strange fires

Straying Embers: Faith Means Whatever The Flock Desires

By Mike Thomas, Orlando Sentinel

In a town that has every World known to man -- be it Walt Disney World, SeaWorld or even Hubcap World -- I suppose Faith World was inevitable.

It is at Benny Hinn's old place on Forest City Road. I'm here on a Tuesday evening, watching the service wrap up. It has been a rollicking good time with lots of people not at all shy about singing, dancing and even shouting for Jesus.

The man standing in the pew in front of me turns with a wide smile and says, "I love my pastor."

I can't quite think of an appropriate response, so I just nod and grin back. His comment was not ad-libbed. The assistant minister instructed us to say those words to one another. It begged the troubling question of who actually was being worshipped here -- God or Clint Brown.

Clint Brown is the pastor.

Brown was the subject in all-too-familiar story in the Sunday newspaper: Man of God wears Rolex.

Remember Jim Bakker's Rolex?

I wrote about Benny Hinn's Rolex in 1991, even saw it close up.

The Los Angeles Times recently reported on the Rolex lifestyle of Paul Crouch, the president of the Trinity Broadcasting Network. He flies around the world in a private turbojet and has 30 homes at his disposal, including beachfront mansions in California and a mountain retreat.

Brown isn't quite in Crouch's league, but he has his own fleet of expensive cars, lives in an exclusive subdivision and spends lavishly on baubles such as . . . Rolex watches.

There's nothing like the appearance of Christian hypocrisy to grease the presses. Everybody loves a high roller, holy-roller story.

It's interesting to note, however, that the congregations never seem to share the media's concern, no matter how many credit card receipts we show them from Mayors Jewelers.

The response we most often get from the faithful, be it Hinn's faithful or Brown's faithful or Crouch's faithful, is why do we care if they don't? The followers of Clint Brown are happy to provide him with the lifestyle to which he has grown accustomed.

How can this be? There are so many things wrong here. There is a rich, slick-talking, rock-singing minister taking money from a low-income, working-class congregation.

I love my pastor. Doesn't that have the creepy feel of a personality cult?

Worst of all, he teaches "prosperity gospel." This greed-creed, perfected by Hinn and Crouch, is widely condemned by mainstream Christians. It teaches that you no longer need wait for the afterlife to get your reward for giving money. God may drop a bundle on you -- or maybe even a medical miracle -- in the here and now.

These preachers have perverted Christian giving and turned it into a game of Lotto. If you don't give, you don't get. If you don't get, then take it up with God.

Why can't the people in Brown's church see this? Maybe they are being hoodwinked. Or maybe they are too busy singing, too busy praying, too busy having a good time praising the Lord. Their hands are in the air and their kids are next door at the youth ministry. The service concludes with songs and dance from a group of warmly received African orphans.

What do I buy that brings me more satisfaction than what this congregation gets from Faith World? They give their money and let God be the judge on how it's spent.

That's faith for you.

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