Even to this day, it seems that the topic of Jim Bakker really gets some people fired up in Fort Mill.
In a recent column, I blasted Bakker for what he did in the past and what he continues to do today and have been branded a cynic by many of the opinion letters I received in the following days. I think the people writing the letters are using the word “cynic” as an insult.
I look at it as a compliment.
The world needs cynics to balance out the naïve and gullible people who buy into schemes – especially those that involve money. Earlier this month I wrote, “The fundamental knowledge that people are suckers is what drives so many of the fringe ministries that operate in this country – usually by charismatic evangelists. It isn’t so much that people are looking to be fleeced, it is that they want to believe in redemption, in healing and in goodness.”
A cynic operates as a checks and balances monitor. For every person who hears an evangelist tearfully ask for money and reaches for a wallet, there should be a cynic asking questions on why the money is needed in the first place. Cynics might ask how the money is distributed.
In most traditional churches, the pastor’s salary is determined by a council, a group of elders, etc. For the most part, in the evangelical community, the pastor assigns himself the salary.
So, a cynic might ask how Jim Bakker was allowed to keep $3.4 million from the PTL’s operating budget for himself and why he still owes the IRS $6 million in back taxes. A cynic might ask how 35,000 lifetime memberships were sold by the PTL that guaranteed three-night annual stays for all holders at a tower that was only going to have 500 rooms.
A cynic might question why David Cerullo, CEO of City of Light Ministries in Indian Land, is able to have a salary of more than $1.5 million a year from an organization that keeps fighting to pay property taxes to the State of South Carolina.
A cynic might point out that certain nonprofit organizations that often use religion as their hook have a long history of being both profitable and corrupt.
I get that people like a story of redemption and they want to pull for those who have fallen to rise again. A cynic will mention that people will even pay to do that. For only $15, one can purchase Jim Bakker’s book “I Was Wrong.”
A cynic might question how a person who bilked people out of millions is able to turn another profit by apologizing. Heck, a cynic might further wonder how a person who went to prison for fraud is able to come out and set up another ministry that relies on donations to fund his lifestyle.
If a banker is jailed for embezzlement, do you think any financial institutions hire them when they get out of the clink? There are very few instances where people who get arrested are allowed to go right back to the behavior that landed them there in the first place.
Evangelists have bucked that trend for years. And they’ve done it with a very simple method – by saying “I’m sorry.” Everyone should forgive, including cynics. But nobody should forget. The naïve ones blinded by charismatic speakers do that time and again.
You can reach Scott at firstname.lastname@example.org.