Selling Armageddon

Thursday, May 19, 2011

May 19, 2011

Dear Leslie,

You remember Jim Bakker, the televangelist imprisoned for fraud a couple of decades ago. A long time free, he lives in Branson now. His "PTL Club" sold prosperity. Bakker's current cable TV program preaches Armageddon and sells freeze-dried food to help survive it. The show must go on.

Bakker and PTL oversold viewers tens of thousands of lifetime memberships entitling them to annual three-day stays at a hotel that had only 500 rooms. There was no room at the inn, just multimillion-dollar bonuses for Bakker and friends.

Selling doom isn't much different from selling prosperity. Give and be spared.

Tsunamis, earthquakes, nuclear disasters, flooding, they're all in the Book of Revelation alongside the lake of fire and the sea of blood. The harbingers of the end are arriving, Bakker preaches. His website links to a USGS site that maps today's earthquakes in the U.S.

"Love gifts" are Bakker's answer to tribulation. They range from jewelry and water pitchers and vitamins to the real serious goods -- plastic buckets filled with dehydrated meals guaranteed still to be edible 20 years from now.

One thousand dollars buys 2,200 meals, enough for two people to live a year without groceries. For $3,000 you can get the Time of Trouble buckets laden with 7,700 meals.

Bakker has thought of everything. For $250, the Extreme Emergency Kit includes a handy hatchet-hammer-knives combination tool, a bottle of potassium iodide capsules to protect your thyroid from radiation, a miniature cooking stove, waterproof matches and foil blankets.

Actually, DC has her own survivalist cache in the basement, but it consists solely of gallons of water to be used after an earthquake. Both of us lived through the '89 quake in San Francisco. Any accompanying food shortage presumably will be our cue to start a diet.

A few nights ago the manager of the plant that assembles Jim Bakker's food buckets tried to explain why they're so far behind on filling orders. In short, your room is being built.

Jim Bakker still owes the IRS millions.

Bakker and others peddling doom could be right about the end being near, but he is preying and praying on people's fears. Hope can just as surely be abused.

Years ago in Northern California I watched a smartly dressed faith healer work a small church for "love offerings." People in wheelchairs or people who had cancer anxiously came to the front of the church to be healed. The preacher held a withered leg or cradled a worried head and fierily pronounced them healed. Some returned to their seats with smiles.

When the preacher suddenly disappeared from the altar, vanishing like an entertainer who leaves the audience wanting more, I ran around back of the church and watched his shiny red Porche speed away.

Love, Sam

Sam Blackwell is a former reporter for the Southeast Missourian.

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