But this is politically important, the start of what could be a turning point which will renew Republican domination of the South and threaten Democratic majorities nationwide.
It has to do with black televangelists, specifically the Prosperity Gospel. I saw the godfather of these boys do his thing in the 1970s, when I was a student at Rice. His name was Rev. Ike. Even in a secular setting, on a naked stage, it was easy to see his appeal.
Ike’s spiritual descendants, specifically Creflo Dollar in Fulton County and Eddie Long in DeKalb, are now the dominant black preachers in Atlanta. They probably think of themselves as the Ralph D. Abernathy and Martin Luther King Jr. of their time. Certainly their political power is equivalent. Long even has one of Dr. King’s daughters in his New Birth Church, and held Coretta Scott King’s funeral service there.
Well, Sen. Charles Grassley wants their financial records, as part of a Senate investigation, and needless to say both men are pissed. First Amendment, they cry. Separation of church and state, they scream. Never mind that several white preachers have also been served. Never mind that obeying the summons is not mandatory. Never mind, in fact, they are going to fulfill the committee’s request.
What Grassley wants to know is why Long, Dollar and their fellow prosperity preachers drive fancy cars, own fancy homes, wear fancy cars, and pay themselves like Fortune 500 CEOs. The answer, their congregants will likely respond, is that the congregations want it that way.
From here on out, I’m going to try and link only to blogs written by black folks, who I find are in a better position to offer criticism than I am. What I’ll say in the mens’ defense is what I noted earlier, that many of my black neighbors, like the white middle class of 40 years ago, are seeking a clear separation between their experience and that of the poverty they left behind. This leads them to embrace social conservatism, conspicuous consumption, and to seek preachers who endorse these choices, who embrace the same values.
Not all black folks are so understanding:
- Anybody else out there believe that Creflo Dollar is as crooked as a question mark? That’s the question of Andre Walker, a second-generation black political activist who blogs as Georgia Politics Unfiltered. Since when did you need stadium seating and a big screen to be a Christian he asks in another post.
- The investigation promises to shine new light on the kind of TV
ministries that were crippled by sex and money scandals in the 1980s. That’s from Why Black Women are Angry.
- Creflo and the rest of these preachers are getting paid big bucks for
their sermons because as Creflo will tell you, pimpin’ the pulpit ain’t
easy. This is from The Black Sentinel, who calls Dollars and Long "pimps of the pulpit."
- How Rich Should The Church Be? That’s part of the headline from Three Brothers and a Sister, which offers a fairly balanced view of the proceedings.
- Investigated for Fraud. That’s part of the headline from The Hip-Hop Publicist.
This shouldn’t be a racial issue, and Grassley is trying hard not to make it one. Most of the preachers he’s aiming at are white — Joyce Meyer, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn.
But the plain political fact is that Long, Dollar, and 1,000 other preachers who want to be just like them — Wellington Boone, Dale Bronner, and many others — represent a rich entrepreneurial tradition within the black community. Dr. Martin Luther King Sr. was just as wealthy, relative to the members of his flock, who were dirt poor in the 1930s, as these men are. The black church has a long history of entrepreneurship, in which the preacher is paramount. It was white preachers, copying this movement, who created modern televangelism — it wasn’t the other way around.
None of this, as I stated at the start, is really any of my business. I won’t tell anyone else how to worship God, or whom to follow. But politically this is important, because as white and black televangelists start to find common cause, and pull their congregations into common cause with one another, the political shakeout could be quite large.