Pastor Michael Wilkerson of the New Millennium Life Restoration Fellowship in Spring City, Pennsylvania, preached the “prosperity gospel.” The basic idea is this: God wants his followers to be prosperous, and they can find the road to wealth in faith, positive thinking and contributions to the church.
This is what Wilkerson preached, and he followed up by inviting congregants to invest in his company, which was acquiring suburban mortgages. Last month, however, federal prosecutors accused Wilkerson and two others of conspiring in a $6.3 million mortgage fraud. The congregants have lost everything.
The whole story appeared in yesterday’s Philadelphia Inquirer. What I found really interesting about this article is that it put the pastor’s misdeeds in context—religion based affinity fraud is big business:
A 2006 study by the North American Securities Administrators Association estimated that losses from religion-based affinity fraud had reached $2 billion. Those rip-offs have only become more common since, said Ole Anthony, who helms the Dallas-based Trinity Foundation, a watchdog group that investigates the financial misdeeds of religious figures.
“In the past several years, I’ve seen more and more fraud in the name of God,” he said. “It remains a serious problem.”
It’s a problem that can be seen all over very-late-night television, which my husband sometimes watches if he can’t sleep. He considers the televangelists to be great theater. And they would be, if they weren’t so dangerous.
I imagine some of them are legitimate. But many of these TV preachers seem more interested in the money than the message. And to further their agendas, they engage in the worst type of manipulation, playing on people’s faith, hopes, dreams and fears.
Speaking in mesmerizing cadence, televangelists rhapsodize about the riches that God wants for us, the sleepless viewers. We can, they say with hypnotic certainty, achieve everything we ever wanted. All we have to do take the first step and plant a seed by sending the good pastor a contribution of $100, $1,000, or even more.
My guess is that the only one getting rich is the so-called preacher. Like the good Pastor Wilkerson. He owned a $1.7million home in the country, with a Lexus and an Escalade in the garage. Not bad for a guy with a long rap sheet, including drug trafficking and theft. But then, of course, he found religion, and the road to prosperity.
Read Church folk stuck when they gave pastor their faith and their money, on Philly.com.