money and the first thing I did was help them spend it. They had so much money in the bank that they hadn’t balanced the checkbook in years. I balanced the account for them and found that they had $5,000 more than they thought they did. In the seven months I was there, I had the church spend money on remodeling the building. Quite frankly, it was a dump. Of course, the church was fine with spending the money. Doing the actual construction work? A handful of men did all the work. Most of the members were quite happy to let others do the work. They were too busy bitching about the remodel to help, complaining about everything from wall and carpet colors to lighting. I lasted seven months and was so glad “God” led me elsewhere.
Do you have a tithing or giving story to share? I’d love to hear it. Please share your story in the comment section.
Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner (generally known as Marjoe Gortner; born January 14, 1944 in Long Beach, California) is a controversial former evangelist preacher and actor. He first gained public attention during the late 1940s when his parents arranged for him at age four to be ordained as a preacher, due to his extraordinary speaking ability; he was the youngest known in that position. As a young man, he preached on the revival circuit and bought celebrity to the revival movement.
He became a celebrity during the 1970s when he starred in Marjoe (1972), a behind-the-scenes documentary about the lucrative business of Pentecostal preaching. This won the 1972 Academy Award for Best Documentary Film. This documentary is now noted as one of the most vehement criticisms of Pentecostal praxis…
…Hugh Marjoe Ross Gortner was born in 1944 in Long Beach, California, into a long evangelical heritage. The name “Marjoe” is a portmanteau of the biblical names “Mary” and “Joseph”. His father Vernon was a third-generation Christian evangelical minister who preached at revivals. His mother, who has been labelled as “exuberant”, was the person who introduced him as a preacher and is notable for his success as a child. Vernon noticed his son’s talent for mimicry and his fearlessness of strangers and public settings. His parents claimed that the boy had received a vision from God during a bath, and started preaching. Marjoe later said this was a fictional story that his parents forced him to repeat. He claimed they compelled him to do this by using mock-drowning episodes; they did not beat him as they did not want to leave bruises that might be noticed during his many public appearances.
They trained him to deliver sermons, complete with dramatic gestures and emphatic lunges. When he was four, his parents arranged for him to perform a marriage ceremony attended by the press, including photographers from Life and Paramount studios.Until his teenage years, Gortner and his parents traveled throughout the United States holding revival meetings, and by 1951 his younger brother Vernoe had been incorporated into the act. As well as teaching Marjoe scriptural passages, his parents also taught him several money-raising tactics, including the sale of supposedly “holy” articles at revivals. He would promise that such items could be used to heal the sick and dying. He was however for the majority of his childhood unknown and “relatively insignificant” as an evangelist, as he found fame much later from his documentary…
…Gortner spent the remainder of his teenage years as an itinerant hippie until his early twenties. Hard-pressed for money, he decided to put his old skills to work and re-emerged on the preaching circuit with a charismatic stage-show modeled after those of contemporary rock stars, most notably Mick Jagger of the Rolling Stones. He made enough to take six months off every year, during which he returned to California and lived off his earnings before returning to the circuit.
In the late 1960s, Gortner experienced a crisis of conscience about his double life. He decided his performing talents might be put to better use as an actor or singer. When approached by documentarians Howard Smith and Sarah Kernochan, he agreed to let their film crew follow him during 1971 on a final tour of revival meetings in California, Texas, and Michigan. Unbeknownst to everyone involved – including, at one point, his father – he gave “backstage” interviews to the filmmakers between sermons and revivals, explaining intimate details of how he and other ministers operated. The filmmakers also shot his counting the money he had collected during the day later in his hotel room. The resulting film, Marjoe, won the 1972 Academy Award for best documentary…
If you have not watched the documentary Marjoe, I encourage you to do so. While it is over forty years old, it still provides a behind the scenes look at what goes on in pentecostal and charismatic tent meetings, revivals, and healing services.
As a Baptist, I had a healthy mistrust and hate for all things pentecostal and charismatic. I saw their preachers as charlatans and false prophets. A good friend of mine and fellow non-believer was a charismatic pastor for twenty years. We never could have been friends while we were in the ministry because I thought people like him were being used by Satan to deceive the masses.
When it comes to stories like Marjoe, the question I have is whether the person was sincere. Were they a true blue believer? Did they really believe they could heal people? Did they really believe God used them to work miracles? In Marjoe’s case, he was conditioned and indoctrinated by his parents to believe that he really had these gifts. Were his parents true blue believers? That’s the bigger question. Were they just passing on the gifts to their talented, precocious son or were they con artists, Elmer Gantry-like hustlers for God?
Thanks to modern technology and dogged investigative reporters, we now know that many of the pentecostal and charismatic evangelists are frauds. People like Peter Popoff, Ernest Angley, Robert Tilton, WV Grant, Leroy Jenkins,Bob Larson, and Benny Hinn are hustlers out to fleece the flock of God. Many of the prosperity gospel preachers are con-artists who have found a way to become fabulously rich off the pain, suffering, and poverty of others. One quick way to judge an evangelist or ministry is to look at their checkbook. Where’s the money going? Whose being enriched by the “ministry” of Bro Heal Them All? In the case of Marjoe, not only did he make quite a bit of money, so did his parents. The family business was hustling for Jesus and it paid quite well. In the end, Marjoe’s father ran off with the cash and left his son and wife behind.
When I was in college, I cleaned a local Sweden House restaurant. One night, a couple of pentecostal evangelists had rented one of the banquet rooms for a healing service. After the service, not knowing I was standing around the corner, I heard the evangelists bitterly complaining about how poor the offering was. This was my first taste of money driven Christianity. As I would learn later, Baptists had their own problem with money-grubbing con-artists, men who preached up a storm only so it would rain twenty-dollar bills. I think the average Christian would be shocked to find out how many of the preachers they love, trust, and support are in it for fame and money. I know of several well known IFB preachers who retired from the ministry as millionaires. Ain’t God good?
In the mid 1970’s, I lived in Sierra Vista, Arizona. I worked for a local grocery store. Every week, several van loads of Pentecostals would come into Food Giant to shop. They were from Miracle Valley, Arizona, the home of evangelist AA Allen. Allen, an alcoholic died in 1970 after a heavy drinking binge. He was 59. The van loads of long dressed women were from one of the Miracle Valley pentecostal ministries or colleges. This was my first exposure to Pentecostals. At the time, I thought, nice looking women, too much clothing. My girlfriend, at the time, wore skirts and dresses that were in keeping with style of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s In other words, I could see her legs.
As I was doing some research for this post, I came upon an interesting story on Wikipedia about one of the pentecostal groups that took up residence in Miracle Valley:
In 1978-80 approximately 300 members of the Christ Miracle Healing Center and Church (CMHCC) moved from Mississippi and Chicago. They purchased property in the subdivision on the north side of Highway 92 across from the bible college. Thomas was a former disciple of Allen’s at MVBC and attempted to purchase it after his death. Over the following two years numerous conflicts arose between the church and its members, and the local community and law enforcement on the other. Tensions escalated when it was discovered that five young children of church members had died over the previous year, with one and possibly four due to the church’s refusal to seek medical attention. Faith healing was a major component of the church’s teachings. Conflicts also arose when the church refused access to parents and law enforcement in retrieving he children of at least two families who had been illegally transported to the Valley against their parents’ wishes. Racial tensions arose between the African American church members and the mostly white residents. In late 1982 a variety of incidents with law enforcement culminated when local sheriff deputies, with backup by state law enforcement, attempted to serve bench warrants for the arrest of 3 members of the church. A large group of church members confronted the officials and in the ensuing “shootout” two church members were killed and seven law enforcement officers were injured. One church member and one sheriff’s deputy would later die of their injuries. The church and its members departed Miracle Valley in early 1983.
My brother lives near Miracle Valley in Tombstone. He was, at one time, the marshal of Tombstone. He can tell all kinds of stories about all kinds of crazy that went on in out-of-the-way places in Cochise County, Arizona.
I attended a charismatic healing service in the mid 1980’s at the Somerset Elementary School in Somerset, Ohio. At the time, I was pastor of the Baptist church and I want to see firsthand what went on at a healing service. The show was quite intense and towards the end the evangelist started going down the rows laying hands on people. Next to me was an old scruffy woman with dirty and greasy hair. When the evangelist came to her, he looked at her head and kept his hand a few inches above it. Right then and there I knew that this guy was a con artist. What, a bit of greasy hair going to keep you from healing someone? When he came to me, I gave him my keep on moving look. I wonder, did I miss out on God healing me? Am I cursed with sickness to this day because I didn’t let Elmer Gantry’s cousin lay hands on me?
Here’s my take on Marjoe, pentecostal evangelists, and faith healers. I think some of them are true blue believers. Indoctrinated from an early age, they sincerely believe what they are preaching. When it comes to the money they make, they view it as God blessing them. But, I also think that a large number of preachers, evangelists, and faith healers are scam artists, frauds who have found a way to make lots of money without doing much work. They are, at best, entertainers, at worst they are predators who prey an ignorant, gullible Christians.
If you happened to watch the videos above and see the emotional craziness that went on at Marjoe’s meetings, I should let you know that I saw similar behavior at Baptist revival meetings, preacher’s meetings, camp meetings; especially those held south of the Mason-Dixon line. The only difference? Everyone spoke in English. I’ve seen aisle running, pew jumping, flag waving, shouting, and screaming at countless old-fashioned revivals or camp meetings. I’ve seen churches and preachers collect Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets of cash; thousands of dollars collected for “the Lord”,
When you were a pastor, did you encourage church goers to think for themselves or did you prefer that they accepted everything you preached without measuring it against their own perceptions?
If I had been asked this question when I was a pastor, I would have answered YES! I encouraged people to read and study the Bible. I recommended books that I thought would be helpful in their walk with God. Some of the fundamentalist churches I grew up in discouraged intellectual pursuit. In their mind, all a Christian needed was the Holy Spirit, a sound Bible preaching church, a God-called pastor, and a Scofield King James Version Bible. Church members were encouraged to be people of the book. Better to know THE one book well than to have read thousands of books and not thoroughly know and understand the one book that matters.
By the time I started pastoring churches, I had begun reading orthodox theological books, never straying beyond safe, theologically correct authors. So, I recommended church members read and expand their theological horizons, but I made sure they only read books that were written by Evangelicals. I was encouraging them to “think” but only within the box I provided for them. So the real answer to the question is NO!
While I expected people to check my preaching by the Word of God, I also expected them to trust me. After all, I was the man of God, the one God had appointed to be their teacher. And quite frankly, when it came to knowing and understanding theology, I was at the head of the class in every church I pastored. As is the case in most churches, members took my word for it. Their theology was actually my theology. At one church, I became quite Calvinistic in my theology and began aggressively teaching the five points of Calvinism. Only one family had a problem with what I was preaching. Everyone else? Sure preacher, we’ll take your word for it.
Generally, I found that most church members were not interested in diligently studying the Bible or reading theology books. One reason for this is that they had a life and very little time to devote to such pursuits. I was paid to study the Bible and read books. A great gig for someone like me, but it is unfair for a pastor to expect church members to spend the same amount of time he does studying the Bible and reading theological books. When church members did read, they read light Christian romance novels or fiction. This used to drive me crazy. I was, and still am, a non-fiction reader. I very rarely read fiction. My thinking is, why read fiction when you can read TRUE stories? I now know that church members often read fiction because it allows them to escape or to fantasize. Fiction allowed them to check out from the grueling grind of life and enter a world of suspense, intrigue, and temptation. John Calvin’s Institutes of the Christian Religion were no match for Erica Jong.