I finally finished reading Trey Smith’s book Thieves: One Dirty TV Pastor and the Man Who Robbed Him and I wanted to sort of tie up a bunch of loose ends.
After the safe heist Smith ends up stealing (mostly from department stores) to fund his drug habit. He gets run out of a national park in Texas near the Mexican border, gets busted robbing cars in Taos, spends some time in jail right here in Santa Fe, is in and out of a Christian drug-rehab center called Crossroads in Albuquerque, and many stops later finds himself in Colorado Springs, where by the end of the book he’s more or less clean and sober and spending time in the company of Ken Scott and Bob Enyart.
I had never heard of either of these latter two men before, but it turns out they have made their reputation as fairly hardcore anti-abortion protestors of a particular stripe. In particular, they’ve been arrested for protesting at Focus on the Family because James Dobson endorsed John McCain, even though McCain is soft on right to life issues [link]. The abortion angle doesn’t make it into Smith’s book for some reason; he just describes meeting Scott in jail after Scott was arrested for picketing a church.
This isn’t an especially good book; it isn’t an especially satisfying book. Smith hints in a couple of points in the book that he’s a Christian (while e.g. Mike Murdock’s son Jason is not), but it isn’t clear when this happens. At the end of the book he appears to have joined Enyart’s community, but it isn’t clear what that means. Jesus, as they say, does not appear to figure prominently in Smith’s conversion story.
The Murdock angle doesn’t really get resolved either; evidently Murdock went on his program and talked about the missing safe, but details of that event are missing. And parts of the Murdock story (Does he ever give his insurance company a detailed list of what he claims was stolen? What happens to the criminal investigation? Etc.) are mentioned and then abandoned.
Most of the second half of the book deals with Smith’s drug use and the pattern it sets for his life. It makes for unpleasant reading, and given our druthers we’d spare our worst enemy that. We wish Smith well in his attempts to stay clean and sober, and we hope with time and practice his writing will improve.
I spent last week in upstate New York on business, staying in a middling chain hotel where the cable offering included only major network affiliates and a cable-company-produced news channel. The cable company which shall remain nameless offered only EWTN and TBN as religious channels, and I lost all of Sunday to travel, so I had almost no chance to catch any off-brand Christian television on this trip.
I did however catch a couple of TV preachers in the cheap time slots: 3AM, 4AM, 5AM on a weekday on the sort of minor-league cable offerings, opposite the workout videos and the debt-into-wealth real estate/investing programs. In particular, I managed to catch Peter Popoff and Mike Murdock. I had no idea Peter Popoff was still a going concern. I really thought he got out of the business after James Randi exposed him in the late Eighties [link]. He’s still around, though, and his hair is shall we say unnaturally black and immobile.
Mike Murdock of Wisdom Center fame [link] was winding down a half-hour when I caught him, and he was doing a by-the-numbers seed-faith bit. The basic bit is to suggest that if you give a small amount of money to the Man of God then God will give you a large amount of money, provided you have faith. I’ve rarely seen it done as close to the formula as Murdock was doing it; apart from referring to the amount I’m supposed to give him as a “seed” it was as free of pretense and metaphor as I’ve ever seen it. The other distinguishing characteristic was that Murdock was asking for a thousand dollars.
Even in these days of market volatility and sub rosa inflation a thousand dollars is a lot of money; that’s about three and a half weeks’ gross pay at the current minimum wage. I don’t personally have a thousand dollars just lying around. How about you?
Murdock was going further in pressing for money than I’ve ever seen: he actually leaned in toward the camera and said that even if you’re facing bankruptcy and having trouble paying your credit card bill you should still call his toll-free number and give him a thousand dollars. Operators are standing by and all that.
So I went to Google and did a little research and stumbled onto the new book by Trey Smith, Thieves: One Dirty TV Pastor and the Man Who Robbed Him [link]. It’s overpriced at $9.99, but I bought it anyway.
I’m about halfway through it; it moves pretty quickly, it needs editing, and it tells a pretty unpleasant tale. There’s rough language and scenes that are appropriate for a rock-and-roll memoir (I’m thinking Hammer of the Gods here, but only because I’m years out of date regarding the genre) but will offend anyone who reads a steady diet of say Karen Kingsbury. It portrays Murdock as a thief (hence the plural in the title) who exploits employees, women, viewers, family, just about anybody. And it portrays his son Jason Murdock as a hard-partying drug-using Gen X atheist.
He goes into detail about Murdock’s greed, adultery, etc. No drinking or drug use so far, and just the occasional passage referring to inexplicable personality quirks. I’m tempted to measure the portrayal of Murdock against the portrayal of Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker in various accounts in the Eighties; I’d argue that the accounts are commensurate, but Murdock comes off as thoroughly and intentionally evil, where the Bakkers came off as more bewildered and overwhelmed.
I can’t say I recommend this book; it’s too poorly written and the material, while germane to the story, is presented in a way that to my ear sounds calculated as much to titillate as to inform. Still, it stands apart from a lot of TV-preacher exposes in that there’s no political angle and the author does at least suggest that there’s a moral standard that he (the narrator) and Murdock fall short of. So I’d recommend elements of it against say Rob Boston’s book on Pat Robertson.
My current cable provider, Comcast, recently began offering Inspiration Network (INSP) as part of its extended package, and I spent a few minutes browsing their schedule recently. I have something of a weakness for Billy Graham programming, and INSP offers the occasional half-hour of Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) program. Tuesday morning, for example, they’ve got a half-hour in the morning sandwiched between Creflo Dollar and Morris Cerrullo.
INSP’s programming is a funny mix of television reruns (The Waltons, Highway to Heaven, Our House, a Canadian something called Wind At My Back) and big-name television ministries, but without the TBN and CBN stars (no Crouches, no Pat Robertson). Here’s a sampling from their published schedule [link]:
- Mike Murdock
- Jimmy Swaggart
- Creflo Dollar
- James Robison
- Benny Hinn
- Joyce Meyer
- Sid Roth
- Rod Parsley
- Bill Gaither (Gospel Hour)
- Hilton Sutton
- Bishop Larry Harris
- Silas Malafaia
- David and Barbara Cerullo [link]
- Jay Sekulow/ACLJ
- Jentezen Franklin
- Beverly Crawford
- Randy Weiss
- Bret McCasland
- Mark Lyon Edmond
- D. James Kennedy
- Del Tackett
- Gregory Dickow
- David Jeremiah
- Kerry Shook
- Doug Batchelor
- Bobby and Sherry Burnette
- Keith Moore
- Charles Stanley
- Perry Stone
The first dozen or so, along with BGEA and Creflo Dollar constitute the bulk of the weekday ministry programming; the rest are part of the weekend lineup, and they’re a mixed collection of name-brand ministries and what appear to be pastors of large churches who are looking to expand.
For a somewhat unrelated reason I visited the Ministry Watch website recently and downloaded their 30 Donor Alerts of 2009 end-of-year wrapup [PDF]. It’s a very readable document, outlining seven areas they recommend being careful when making giving decisions. They list thirty ministries where they raise concerns, ranging from loss of tax-exempt status to high salaries to being a cult. Here’s the list of Donor Alert entities that is also featured in the list above:
- Benny Hinn
- Rod Parsley
- Creflo Dollar
- INSP/David and Barbara Cerullo
- Morris Cerullo
- Mike Murdock
Ministry Watch flagged the Cerullos for excessive compensation (~$3 million for the Cerullos over two years 2005-2006), the others for lack of transparency, being investigated by Senator Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), and sundry negative media coverage.
Please note that Joyce Meyer did not make the list; her data for 2007 and 2008 was unavailable [link], and if her total compensation figures are available I can’t find them anywhere; it’s a complicated picture because she sells so many books, and only part of the proceeds filters back to the ministry [link]. Ministry Watch currently gives her a “C.”
What I don’t understand is why otherwise reputable ministries in the big list above (BGEA, Bill Gaither, maybe David Jeremiah) would have anything to do with INSP. Is there really that much money to be made? Do ministries make money consistently on a per-outlet basis? Is this just a business decision? I really have no idea.