Mega-Churches are Big Businessby Don Lacey on May. 10, 2012, under Atheism, Christianity, Critical Thinking, Economics, Ethics, Faith, Fundamentalism, Gay Marriage, God & Bible, Logic, Reason, Religion
Here’s the latest opinion by Jim Wilson:
A friend of mine recounted a recent visit he had to a mega church he attended while visiting relatives. The congregation seemed to be rather financially well off and many of them were paying the church 10% of their income. Also the church was selling books, DVDs, CDs and an item he described as 25 dollar charm bracelet. The attendees enjoyed the emotion heavy sermons and the sappy praise music. Guilt and forgiveness was sold in a soft rock concert atmosphere and a great deal of money was wrested from the congregation.
These churches are multi-million dollar enterprises. The people who preach in them and run them live rather plush lives and tax free. The term McChurch has been coined to describe these sort of broad based, hyper-commercial consumerist enterprises. Realistically, they operate primarily as entertainment businesses. Churches are tax exempt and are not subject to the same disclosure requirements as non-religious charities. This allows the mega churches to rake in millions of tax free dollars with little oversight. In 2007, the Iowa Senate investigated whether Mega-churches were abusing their tax exempt status. The report exposed that their leaders were living in multi-million dollar homes, traveled around in Rolls Royce cars and private jets. They took lavish vacations in the Hawaii and Fiji. It is clear that these mega-churches are big business. They are not charities and we should consider revoking their tax exempt status. We should be reconsidering the tax exemptions, and lack of disclosure requirements for churches in general. This is especially true of those that endorse or oppose political candidates, parties, or legislation.
Mega-churches create profits for Christianity. They enjoy an insular ready-made captive audience for any charismatic performer willing to spout a Christian message. Mega-churches that preach the prosperity gospel have greatly enriched themselves by making the rich feel righteous about their wealth. How much of this is just cynical, manipulate showmanship? We know that Ted Haggarg and Jimmy Swaggart didn’t live up to the ideals they preached. Additionally, Mega-church leaders Eddie Long and Earl Paulk have also found themselves in scandals involving sexual abuse and adultery. Many of these rock star ministers live like rock-stars complete with the scandals involving sexual abuse, drugs, and prostitutes. When you get on stage each week and preach the evils of homosexuality, you had better not get caught in the midst of a meth binge with a gay prostitute. What hypocrisy! Amazingly, it is not always a career ender for the mega-church preacher.
In recent years, Dan Barker in partnership with the Richard Dawkins Foundation launched the Clergy Project (http://clergyproject.org/). It is an anonymous community for preachers, priests, ministers, and other clergy members who are no longer believers but feel they are unable to leave their position. Perhaps, they cannot find any other work they are suited for, or they are afraid of alienating their friends and community. Dan Dennet also did a study on this and found it to be a common phenomenon. I suspect that many of the charismatic front-men of the mega-church industry are just fakers as well. They are only in it for the money. It is possible that many of these con men do not believe in Christianity.
How unscrupulous are those that manipulate people out of their money in such a fashion? Many of the more vocal figures in the Atheist movement could publicly declare themselves Christians and make much greater fortunes in the book markets and lecture circuits than they are making now. Apparently, the outspoken atheists tend to be pretty honest. Mega-church pastors on the other hand have well paying, glamorous gigs. I believe that they are out to separate the foolish from their money.