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Smith: Thieves

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.


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