Tuesday, January 29, 2013

The Price of Admission

When I was a kid, maybe in junior high, the Billy Graham Crusade came to Little Rock's War Memorial Stadium (capacity about 53,000) for several nights.  As a churchgoing youth in a churchgoing family, I dutifully attended with my family.  Now, I have--and had--my disagreements with Billy Graham, and he is of course subject to criticism on a lot of scores, but I was impressed with the experience for what it was.  There was nothing obviously dishonest or smarmy about the whole affair.  It was remarkable because it was inclusive and free and positive.  I think they might have taken up a collection, but that's to be expected, I suppose.  Crusades, like armies, travel on their stomachs.  A contribution was requested but not expected.  And I certainly don't remember Billy Graham selling anything--at least not for money.

In March, a different crusader will come to Little Rock. Joel Osteen, TV preacher and peddler of prosperity theology, will put on his program A Night of Hope at Verizon Arena.

I don't have much use for what Osteen is selling.  (It's basically a Tinkerbell philosophy:  the idea that if you have enough faith, God will reward you with prosperity and health and the happiness that flows from them. No word on what conclusions one should draw from experiencing poverty and disease.)  The point is that he's selling it.  Tickets cost $15 each (limit 9) plus $7.85 per ticket in surcharges.  (I guess Ticketmaster has its hooks in everything.)  That says nothing of the concessions--books, t-shirts, and other wares.

You might legitimately question whether Joel Osteen is doing anything for anyone else besides parting them from their money, but there is no question that the "prosperity gospel" that he preaches has been very good for Joel Osteen.  Private jet, huge house, syndicated television ministry that reaches millions, plus a church whose regular Sunday attendance would just barely fit into War Memorial Stadium's seats.  It's hard to imagine.  There was a time when profiting from preaching was seen as unseemly.  Now Jesus is just another business, it seems.

A Night of Hope? Doubtful. But a Night of Hype? That seems like a sure bet.

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