Nine years ago, William Lobdell was assigned to cover religion for the LA Times. He was a born-again Christian when he got the gig. In 2001 he started studying to convert to his wife's religion, Catholicism. That was when the trouble began for Lobdell. He began reporting on the molestation scandals in the Catholic church:
I discovered that the term "sexual abuse" is a euphemism. Most of these children were raped and sodomized by someone they and their family believed was Christ's representative on Earth. That's not something an 8-year-old's mind can process; it forever warps a person's sexuality and spirituality.
Many of these victims were molested by priests with a history of abusing children. But the bishops routinely sent these clerics to another parish, and bullied or conned the victims and their families into silence. The police were almost never called. In at least a few instances, bishops encouraged molesting priests to flee the country to escape prosecution.
I couldn't get the victims' stories or the bishops' lies -– many of them right there on their own stationery -– out of my head. I had been in journalism more than two decades and had dealt with murders, rapes, other violent crimes and tragedies. But this was different -– the children were so innocent, their parents so faithful, the priests so sick and bishops so corrupt.
In 2002, Lobdell decided not to go through the rite of conversion. He stopped going to church.
Next, he started looking into Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN), the TV network that feature Billy Graham, Robert H. Schuller and Greg Laurie and other famous televangelists. He didn't like what he saw there, either -- a bunch of fantastically rich preachers who claimed to have a God-given power to cure people with grave diseases.
TBN's creed is that if viewers send money to the network, God will repay them with great riches and good health. Even people deeply in debt are encouraged to put donations on credit cards.At the end of the story, Lobdell realizes that his experiences destroyed his ability to believe in God.
I spent several years investigating TBN and pored through stacks of documents – some made available by appalled employees – showing the Crouches eating $180-per-person meals; flying in a $21-million corporate jet; having access to 30 TBN-owned homes across the country, among them a pair of Newport Beach mansions and a ranch in Texas. All paid for with tax-free donor money.
At the crusade, I met Jordie Gibson, 21, who had flown from Calgary, Canada, to Anaheim because he believed that God, through Hinn, could get his kidneys to work again.
He was thrilled to tell me that he had stopped getting dialysis because Hinn had said people are cured only when they "step out in faith." The decision enraged his doctors, but made perfect sense to Gibson. Despite risking his life as a show of faith, he wasn't cured in Anaheim. He returned to Canada and went back on dialysis. The crowd was filled with desperate believers like Gibson.
Interesting post on the LA Times reporter "losing" his faith. While I agree wholeheartedly with the recent lawsuits against the Catholic church and that the authorities haven't gone far enough in sticking it to the Bishops, Cardinals, et al. and I also agree that TBN is a den of bad taste -- and even worse theology -- I would exempt Billy Graham from all that.
Did he appear on TBN? Yes he did. Did he buy into their health/wealth/prosperity theology? Hardly. Did he use their airwaves to get his message out? Undoubtedly. Graham himself was never wealthy (he earns about $200K/yr while his Association brings in over $100M) and always took a salary from his Association. I don't think he earned dime one off of any of his books, films, etc. I won't cry for him materially -- "he's got enough to eat and then some," but he lacks the conspicuous wealth of many of the others -- including Greg Laurie's Harley collection. Also witness Rick Warren giving back to his church his entire salary for the past 25 years or so and living in the same house since the 1980s and he has a ginormous cash-cow in his books -- which he does not use to enrich himself. There's no sin or hypocrisy in professional ministry per se, but there should be limits I believe in compensation -- especially when the world is watching and cutting no slack.
Anyway -- I would argue that Lobdell put his faith in the wrong thing to begin with. Christ didn't call us to put our our faith in a church -- an organization of people after all -- but in Him. An e-mail is too short to get into all that. We love our church, but we still do background checks on child-care workers and our pastor lives in a 2 bedroom in a gnarly part of Riverside (some would say all of Riverside is gnarly I realize!). No one, but a fool believes in human perfectibility.
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.