Every so often, he raises up a prophet to teach wayward profiteers about the
sacrifice he demands.
Ephren W. Taylor II, who called himself "the Social Capitalist,"
may be one such prophet.
This son of a preacherman sold investment schemes at megachurches from Bishop
Eddie Long's New Birth Missionary Baptist Church near Atlanta to Joel Osteen's
Lakewood Church in Houston. The Securities and Exchange Commission recently
charged Mr. Taylor with running a Ponzi scheme. His victims are now congregating
in a class-action lawsuit. (Read more about Mr. Taylor on my blog,
"There's more fraud in the name of God than anything else," says
Ole Anthony, president of the Trinity Foundation, which has been investigating
religious fraud since 1987.
Fleeced flocks have long herded onto the victim hotline Trinity provides,
their finances and their faith sheared. "It's so incredibly damaging,"
says Mr. Anthony, who has made plenty of enemies among members of his faith and
even been accused of running his own cult.
Every religion provides fertile fields for fraud. The SEC also recently
charged an alleged Ponzi schemer targeting Persian Jews.
But the "Prosperity Gospel" has made Christians especially
vulnerable. Plant a seed, reap a harvest: Many preachers and televangelists
promise a hundred-fold blessing for every dollar donated to them—something not
even the Prince of Darkness, Bernie Madoff, had dared.
"It's totally infected American churches," Mr. Anthony says.
"But the saddest thing is that with satellite TV it's infecting the poorest
parts of the world. People who barely have enough to eat see their pastor flying
in a jet and living in a mansion. And if they don't get it, it's because they
have secret sin in their lives. It's always the victims' fault."
Anyone peddling insurance, real estate, sales opportunities or investments at
church has probably not read the Bible. Anyone preaching wealth and prosperity
is twisting its verses for a quick buck and making a mockery of their faith.
I have taken the liberty of actually reading the Bible throughout my life for
those who will not. Here's what it says: Love of money is the root of all evil.
Blessed are the poor. Store your treasure in heaven. Give to Caesar what is
Caesar's. Hand over your possessions to the poor and follow. Love your enemy.
Turn the other cheek. Don't lie. Don't cheat. Don't steal. Don't hit up your
neighbor's wife. And my favorite: It is easier to shove a Fat Cat through the
eye of a needle than it is for a camel to go to heaven—or something like that.
Jesus was not a capitalist. When he turned water into wine, he
did not open a liquor store. When he multiplied loaves and fishes, he did not
establish Wal-Mart. When he miraculously healed the sick, he did not bill
Medicare or start an HMO. Somehow, profiting richly from the sick and infirm was
considered unjust back in those days.
He worked as a humble carpenter, an itinerant preacher and sometimes helped
fishermen for free. The only business transaction he was ever reported to have
completed was taking a whip to money-changers for turning his Father's house
into "a den of thieves." In the end, he took up his cross and demanded
his followers do the same.
"The central message of Christianity is giving your life away,"
says Mr. Anthony. "I live on $55 a week, plus room and board." If that
sounds too much like socialism, there's always another temple where everyone is
free to worship. It has even more Ponzi schemes, and a really convenient
address, too: Wall Street.
—Al Lewis is a columnist for Dow Jones Newswires in
Denver. He blogs at tellittoal.com; his email address is email@example.com