Four years ago, I wrote a column about prosperity gospel huckster Rev. Ike a week after he moved on to his great reward.
Frederick J. "Rev. Ike" Eikerenkoetter II wasn't the first flimflam artist to scam his followers, but among his fellow religious broadcasters, he was the most innovative when it came to separating fools from their money.
His followers had spent years placing their hands on their radios and television sets and emptying their wallets at his prompting by the time it caught on with more mainstream televangelists in the 1970s and '80s.
In keeping with his celebration of ostentatious wealth, Rev. Ike sometimes preached in front of a large backdrop of a $1,000 bill, leaving little doubt about who or what was most important to him in that eternal struggle between God and mammon.
Years later, that column still generates calls and emails from spiritual dead-enders who continue to support Rev. Ike Ministries. The substance of their complaint about me boils down to one questionable assertion -- that I never had the guts to write such "scurrilous things" about Rev. Ike while he was alive.
While it is true that I never wrote about Rev. Ike prior to Aug. 4, 2009, it wasn't because I was afraid of offending that charlatan. His heyday had long passed and he wasn't as well known in this area as the legion of con men who displaced him on the airwaves.
Though Rev. Ike was too obscure to waste column inches on in his last years, it was impossible to resist scribbling a not-so-fond farewell at his passing, given his influence on such scoundrels as Creflo Dollar, Robert Tilton and Benny Hinn. After all, he was their inspiration when it came to fleecing the sheep.
I was reminded of that Rev. Ike column by Benny Hinn's return to Pittsburgh for two Miracle Healing Services at the David L. Lawrence Convention Center this week.
According to a story in Monday's Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, Mr. Hinn wants his followers to cough up millions to help retire his ministry's debt. Mr. Hinn's website contains a "quote" from a wealthy supporter who is supposedly willing to underwrite the ministry, but who says God is insisting that other people contribute as well:
"Benny, God has laid it on my heart to plant a seed of $2.5 million into your ministry," according to the anonymous donor's quote, "but God only wants me to make this gift if the ministry partners match the amount within 90 days! I feel so strongly that He wants them to be part of the supernatural wealth transfer that is coming to every believer who will obey God's word."
The website promises that those who donate generously will see an example of the "Double Harvest Miracle" reflected in their own lives. Donors' debts will be canceled within 90 days and they will no longer dread "going to the mailbox, no bills piling on your counter and no calls from collectors coming to your home."
Mr. Hinn also promises that a $10,000 seed will grow into $20,000. "And your double seed, sown bountifully, will reap bountifully through the supernatural law of multiplication!"
At its height, Benny Hinn's ministry made north of $90 million in one year, but those high-flying days are behind him. After a congressional investigation and numerous exposes by news organizations that failed to turn up a single person he's ever healed, Mr. Hinn has reportedly given up his Gulf Stream jet and other high ticket luxuries. He vows to live more simply within the confines of his seven-figure salary.
It will be interesting to see what churches will bus their members to the convention center this week for an event headlined by a scoundrel. Since Mr. Hinn's theology is premised on the love of and acquisition of cash, all those who attend the healing service should ask whether it fits their historic understanding of the Christian faith to spend so much time talking about money.
Though Mr. Hinn's ministry is based in Florida, it was fascinating to see that he considers Pittsburgh his "spiritual home" because it was here that he first heard faith healer Kathryn Kuhlman at First Presbyterian Church, Downtown. Mr. Hinn says that healing service planted the seed in his mind that gave him the opportunity to preach his gospel of prosperity to a billion people.
Mr. Hinn can expect sparse crowds this week, however. I suspect the only healing that people want to see around here these days is a miracle at Heinz Field.
Tony Norman: email@example.com, 412-263-1631 or on Twitter @TonyNormanPG.