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Cashing in for Christ.

One under-reported aspect of the radical right's activities in America today is the relentless commercialization of its "spiritual" enterprises. The last weekend of April 1996, the Promise Keepers, led by former University of Colorado football coach Bill McCartney, filled Kansas City's Arrowhead Stadium with 70,000 men. The Kansas City Star's front-page serial photograph carried the caption, "Stadium Filled with Spirituality."

One of those who attended is Dr. Richard Childs, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Missouri's School of Medicine. His analysis of the event included the following:

Along with their self-righteous theology, it is significant to note that Promise Keepers is preeminently a commercial enterprise. This commercial trademark appears on the tracts and books which are for sale in the huge tents set up next to the meeting sites. Dozens of cash registers in the so-called Ministry Booths ring up sales in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. Credit card transactions are welcomed. In addition to the religious literature, they offer for sale a wide variety of merchandise. This includes ball caps, T-shirts, sweat shirts, lapel pins, cassettes, CDs, and other types of souvenir articles--all of which bear the PK logo. While strictly business activities do not necessarily constitute any wrong-doing, there would be nothing un-Christian about it if an avowedly religious organization fully disclosed the financial statistics about its highly lucrative secondary commercial ventures.

These commercial ventures are in addition to the $60 per head the 70,000 men paid to get in. Dr. Childs also noted that the Promise Keepers

emphasize only the spiritual and downplay the commercial aspect of their activities. The giant TV screen with the live images of PK speakers along with the musicians and song lyrics was located on the Arrowhead scoreboard between the advertisements for Busch beer and Marlboro cigarettes. This mixture of commerce and religion raises many unanswered questions.

The estimated annual Promise Keepers' budget of $120 million, according to the Kansas City Star, would provide a salary of at least $33,000 for each of the 360 headquarters staff in Colorado and in the 40 state and regional offices. (Of course, some would get more than others.) Last year, more than a dozen huge stadium events were held comparable to the Kansas City event.

While I was in St. Louis the following week, I noted another right-wing Christian commercial enterprise, The Shepherd's Guide, a Christian business directory "which is currently serving over 100 metropolitan areas throughout the United States and Canada." The advertisers who are listed under the guide's imprimatur must first sign the statement: "I have been born again according to John 3:3 and I pledge to hold the highest Biblical code of ethics in my business transactions." Underneath this notice is another: "We can make no warranty of any kind with regard to the services or products of the advertisers herein."

The Shepherd's Guide for St. Louis has full-page ads of Christian radio stations, Christian bookstores, Christian dating services, a list of abortion alternatives sources, and various verses of scripture interspersed with ads of numerous businesses. One which advertises how to preserve and increase your wealth carries a verse from Proverbs 15:22: "Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with competent advisers they succeed." This was obviously chosen over Jesus' advice to the rich young ruler: "It is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven."

After looking through the 96 pages of ads, I wondered whether there should be other similar guides so that Catholics would buy only from Catholics, Lutherans from Lutherans, humanists from humanists, and so on. This would undoubtedly limit business corruption in the United States only to those who advertised in secular newspapers and in the yellow pages of the big phone directories.

Of course, this commercialization of Christian enterprise is not unusual. The September 1994 Church and State, in a discussion of Pat Robertson's huge business empire, reported:

The Business Coalition for Fair Competition, a national group based in Alexandria, Virginia, claims businesses bankrolled by Robertson's charity operation tilt the entrepreneurial playing field against those who don't have monthly tax-exempt contributions to start companies. Others attack on ethical grounds, saying donors believe they are supporting a purely religious organization.

But for Robertson and {his Christian Broadcasting Network} officials, who have refused to respond to detailed questions about their finances, business and religion have been inseparable.

What are these Robertson businesses? According to the Church and State report:

CBN has . . . grown into an umbrella organization for ten business ventures with plans for more {including} an airplane charter company, a travel agency, an Oklahoma radio station, a four-diamond hotel, a news service that claims to compete with the Associated Press, and a proposed retirement community in either Virginia Beach or Chesapeake.

The most successful CBN business, the Family Channel, was sold to Robertson's International Family Entertainment business. Robertson also bought into a vitamin and cosmetics company that was created by CBN.

Furthermore, Robertson's Christian Broadcasting Network plans to build a theme park in South Hampton Roads, Virginia, and launch a cable system in Vietnam. Robertson himself lives in a large mansion in a walled estate.

The Church and State report quotes Arthur C. Frantzreb, a nonprofit management consultant for more than 40 years, who argues that most people who contribute to CBN would be upset to discover that their charity is being used to support Robertson's business ventures. "Poor little John Q. Public who is sending them $100 or $1,000 a year isn't able to digest the consolidated financial reports they send out."

The report continues:

CBN fundraising appeals emphasize the religious work of the ministry and rarely, if ever, mention the business strategy. For example, in an "Urgentgram" mailed to CBN donors just after Easter, Robertson asked for a gift of "$100 or more over and above your regular giving" to air a Hanna-Barbera animated film, The Easter Story, in media markets covering 70 percent of the nation.

In fine print, at the bottom of the letter, is the statement made on all CBN appeals: "All funds are used for designated projects and for the worldwide ministry of CBN in accordance with Ezra 7:17-18." This passage from the Old Testament says: "With this money be sure to buy bulls, rams, and male lambs, together with their grain offerings ... and sacrifice them on the altar of the temple of your God in Jerusalem. You and your brother Jews may then do whatever seems best with the rest of the silver and gold, in accordance with the will of your God.

It seems obvious that the verses give Pat Robertson authority to use the money not for the "designated projects" but for other projects that the donors do not know about.

Pat Robertson is a great believer in the Ten Commandments. However, his interpretation of those commandments is unique. For example, "Thou shalt not steal" means, in Robertson's interpretation, that "what a man has accumulated is his. In God's order, there are no schemes of wealth distribution under which government forces productive citizens to give the fruit of their labor to those who are nonproductive."

Recently, even some evangelical writers have produced books critical of the religious right's money-grubbing schemes. One of these, Beyond Culture Wars: Is America a Mission Field or Battlefield? by Michael S. Horton, accuses the religious right of "idolatry": "Capitalism replaces God and His prominence with the `Invisible Hand of the Market"' and is "essentially materialistic and hostile to spiritual realities."

In other words, resistance is growing within the evangelical movement to the whole idea of commercialization and politicization of the faith by the ultra-right. Another interesting sign is that the Moody Bible Institute wants to steer clear of any apparent endorsement of the political agenda of the Christian Coalition and allied groups. Last February, the Moody Broadcasting Network adopted guidelines that require political programs to be cleared with management. These programs must also be nonpartisan and must "acknowledge respectfully the existence of differing viewpoints on political matters within the body of Christ" and must not attack or ridicule government bodies or opponents. This is obviously a reaction to the strategy and tactics of many on the religious right.

The guidelines were invoked in February against a Focus on the Family broadcast because of its political content. Despite pressure from James Dobson (the leader of Focus on the Family) and Gary Bauer (leader of the affiliated Family Research Center), the Moody group held its ground and did not permit the broadcast.

Even more surprisingly, Michael Horton, whose book Beyond Culture Wars was published by Moody Press, calls it a "tactical mistake" to attack humanists. Although he distances himself from Humanist Manifesto I and II, he writes: "Humanism is a terrific word. In fact, part of the demise of Western civilization is the weakening, not the strengthening, of its humanistic tradition." He concludes his discussion of humanism with the statement: "There is no question that secularists exist and exercise considerable control beyond their numbers. That does not, in itself, make secularists wrong."
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Article Details
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Title Annotation:Watch on the Right; commercialization within the Evangelical movement
Author:Swomley, John
Publication:The Humanist
Article Type:Column
Date:Sep 1, 1996
Words:1509
Previous Article:f"Parental rights" at the expense of children.
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