Prey

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Amy Semple McPherson was the basis for the character of Eli Watkins in Upton Sinclair’s “Oil!” Both McPherson and Watkins built megachurches in California and both disappeared for a time under mysterious circumstances. Watkins claimed to have been saved from drowning by angels, while McPherson was prosecuted for staging her own kidnapping.

I have here on the desk beside me a fundraising letter from a religiously affiliated university. “Dear Friends,” it says, “I humbly ask you to pray about something.” Then further along, “Would you be in prayer about helping support some of our needs?” Then in closing, “Please pray about your participation.”

Among the needs it mentions are “approximately $600,000” for “several Steinway pianos,” a new auditorium ($3-4 million), and facility improvements (another $3-4 million). It’s signed “in Christian love” and it promises to “give God all the glory” for “blessing us with the opportunity to touch so many students’ lives.”

From Amy Semple McPherson to Jim Bakker to Creflo Dollar, the prayerful ask has raised untold millions to build luxurious places of worship where good-smelling women and well-dressed men pray for more of the same.

But what about the one-legged wheelchair-bound man I met yesterday? The heat index had topped 100 degrees and he was struggling uphill to a place in the shade. How do Steinway pianos figure into something like that?

Or the walking corpse I bought a cup of coffee and a pastry last week. He smelled like dirty underwear and gobs of spittle clogged the corners of his mouth, so I’m curious to know how he’ll he benefit from millions of dollars spent on facility improvements. Will he get to sleep in those facilities at night? Or even behind them? Or will he still have to sleep under a bridge?

If God gets any glory when Christian institutions use their treasure to buy buildings and planes and pianos and theme parks, shame on Him. The very idea of it should make God sick. It sure as Hell makes me sick to think how far that same money might go toward doing actual good, if only the prayers of the authentically needy could be heard above the clamor of the righteous praying for themselves.