My first actual playing experience in the church was in a Rod Parsley church plant in Ohio. So I am very familar with this guys unbiblical tactics.
]With God On His Side
Meet Rod Parsley: rising star of the religious right, GOP ally -- and subject of lawsuits over his church governance and secretive fund-raising practices.
By Sarah Posner
Issue Date: 11.10.05Print Friendly Email Article
When Zell Miller took the stage at one of Ohio’s largest “megachurches” last August, there was no talk of spitballs or duels, but there was plenty of rhetoric about soldiers and war. As the featured speaker at both a regular Sunday-evening church service and a political rally for about 1,300 pastors the following morning, the former Georgia senator wasn’t talking about gun-toting soldiers bringing democracy to the Middle East. Instead, to the delight of thousands of congregants at the World Harvest Church in Columbus, Miller spoke of Bible-toting Christian soldiers bringing theocracy to America.
The apostate Democrat came to Ohio as the special guest of televangelist Rod Parsley, a rising star of the Christian right who was lifted from political obscurity onto the national stage for his role in mobilizing voters in favor of his state’s gay-marriage ban last year. Parsley, a Bible-college dropout who claims to have begun his evangelical career in his parents’ backyard by preaching to a tiny congregation nearly 20 years ago, now boasts a 12,000-member church with affiliated schools offering education from preschool through college; a daily television program, Breakthrough, seen on the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN) and other fundamentalist-Christian television outlets; a 2,000-member fellowship of affiliated churches; and a political organization, the Orwellian-sounding Center for Moral Clarity. But Parsley, who is hailed by the theocratic Christian right as a model of virtue and a representative of “values voters,” has been questioned by congregants and even his own family about his church governance and secretive fund-raising practices.
“Probably President Bush would not be in office today had it not been for him,” said Bishop Harry Jackson, a black pastor from the Washington, D.C., suburbs and a fellow rising star in the religious right. A registered Democrat who said that he and Parsley share the same theological and political viewpoint, Jackson runs the High Impact Leadership Coalition, which promotes its “Black Contract With America on Moral Values.” That effort has led Jackson into alliance with the Arlington Group, a coalition of the Christian-right political elite with which Parsley is also affiliated. According to Jackson, Parsley’s style of preaching is “very, very user-friendly to African Americans,” which may explain why the white pastor has a congregation that is 40-percent black. Jackson also maintained that Parsley’s work with Ohio Secretary of State J. Kenneth Blackwell, as a “black and white team” campaigning for the gay-marriage ban in churches across Ohio, created the “ricochet effect” of bringing out voters for George W. Bush in 2004.
Jackson was careful to point out that Parsley did not explicitly campaign for Bush, which would have jeopardized his church’s tax-exempt status. But that was something Parsley clearly wanted to do in light of his $2,000 contribution to the Bush-Cheney campaign and his outspoken contempt for the Internal Revenue Service rules that prohibit clergy from endorsing candidates. His tag-team campaign for the gay-marriage ban with Blackwell -- who was not only the state co-chair of the Bush-Cheney re-election effort but also supervised the election as secretary of state -- certainly provided support to Bush. Now, through campaign contributions and joint public appearances, Parsley is supporting Blackwell’s bid to become the Republican gubernatorial nominee in 2006.
Although Parsley has barely stopped short of explicitly endorsing Blackwell, he insists that party affiliation doesn’t matter, and that he supports anyone, Republican or Democrat, who shares his view that the Bible offers the ultimate word on morality. Portraying himself as nonpartisan, and even as a Christ-like savior of the less fortunate, he claims (borrowing from Miller) that he is neither a Democrat nor a Republican but a “Christocrat.”
After Ohio’s decisive role in last year’s election -- when Bush almost doubled his share of the black vote over his showing in 2000 -- the nation’s theocratic Christian elite sat up and took notice of Parsley. According to Jackson, Parsley was among about a dozen ministers -- and one of only a handful of whites -- invited by Focus on the Family leader James Dobson to an exclusive December 2004 meeting to discuss the divide between white and black evangelical churches. The most well-known public faces of the Christian right, said Jackson, such as Jerry Falwell, Pat Robertson, and Dobson himself, appeal primarily to white evangelicals. Among Christians, Jackson added, Parsley is “certainly on his way to having the appeal” that these figures have, but Parsley also has the ability to “break the mold” because of his appeal to blacks. Jackson also noted that since the December meeting, Parsley has become “very, very instrumental” in developing a new allegiance between black and white evangelical Christians.
At 48, Parsley’s relative youth qualifies him to follow in the steps of the septuagenarian leadership that rose to prominence in the 1970s and ’80s, and he is positioned, supporters say, for a ranking position among the next generation of political evangelicals. Miller describes Parsley as “one of the giants that’s coming along.” The new evangelical generation is epitomized by the come-as-you-are megachurch, where parishioners can show up dressed in anything from jeans and a T-shirt to a well-tailored suit, and where staid hymnals are tossed aside in favor of upbeat praise songs set to blaring rock music. This style blurs the line between evangelicals and Pentecostals -- also known as “charismatics” -- like Parsley, whose services are boisterous and sweaty, and would look to outsiders more like a pep rally than a worship service. Capitalizing on this appeal, Parsley has deliberately reached out to young people. His purpose was plain when he announced the planned formation of a new nonprofit organization, Reformation Ohio, in August. Reformation Ohio’s goals include, among other things, registering 400,000 new voters through its member churches and preaching to 1 million Ohioans over the next four years in an effort to convert 100,000. Many of these sought-after converts will be teenagers, through a $10 million campaign by Youth With a Mission, a nonprofit group that aggressively evangelizes through extreme sports, Christian rock concerts, dance, and performance art.
Owing to the breadth of his appeal (black, white, young, old) Parsley has been embraced by the GOP leadership and the right-wing punditocracy as a representative of “moral values” -- from Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (who had Parsley and Jackson at his side when he hosted a news conference in support of the judicial nomination of Janice Rogers Brown), to Texas Governor Rick Perry (who had Parsley, along with Perkins and American Family Association President Don Wildmon, on hand when he hosted his controversial Sunday bill-signing ceremony at a Christian school, where Parsley called gay sex “a veritable breeding ground of disease”), to Ann Coulter (who helped him launch his book tour), to National Association of Evangelicals President Ted Haggard (who has called Parsley “a bold, dynamic man of faith who’s committed to doing the right thing no matter what”), to Bush himself (who included Parsley on a conference call to religious leaders shortly after the announcement of John Roberts’ nomination to the Supreme Court).
Representative Walter Jones, the North Carolina Republican best known for demanding “freedom fries” in the House cafeteria, said that Parsley is a “true servant of my Lord and Savior” who “felt a calling to be more active and visible” in politics and is now becoming a national figure. Jones is the sponsor of the Houses of Worship Free Speech Restoration Act, a bill Parsley supports because it would lift the irs restriction on electioneering from the pulpit. In the past year, Jones said, Parsley has become more visible to legislators, though Jones declined to identify other members of Congress associated with him. One prominent politician who has publicly done so, however, is Kansas Senator Sam Brownback, who is considering a 2008 presidential bid (and refused a request to be interviewed for this article).
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In his church, Parsley claims to be fomenting revolution at God’s direction. This revolution -- theocratic in character, of course -- is portrayed by Parsley as a battle between the beleaguered, persecuted Christian and a secular culture that has devolved into chaos. Parsley, a man by turns bellicose, ingratiating, and kitschy, has placed his cult of personality front and center in the “culture war” -- a label that suits his depiction of an apocalyptic showdown between good and evil. Whether he is discussing the distinction between Christian and Muslim (“I do not believe our country can truly fulfill its divine purpose until we understand our historical conflict with Islam”), straight and gay (“the pressure on society to accept the audacious behaviors and disastrous consequences of homosexual activity is not a matter of cultural drift or shifting mores; it is a highly orchestrated, highly organized, and extremely disciplined political program”), or atheist and theocrat (the media has engaged in a “high-tech persecution of my faith”), Parsley sees battle lines drawn clearly. And he is the arbiter of what’s right and wrong because, as he is unafraid to say, God told him so. In a May broadcast of TBN’s Praise the Lord television program, Tony Perkins, a prominent leader of the theocratic elite, introduced Parsley to the audience as one of the “new generals” of a Christian army bringing a revival “in every realm of life” to fruition.
Parsley lards his preaching and writing with references to his divinely inspired leadership and his “anointing” by God. He exhorts parishioners that God “has not only called us to war but empowered us to win.” In promoting his book Silent No More, Parsley never tires of talking about the inspiration provided by Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel’s statement that he would never again be silent in the face of human suffering. He calls for a “moral revolution” like the one staged by Martin Luther King Jr., which will, he predicts, give rise to a “Third Great Awakening.” Whether it’s Wiesel or King, Parsley’s intention to equate himself with iconic figures engaged in humanity’s great moral struggles is unmistakable.
Parsley even sees his location in Ohio as divinely ordained. In April, he told Focus on the Family’s Citizen Link magazine, “Ohio is a hotbed. I believe very much in the geographic locating abilities of the Holy Spirit.” In August, he went so far as to tell his audience of 1,300 pastors that the country’s focus on Ohio’s pivotal role in 2004 was no coincidence. “God geographically located you,” he told them, encouraging them to believe that “you are a major candidate for a role in this revolution.”
Jackson explains that his friend Parsley is preaching a “message of hope and encouragement.” But while Parsley often denounces the income disparity between blacks and whites, he was unable, in response to written questions submitted to his press agent, to identify a single policy initiative that would directly address the problem. (Despite his oft-repeated promise to be “silent no more,” Parsley refused to be interviewed for this article.) Parroting right-wing Republican orthodoxy, he replied: “I’m convinced the best thing government can do to help the poor is to get out of the way. If government reduced taxes, removed industrial restraints, eliminated wage controls, and abolished subsidies, tariff[s], and other constraints on free enterprise, the poor would be helped in a way that [Aid to Families With Dependent Children], Social Security, and unemployment insurance could never match.”
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Exactly how Parsley purports to “help” the poor, both black and white, is evident in his practice of Word of Faith theology, also known as the “prosperity gospel.” Word of Faith is a nondenominational religious movement with no official church hierarchy or ordination procedures, which emphasizes the absolute prophetic authority of pastors, the imperative to make tithes and offerings to the church, and the power of an individual’s spoken word to lay claim to their spiritual and material desires. Purveyors of Word of Faith, like Parsley, teach their flock to “sow a seed” by donating money to the church, promising a “hundredfold” return. Word of Faith has been popularized, in large part, by the immense growth of TBN -- a nonprofit entity with a 24-7 lineup of regular evangelists and faith healers, including Parsley, assets of more than $600 million, and annual revenues approaching $200 million, making it the closest competitor to Pat Robertson’s Christian Broadcasting Network.
The most prominent critics of Word of Faith are Christians who consider it a heretical distortion of the Bible. According to these critics, Word of Faith preachers prey on people of modest means, promising prosperity in return for putting money in the pocket of a self-anointed prophet. Ole Anthony, president of the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation and a leading Word of Faith critic, regards the emphasis on financial abundance as evidence of God’s blessing as “the oldest heresy in the church.” He describes Parsley as a “power-hungry” man, living “an extravagant lifestyle that has become the hallmark of televangelists these days.” With his wife and children, Parsley resides in a 7,500-square-foot house valued at more than $1 million.
Word of Faith ministries like Parsley’s operate in secret. Without transparency, the extent of their fund raising and how they spend the proceeds are unknown. In his responses to my written questions, Parsley said that his church has never applied for membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a voluntary-membership organization of nearly 1,200 evangelical groups that requires, among other things, public disclosure of audited financial statements and reports, including financial information about specific projects for which a ministry is soliciting gifts. Parsley claimed that World Harvest conducts an annual independent audit “through the scrutiny of the board of directors,” which consists of himself and his parents. (Council standards also prohibit insiders from maintaining exclusive control of church governance.) He does not make that “audit” available to the public, however, nor does he provide documentation of how money he says he raises for humanitarian projects is spent.
Parsley’s secrecy has led Ministry Watch, a conservative Christian organization that monitors financial accountability practices, to give his and several other well-known Word of Faith organizations an “F” rating for transparency. World Harvest, through its press agent, claimed that its resistance to disclosure “is consistent with the policy of most churches across the country.” But Rod Pitzer, Ministry Watch’s director of research, said that World Harvest’s lack of transparency is “very unusual” and that the “vast majority” of Christian organizations are becoming more transparent.
Pitzer also said that Word of Faith theology is “self-serving,” “harmful to other people,” and “not orthodox.” In fund-raising appeals, for example, Parsley has urged people to burn their bills and donate to him to free themselves from debt. Through his Web site and television program, Parsley sells “covenant swords” and “prayer cloths” -- kitsch objects that he claims will bring the purchaser miraculous freedom from financial problems as well as any physical or emotional ailments. He has written that “one of the first reasons for poverty is a lack of knowledge of God and His Word,” and that “the Bible says that to withhold the tithe is to rob God.” He pressures his congregants to tithe 10 percent of their gross income, in addition to offerings, which are aggressively sought two or three times during each service. Yet not even donors can learn precisely where their money goes.
The Word of Faith movement experienced explosive growth in the 1980s, particularly among African Americans. That growth, argues sociologist Milmon F. Harrison in Righteous Riches: The Word of Faith Movement in Contemporary African American Religion, is attributable to Reaganite economic policies, the increasing divide between rich and poor, and the gap between the reality of people’s economic lives and the prosperity depicted on popular television shows and in movies. The University of California professor says that the Word of Faith message offers parishioners hope -- however tenuous -- that they, too, could prosper.
Not surprisingly, Republican strategists have taken note of Word of Faith’s appeal to potential voters. When Republican National Committee Chairman Ken Mehlman announced the formation of an African-American Advisory Committee earlier this year, two of its 20 members were promoters of Word of Faith: Bishop Keith Butler, pastor to a Southfield, Michigan, megachurch and a Republican candidate for U.S. Senate (whose bid is supported by Parsley) and the Reverend Joe Watkins, a former staffer in the first Bush White House and occasional Crossfire guest who has also appeared on Praise The Lord. (Blackwell serves on Mehlman’s committee, too.) While such evangelists are nothing new, the Republican Party’s exploitation of their audience in the name of “moral values” typifies the crass opportunism of the alliance between the gop and the theocratic right.
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Perhaps coincidentally, Parsley’s church started to grow when he engaged the services of a Lawrenceville, Georgia, attorney named Dale Allison. According to Ole Anthony, Allison was one of several people traveling around the country in the 1980s and ’90s showing churches “how to protect God’s money from the government.” Allison is described by sources in Georgia and in court records as a brazen con man who helped pastors set up dictatorial churches, through which they enriched themselves by convincing followers that God required them to give their money to the pastor. In 1997, Allison was disbarred for orchestrating a complex web of bogus financial transactions with another preacher he represented, Calvin Simmons, some of which were designed to defraud Simmons’ parishioners. These transactions included an effort to hide Simmons’ assets from a group of creditors and church members that had obtained a court judgment against Simmons.
A person who was both a member of Simmons’ congregation and worked with Allison in the 1980s described the church as one that “used people beyond belief.” Simmons’ arrangement, said the former congregant, “couldn’t happen without a crooked attorney,” because having an attorney involved gave the operation the appearance of propriety. This person, who asked not to be identified by name, said that with the help of Dale Allison and Samuel Brockway, a Lawrenceville businessman who served on the church’s board, Simmons created a church structure that demanded unquestioning obedience. The trio convinced the congregation -- mostly people who were poor or of very modest means -- that Simmons was a prophet of God. The pastor and his inner circle aggressively solicited money, defrauded people by hiding assets in corporations set up using fictitious names for officers, and broke up marriages. “If you went against the prophet,” said the former congregant, “you would incur the wrath of God,” a threat that caused “hurt and havoc” in people’s lives.
The former congregant also recalled Allison working with pastors in Ohio, but did not have specific knowledge of Allison’s work with Parsley. The template corporate bylaws for churches created by Allison “gave the pastor vast dictatorial powers” over his parishioners. According to excerpts of World Harvest’s bylaws made part of the public record in a lawsuit filed against Parsley in the 1990s, “the government of the Church is in the hands of the Pastor, who has ultimate authority under Christ”; “the church must function as a theocracy”; a democracy “is not God’s way”; and “the purpose of the Church is not to do the will of the majority, but the will of God.”
While other former Simmons congregants could not be located or did not return phone calls, court records in Georgia reflect legal problems both Allison and Simmons faced as a result of their activities. A sworn affidavit in one case brought by a former church member, who was proceeding without a lawyer, described Simmons, Brockway, and Allison as “the religious con-artist triad” of Simmons’ church, and accused them of tax and bankruptcy fraud, deceptive fund-raising tactics, and brainwashing. They “financially exploited” members of the church, promising them “deliverance of [sic] their financial problems, healing, and an undefined present utopia,” but instead used donations to buy themselves luxurious homes, rental properties, and luxury cars. (The case was eventually dismissed because the plaintiff did not plead legally recognized causes of action.) According to the affidavit, Simmons taught that it is more important to tithe and make offerings than to pay bills, and that poverty is caused by stealing God’s money, which means failing to tithe and make offerings.
In an interview, Allison denied the allegations of “disgruntled” former church members, and Brockway called them “foolishness.” (Simmons did not return a phone call seeking comment.) Allison nonetheless maintained that church members have no right to question how their tithes and offerings are used, insisting that there is no biblical or legal requirement for a church to disclose an audited financial statement. While Allison claimed that he did not do the same type of business work for Parsley as he did for Simmons, he did contend that “when you look at the Bible and see how God set up a structure” for compensation, “you’d expect the pastor to be the highest-paid person around.”
Public records show that Parsley engaged Allison’s services from 1987 at least through 1994. Those services included filing corporate papers with the state of Ohio, assisting in litigation, and sitting on the church’s compensation committee. In our e-mail exchange through Parsley’s press agent, I asked 15 detailed questions about Allison, including what Parsley knew about Allison’s malfeasance and when he knew it. In response to each query, Parsley answered, “We have not utilized Mr. Allison’s services in a decade and have no information regarding his personal or professional circumstances.” That reply evaded the essential question of whether Parsley knew that Allison, although not disbarred until 1997, was engaging in fraudulent schemes in Georgia, and, if he did, why he employed Allison at least through 1994.
Among the questions Parsley refused to answer directly was why he continued to use Allison’s services after a 1986 article in The Columbus Dispatch reported that Parsley was running a franchise-like, unaccredited Bible college out of his church basement while claiming that the college was accredited by the state of Ohio. When confronted by angry students who discovered that their credits were not transferable, Parsley claimed that he was “very definitely a victim” of the Bible college’s false claims. The Dispatch article identified the Bible college’s lawyer as none other than Dale Allison, but Parsley refused to explain why he would continue to employ an attorney whose other client had “victimized” him.
Parsley also refused to say whether he knew in 1987 that Allison had declared bankruptcy, and, if he knew, why he continued to use the lawyer’s services, as Parsley himself has taught that poverty is evidence of a lack of faith in God. Allison’s bankruptcy filings show that he viewed the proceeding as a game; in one, he listed a Lucifer Fallenangel at a P.O. Box 666 as one of his creditors. According to the court order disbarring Allison, in the years preceding his bankruptcy, Allison and Simmons created multiple phony companies, often using fake names, and used these to take out bank loans, incorporate businesses, and orchestrate a phony foreclosure on Allison’s house. A person familiar with Allison’s bankruptcy proceeding described a “vast and complex” scheme to deceive Allison’s clients, some of whom were also members of Simmons’ church, and to hide assets that was “very sordid and very rotten.” But Allison got away with it. In 1992 he was discharged from bankruptcy without any money distributed to his creditors.
Shortly after his bankruptcy discharge, however, the Georgia State Bar opened its investigation of Allison. (He was never admitted to practice law in Ohio.) While the bar’s three-year investigation of Allison was ongoing, according to public documents, Allison filed trade-name registrations for World Harvest with the state of Ohio; filed amended articles of incorporation for the church, which laid out a long list of projects the church was authorized to pursue, along with citations to biblical authority for each one; incorporated several for-profit corporations, one of which was designed to be a “feeder corporation” for World Harvest Church; and served on the church’s compensation committee, which determined Parsley’s salary and benefits. Parsley refused to explain, in his written responses, why he continued to use Allison’s services during this time.
No public records of any criminal prosecutions of Allison could be located, although the Georgia Supreme Court clearly found that he had engaged in criminal activity, including using fictitious and forged names on loan applications and state corporate filings. He can no longer practice law in Georgia, but describes himself as “a consultant” through Beyth Anowth Ministries, a federally tax-exempt organization that listed its accomplishments on a recent tax return as visiting churches in Texas, Alabama, Oklahoma, California, Georgia, and Ohio; creating and amending corporate papers and tax-exempt applications for dozens of churches; and consulting with churches and ministries “with various problems in biblical structure, eldership difficulties, teaching subjects, disciplinary problems, hiring, and construction.” Brockway said that he, Allison, and Simmons are still friends and business associates, but refused to describe their ventures. He described Allison as “a fine person; he’s an upstanding fellow, who helps churches reorganize and protect themselves from the IRS” and “helps them with their business operations.”
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Meanwhile, records in three lawsuits filed against Parsley in the 1990s indicate that the autocratic structure of the church shaped his behavior and, in some instances, drove followers -- and even his own family members -- to the courthouse. All three plaintiffs complained that other church members ostracized them for questioning Parsley, and one plaintiff became the target of a venomous sermon during which Parsley publicly accused him of trying to extort money from the church. All three cases were settled in secret, and the lawyers and parties are prohibited from discussing them publicly.
In one case, filed in late 1992, a painting contractor who also attended World Harvest, Lewis Bungard, alleged that Parsley choked him and that Parsley’s father punched him after an argument over money owed him under a contract to paint Parsley’s new home, during which Bungard accused the pastor of deceiving his followers. Criminal charges against Parsley were dropped, Bungard claimed, after Parsley’s handlers backed up his denial to police that he had assaulted Bungard. Parsley’s father pleaded no contest to a reduced charge of disorderly conduct. According to court records, Bungard sued not only to recover the money he was owed under the contract but to establish a court-supervised trust to ensure that money Parsley had solicited to build a home for unwed mothers and a retirement home was used for those purposes. Bungard and his wife testified that based on Parsley’s representations, they had donated about $7,000, sometimes in cash or by check. Because the case settled in secret, it is not publicly known whether such a trust was ever created.
Around the same time that Bungard filed his lawsuit, Parsley’s aunt Naomil Endicott (his mother’s sister) accused his father (her own brother-in-law) of sexually harassing her while she was working at the church. When she filed her lawsuit, the church issued a press release that accused her of being a “disgruntled” family member who had engaged in a “pattern of manipulation … to obtain monies from the family and the church.” That case settled in secret, too, after Endicott produced a tape recording she said proved the elder Parsley’s harassment.
In court papers, Endicott described an environment hostile to anyone questioning “self-serving, unethical, or inappropriate behavior” by Parsley and his parents. She also claimed that she was not paid for overtime work, and that Allison counseled her to execute tax forms to elect to be exempted from Social Security coverage, which saved the cost of the church’s FICA contribution. He did not explain that these decisions would reduce her Social Security retirement benefits. “These were presented as forms necessary to take advantage of a tax benefit for employees of nonprofit corporations,” she charged. In response to my question about whether Allison had counseled World Harvest employees to execute such forms, Parsley replied only that the church “makes all appropriate filings in accordance with all legal requirements.” Allison maintained that Endicott was a “minister” and therefore could opt out of Social Security benefits, but that he never forced anyone to waive that right.
Parsley’s cousin Dwayne Endicott sued Parsley in 1995, claiming that he was forced out of his job as a maintenance worker at the church after Parsley discovered that he had complained to a friend about the lack of overtime pay. In a sworn affidavit, Endicott testified that Parsley “yelled, screamed, and berated me for almost 10 minutes, stating that I was causing dissension and discord in the church.” Parsley told him that he was “in rebellion against the church and against God and that I should ‘stop lying and be a man.’” Endicott claimed that he was later called in for a staff meeting with Lester Sumrall -- an Indiana evangelist Parsley credits as his mentor -- who “stated the [sic] we should be careful what we say about ‘God’s anointed persons,’” meaning Parsley.
The notion that Parsley himself might actually be divinely anointed -- and thus someone to whom congregants owe utter obedience -- is an unmistakable part of the marketing strategy at World Harvest. During the musical prelude to a recent service, as the Stepford-like “Praise Team” sang “holy, holy is our God Almighty, holy is His name alone,” the cameraman, whose work was projected onto a half-dozen large-screen televisions flanking the stage, panned away from the singers to a close-up of Parsley.
Moments later, when church elder Bill Canfield came onstage to deliver a stern lecture about a biblical passage on obedience, hands all around me reflexively reached for the offering envelopes stacked on the backs of the pews. Canfield had not even uttered the words “money” or “offering” yet, but sure enough, he went on to say, “If you want to be obedient to God, I want you to take out a seed right now … . If you sow a seed in obedience to God, he will work in supernatural ways to multiply your seed.” After the offering buckets had been collected, Parsley took the stage, and in his typical call-and-response style, urged the audience to “praise the Lord.” When they didn’t respond enthusiastically enough, Parsley grumbled angrily into his microphone: “It’s not a suggestion. It’s a command.”
Sarah Posner is a freelance writer and a contributor to The Gadflyer blog.© 2006 by The American Prospect, Inc.