I was raised Roman Catholic, so extravagance in a church is not surprising to me. The Catholic Church owns some of the most important art works ever created and there is probably enough gold in the vessels and gilded on every surface to fund the budget of a medium-sized nation. But I also knew that one of the foundations of the Protestant faith was a rejection of all those accouterments of wealth.
Living in the South, as we did for more years than I like to remember, it is nearly impossible to avoid the televangelists. One in particular caught my attention, because she had outdone Dolly Parton in the bouffant wig department, and hers were platinum pink. She favored tight knit shirts and long skirts with a shawl wrapped around her somewhat ample hips. Her name is Janice Crouch. The stage set for her show, well, technically it was her husband’s show, was decorated in pure, tasteless, over-the-top-Louis XVI gilding. Everything was gilded. One practically needed shades to watch the show. It was addictive, for someone raised in traditional religion, in its oddness and ostentation.
Jan Crouch had no shame. She frequently showed viewers their horse farm and thoroughbreds. Tara was a shack by comparison. Then, she would turn around and solicit funds for her personal mission – delivering toys to poor children in Africa or some other God-less place. She favored white dolls for the girls, and, I think, trucks for the boys. It was the white dolls that riveted me. Anyone could find ethnically and racially appropriate dolls in any Walmart. Even Barbie has a black friend. But Jan Crouch’s dolls were white. They also solicited funds for their television stations around the world.
And then there was their choice of Bible translation for Jan’s tearful readings. Did you know that they had “summit conferences” in ancient Persia and Babylon? Now, as a Catholic, I was not raised in an Old Testament tradition. I was barely raised in a New Testament tradition. Catholics are very big on the Apostles and the early Christian philosophers, not as much on the contradictions of the Bible. But even I recognized that the words coming out of Jan Crouch’s mouth weren’t in any Bible I’d ever encountered, and I owned the King James, the Catholic and the Hebrew University Bibles. In being modernized and rendered into colloquial American, the words were being twisted to a certain degree. Not much, but enough to alter the meanings of passages. I knew about Revelations, even though the Catholic Church dismisses it as unimportant, but here was a woman preaching that Daniel’s visions about a specific set of Kings in a specific time almost 3,000 years ago were somehow predictions of the activities of the nations of the Middle East today.
That was when I finally understood the evangelical zeal for a holy war against Islam. It was being preached to Christians by televangelists like Jan Crouch. They were taking the history of ancient Judea and saying that it was relevant to the modern Middle East, that the visions of an ancient prophet given to ancient kings were visions of tomorrow. In the minds of their followers, all that ancient history was being mashed up with modern politics and modern Christians were taking the place of ancient Jews and none of it makes any logical sense. Archeologists have been proving for almost a century that most of what is in the Bible is not entirely accurate. The Old Testament is a written rendition of the oral history of a nomadic people. It doesn’t stand against the written histories of the city-states and civilizations of the region.
Islam didn’t even exist in the time of either the Old or New Testament. The wars of ancient times are only relevant to the wars of today in the bedtime stories of Iranian and Afghan parents who use Alexander the Great as a boogie man. It is the wars waged since the birth of Islam which are relevant, starting with the earliest conquests by Mohammed, which are cited by Jews who sort of skip over the next 1,300 years, as proof of the historical attitude of Muslims toward Jews. It is the Crusades that are relevant, and the centuries of conquests and occupations of the Middle East and North Africa that are important, and the effects of the Cold War and the conflicting support given to those nations by the United States and the Soviet Union that are important, not the wars of Nebuchadnezzar.
But, there she was, Janice Crouch, she of the pink bouffant hair, obtusely, subtly preaching hate. Frankly, she’s a very scary lady because she is damned good at what she does. All the major evangelical preachers have been very good at what they do, lead the gullible and profit off them.
It was no surprise to me to find that the Crouchs are being accused of taking $50 million from their followers to fund their extravagant lifestyle. They are hardly the first, they will not be the last. Thirteen mansions and their estates, private jets, race horses, the hundred grand for an RV for the dogs, the Crouchs have done very well by their Trinity Broadcasting Network. They are about as far from the virtues of poverty and service to the poor that Christ preached as the Vatican is. Wall Watchers, the religious watchdog group, rates Trinity Broadcasting as one of the thirty worst ministries in the world. No surprise there, either. The only thing that surprises me is how long it takes to expose these people and why, even after their sins and crimes are exposed, people still believe in them.
I left the Catholic Church a long time ago, but I retain a deep affection for two of their saints – Francis of Assisi and his friend Clare, founder of the Poor Clares order of nuns. They lived what Christ preached, lives of service to the least among us, lives of personal poverty after being born into wealthy families, lives of forgiveness, compassion and love.