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Don't buy elixir from a 'magic man'

August 18, 2007|By Lloyd Waters

While noting the recent death of Tammy Faye Bakker Messmer, I could not help but reflect on those days of the Praise the Lord (PTL) television ministry that attracted some 13 million viewers with contributions nearing $100 million.

It was the '80s, a time of greed, and also a difficult time for the elderly. Sound familiar?

Like a magic man selling an amazing elixir from the back of a stagecoach to all who would listen and watch, Jim Bakker built a financial empire on the backs of seniors and little old ladies.

Many of these people were on fixed incomes, but gave willingly of their limited dollars so they might feel good in their old age, remedy their aches and receive a blessing.

Bakker quoted scriptures to this massive television audience and told them the dos and don'ts of living a godly life. Giving to God is an important responsibility, he preached. Too bad sometimes that man has to deliver the loot, I thought.

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It was once reported that the Bakkers rented a private jet for $100,000 to fly their clothes from one part of the country to another. Other abuses were also documented.

After his greed and demise resulted in an 18-year prison sentence for fraud, tax evasion and racketeering. The truth finally arrived.

Those people who had given so generously to create Bakker's vast financial empire in the name of God were now wallowing in disbelief. Some even filed a civil suit to recover their losses when they discovered there was no room at the Heritage Inn.

As the PTL fiasco unraveled, Jimmy Swaggart was taking dead aim on the shortcomings of Bakker's sins and irresponsibility. As Swaggart doused his criticism in rhetoric filled with fire and brimstone he, too, found himself tripping over those familiar yet lovely rocks in the middle of the road.

Jerry Falwell labeled Bakker an "embezzler." "sexual deviant" and "the greatest scab and cancer on the face of Christianity." Maybe Falwell was right, but Bakker also had some other noteworthy company.

Forgiveness is the name of the book, so after Bakker served five years of his 18-year sentence, he was paroled. As a recent note, he now has "the New Jim Bakker Show at the Studio Caf in Branson, Missouri."

His new show is broadcast on some 30 TV stations and 200 cable outlets and I imagine he still is soliciting money from anyone who might give.

Americans have a soft spot in their heart when it comes to giving. Some religious leaders seem to prey on this attribute in a most sinister way.

There are many other examples where self proclaimed men of God wanted to share the "way" with us. They desire that we believe without doubt, question or evaluation.

Be a good steward, give me your tithes and I'm sure God will use it in a good way.

Remember Jim Jones, who established Jonestown, Guyana in South America who took some 913 of his followers with him along with their monthly Social Security checks and left America for the Promised Land. You know the rest of the story.

In addition to giving Jones their money, these people paid the ultimate sacrifice for Jones' fraud.

David Koresh, the self-ordained leader of the religious sect in Waco is yet another example. Again, while proclaiming the name of God and expounding the Book of Revelation, he established his own little world of rules and control over the weak and young.

The resulting 82 deaths at Waco can be attributed to his fraud.

Most recently, the long shadow cast on the Catholic Church by rogue priests who would proclaim the word and light of God while walking in the path of darkness is yet another dismal example of fraud in the name of God.

I have always believed there is more good in the world than evil, but at times, I have to admit that I think the gap is closing.

I'm not sure about you, and I don't want to distract you from giving, but personally I'm not buying any elixir from the back of a stagecoach. I don't think most of that stuff works very well, anyway. And the guy usually doesn't even look honest.

I know for certain there are many good churches and charities that do not condone or represent those above examples, and I have witnessed too many good deeds done by these groups.

Giving to any charity or church for the purpose of improving the plight of a person in need is an individual and noble choice.

Many of these groups do a great deal of good for people, the community and the world. They are deserving of our continued support.

Study carefully those who wear the cloak of glitz, glimmering studs and diamonds and an aura of wealth while beckoning you to contribute your pennies to feed the hungry. There is something oddly wrong with the picture.

As for me, don't kill the messenger - a voice encouraged me to share these observations with you.

Lloyd "Pete" Waters is a Sharpsburg resident who writes for The Herald-Mail.

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