“And they shall say to you, See here; or, see there: go not after them, nor follow them.” Luke 17:23
Articles taken for the most part from the St.
Louis Post Dispatch Newspaper.
Meyers - Decide for yourself.....
Summary: From Fenton to fame
By Carolyn Tuft and Bill Smith
Tahnee Jones (left) and Betty Jones, pray at a Joyce Meyer's Life in the Word in Atlanta in August.
Joyce Meyer says God has made her rich.
Everything she has came from Him: the $10 million corporate jet, her husband's $107,000 silver-gray Mercedes sedan, her $2 million home and houses worth another $2 million for her four children -- all blessings, she says, straight from the hand of God.
It's been an amazing run, nothing short of a miracle, says Meyer, a one-time bookkeeper who heads one of the world's largest television ministries. Her Life in the Word organization expects to take in $95 million this year.
Just look around, she told reporters last month from behind her desk on the third floor of the ministry's corporate offices in Jefferson County.
``Here I am, an ex-housewife from Fenton, with a 12th-grade education,'' she said. ``How could anybody look at this and see anything other than God?''
In many ways, Joyce Meyer is an American Cinderella.
Describing herself as sexually abused when she was a girl and neglected and abandoned as a young wife, Meyer has remade herself into one of the nation's best-known and best-paid TV preachers. She has taken her ``prosperity through faith'' message to millions.
``If you stay in your faith, you are going to get paid,'' Meyer told an audience in Detroit in September. ``I'm living now in my reward.''
Meyer, 60 and a grandmother, runs the ministry with her husband, Dave, and the couple's four children. All of the family, including the children's spouses, draw paychecks from the ministry.
But the way Meyer spends her ministry's money on herself and her family may violate federal law, legal and tax experts say. That law bars leaders of non-profits -- religious groups and other charities -- from privately benefiting from the tax-free money they raise.
Last month, Wall Watchers, a watchdog group that monitors the finances of large Christian groups, called on the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Meyer and six other TV preachers to find out whether their tax-exempt status should be revoked.
Meyer and her lawyer say she scrupulously abides by all federal laws.
Meyer's rise to prominence followed years of struggle. But by 1998, Charisma & Christian Life magazine was calling her ``America's most popular woman minister.''
Last year, Meyer was the keynote speaker at the Christian Coalition's Road to Victory tour, a gathering of some of the nation's most influential conservative leaders.
And today, her TV shows, regional conferences and fund raising from her Web site bring an average $8 million a month to her ministry. Of that, the ministry says it spends about 10 percent -- $880,000 a month -- on charitable works around the globe.
Her star has risen so high and so fast that it amazes even Meyer.
``Dave and I feel almost like, `Can this really be us?''` she said. ``We feel like we're the most blessed and honored people on the face of the Earth.''
Meyer's ministry stretches around the globe.
From a 15-minute St. Louis-area radio show in 1983, it has spread to virtually every corner of the civilized world, largely through the reach of satellite and cable transmissions and the Internet.
She says the ministry gets 15,000 letters a month from India alone.
In September, an Arabic language translation of her program began airing six times a day on the Life Channel network in the Middle East. Meyer hopes to use the network to bring the message of Christianity to 31 Islamic nations.
Meyer and her husband say the ministry has the potential to reach 2.5 billion people every weekday.
The couple's recent slogan, printed on posters in the ministry's headquarters and on banners at its conferences, sets out an ambitious goal for the future: ``Every nation, every city, every day.''
of Joyce Meyer's life
As reported by Joyce Meyer in her books and tapes, the Post-Dispatch and according to St. Louis County and Jefferson County records.
June 4, 1943 - Joyce Meyer is born.
June 5, 1943 - Meyer's father leaves for WW II (for the next three years Meyer saw him only once). When he returns home from the war, he is bitter, angry and addicted to alcohol, she says.
1946 - Sexual abuse by Meyer's father begins (it continues for the next 15 years, according to Meyer).
1951 - Meyer tells her mother that she was being sexually abused by her father. Her mother examines her and confronts her father. He claims Joyce was lying; the mother believes him.
1952 - At age 9, Meyer says she is "born again" while visiting family members out of town. She says she experienced a "glorious cleansing." A day later, she recalls, she cheats at a game of hide-and-go-seek.
1957 - At age 14, Meyer's mother walks into her house and catches her father sexually abusing her. The mother walks back out and returns two hours later acting as if she had never been there.
1961 - At age 18, Meyer leaves home and "married the first young man who showed an interest in me." She called him a "manipulator, thief and a con man. We moved around a lot. Once he abandoned me in California with nothing but one dime and a carton of soda pop bottles."
1964 - At age 21, Meyer has a miscarriage.
Summer, 1965 - While pregnant with her first child, Meyer writes that she became "dangerously close to losing my mind." (She says she went to a hospital clinic, couldn't eat or sleep and began taking over-the-counter sleeping pills).
Dec. 18, 1965 - At age 22, Meyer gives birth to her oldest son, David, who she names after her brother.
Summer 1966 - Meyer takes her son and "what I could carry" and leaves her husband. She calls her father and asks if she could come home.
September 1966 - Meyer divorces her first husband. Meanwhile, Meyer's mother's mental health deteriorates. She begins having violent fits and one night beats Meyer with a broom.
Late 1966 - Dave Meyer, an engineering draftsman, meets Joyce briefly while she is washing her mother's car. He tries to flirt with her, but she brushes him off. Soon after, they begin to date. Five dates later, he asks her to marry him.
Jan. 7, 1967 - Dave and Joyce marry, but she says that neither marriage nor church solved her problems. She says she was filled with self-pity and was verbally abusive, depressed and bitter.
April 5, 1968 - Daughter Laura Marie Meyer (now Laura Holtzmann) is born.
Oct. 8, 1969 - Daughter Sandra Ellen Meyer (now Sandra McCollom) is born.
February, 1976 - Joyce Meyer, at a red traffic light while driving home from the beauty shop, says she felt her heart fill with faith about what God was going to do. She began to thank him for it.
Months later in 1976 - Meyer begins a 6 a.m. bible class at Miss Hulling's restaurant in downtown St. Louis with her fellow employees at Isis Seafood Co., where she was the office manager.
Dec. 23, 1979 - Son Daniel B. Meyer is born.
1982 - Meyer leaves her Lutheran church and begins as an assistant minister at Life Christian Center, then a storefront church.
1983 - Meyer's first radio show begins airing on WCEW radio station. Soon after, her ministry buys time on six radio stations from Chicago to Kansas City.
August 27, 1985 - Life in the Word organizes as a "general not-for-profit corporation."
May 27, 1986 - Life in the Word wins 501(c)(3) tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service as a religious organization.
1993 - Meyer first appears on television. Later that in this year, David Meyer, then 53, has his own religious experience. "In the bathroom, God opened his heart to me," Dave is quoted as saying in a Post-Dispatch article Oct. 17, 1999.
Oct. 13, 1993 - David and Joyce Meyer buy 1109 Summerlake Estates Drive. This is the address that nearly all of the Meyers and administrators of Life in the Word use as their legal address.
April 10, 1996 - Life in the Word files for a fictitious name registration for Hand of Hope, 300 Biltmore Drive, Suite 115, Fenton with the secretary of state.
May 9, 1996 - Life In the Word buys 52 acres at 700 Grace Parkway, where the ministry headquarters will be built.
April 27, 1999 - Life in the Word, Inc. buys 12128 Gravois Road, a 14-room, 3,336-square-foot Cape Cod home built in 1948 and completely rehabbed by Life in the Word. Not long after the rehab, David and Joyce Meyer move in.
Dec. 31, 1999: Life in the Word reports that it took in $68,216,538 and spent $41,182,105 for 1999.
March 3, 2000 - Rage Against Destruction is incorporated as a non-profit with the Missouri Secretary of State.
Sept. 7, 2000 - The State of Missouri exempts Life in the Word from sales and use taxes on purchases and sales until 2005.
October, 2000 - Meyer becomes the first woman and first St. Louis native to be a main preacher at an event at the TWA Dome in St. Louis. More than 16,000 women attend.
March 30, 2001 - At 75 percent complete, the Jefferson County assessor places 700 Grace Parkway, Life in the Word's headquarters, on the county's property tax rolls for a value of $12.9 million.
Aug. 18, 2001 - 70 people die and 54 are injured in a fire at a budget hotel in Quezon City, Philippines, where they were attending a conference for Joyce Meyer Ministries and Don Clowers Ministries.
Dec, 31, 2001 - With the deadline looming, Life in the Word pays Jefferson County $288,177 for its 2001 property taxes at 700 Grace Parkway under protest.
March 7, 2002 - David and Joyce Meyer purchase a home on Grand View Drive in the prestigious Porto Cima private golf community on the shore of the Lake of the Ozarks.
March 27, 2002 - Life in the Word sues Jefferson County Assessor Randy B. Holman for their taxes on its headquarters. Meyer claims the ministry should be tax exempt as a church. Holman had decided it did not meet the state law because the headquarters building did not hold church services or allow the public inside.
July 24, 2002 - The Jefferson County Board of Equalization rules against the county assessor on Meyer's appeal of her 2002 property taxes on the ministry's headquarters building. The property is stripped from the tax rolls, causing a public outcry from taxpayers, who must pay more in taxes.
Oct. 8, 2002 - The Anti-Defamation League accuses Meyer's Rage Against Destruction, a program that goes into schools with a musical presentation, is really a front for a Christian evangelical group that wants to convert students.
Oct. 10, 2002 - The New Jersey Coalition for Free Exercise of Religion urges schools to bar Rage Against Destruction because it is a veiled religious pitch for Joyce Meyer Ministries.
Oct. 11 and 12, 2002 - Joyce Meyer speaks as the keynote speaker at the Christian Coalition's Road to Victory 2002 convention held at the Washington Convention Center in Washington D.C. She condemns the separation of church and state.
Nov. 18, 2002 - Rage Against Destruction files its tax form for 2001. It lists that it raised $279,100 and it spent $235,365. Meyer is listed as the board's vice president; her husband Dave was the president.
Dec. 19, 2002 - Joyce Meyer Ministries pays $26,141 in personal property taxes to the St. Louis County assessor for its corporate jet. While the ministry had paid $8.7 million for the jet, the county listed its worth at $1 million.
April 25, 2003 - Instead of giving the county access to its records and property, Life in the Word drops its lawsuit against the Jefferson County assessor for the headquarters' property taxes.
June 6, 2003 - MinistryWatch, a watchdog group that looks at ministries and churches to determine whether they are using their money for charitable purposes, gives Life In the Word/Joyce Meyer Ministries an "F" rating for not divulging their financial picture.
from News article....
It was while at Life Christian that Meyer began one of the more unusual chapters of her early ministry.
In an audiotape series called "How to Fight the Devil and Win," Meyer recalled how she read a book on freeing people from demons. She saw the book as a revelation from God and began what she called a "deliverance ministry," much of it out of the family’s home on Codorniz Lane in Fenton.
"I had every person, I think, anywhere within 10 miles who had a demon come knocking at my door wanting deliverance," she said. "And I was staying up half the night, almost every night, Dave and I were, casting out devils."
She said she got on people’s backs and rode them "all over the house, with these demons of anger and fear and violence ... you know our kids are back there sleeping and we’re in the living room screaming at demons half the night.
"I mean one woman came to my house, and me and my pastor (Shelton) literally rode her piggyback all over my house.
"She threw up in every towel I had. She spit all over us. Rick had to get his tie off. He had to get his jewelry off. Sweat was pouring off of both of us."
In a recent interview, Meyer said she understands how some people might consider such activity "goofy." She said she is no longer involved in such work.
Complete article here:
See Map below…..
requires pay, perks for evangelists to be "reasonable"
BY CAROLYN TUFT and BILL SMITH
Of the Post-Dispatch
Federal law bars religious groups and charities from spending excessively on insiders — those who form and control the organization.
One lawyer calls it a "drop-dead prohibition."
Some tax experts say Joyce Meyer may be violating that law.
Wall Watchers, a North Carolina-based nonprofit group formed to monitor the finances of large Christian organizations, wants the Internal Revenue Service to investigate Meyer and some other TV preachers on exactly that point. Wall Watchers, formed in 1998, provides financial information of 500 Christian groups on the Internet. It’s stated purpose is to educate donors about where their money is being spent.
Rusty Leonard, founder of Wall Watchers, said that if investigators determined that the TV preachers are compensating themselves at "extraordinarily high levels," the IRS should be prepared to revoke their tax-exempt church status.
Meyer and her lawyer, Tom Winters, say they aren’t worried.
"Obviously, this is a big ministry, and the IRS can look at it at any time," Winters said. "But we’re confident there are no problems. This ministry is so darn compliant with the IRS. This thing’s clean."
Wall Watchers tax expert Rod Pitzer says federal law requires that any compensation — salary and perks, including housing for ministers — must be reasonable. "Reasonable" means that the benefits to Meyer and her family roughly equal what other ministers in the St. Louis area get from their congregations, Pitzer said.
For example, Pitzer said, Meyer’s use of church money for five homes in South County — for Meyer and her husband, and for each of their four children — seems "abusive."
But Meyer says there’s nothing wrong with the ministry paying about $4 million to purchase, renovate and maintain the five homes. As she sees it, the ministry-owned homes are simply parsonages for her church.
"Ministers either have a parsonage that their ministry pays for — like the Pope lives in the Vatican, which is very nice — or they can take a housing allowance and own their own house," Meyer said.
Winters said that under tax laws, Meyer could take tax-free housing allowances and then deduct the family housing expenses from their income taxes. The homes would belong to the Meyers and their children and not the ministry, he said.
Winters called the parsonage plan "a more conservative approach."
"To criticize them for doing it this way, it’s just not right," he said.
Church audits are "sensitive"
Robert R. Thompson, a lawyer in Michigan who participated in some of the earliest investigations of TV ministers, said the law is clear: Private inurement — excessive benefits to anyone who founds or controls a ministry — is "a drop-dead prohibition."
even an ounce of private benefit is found," the IRS can act, he said.
But starting an IRS investigation is not easy. Religious groups get special treatment under the law because of the freedom-of-religion guarantee in the Constitution’s First Amendment, and resulting court rulings and laws.
"We have to have serious allegations," said Bruce Philipson of St. Paul, Minn., the IRS regional group manager of tax-exempt organizations for this region. "Church audits are always going to be sensitive."
Before launching an investigation, the IRS must narrow the scope to be as specific as possible. It must get the approval of the agency’s national director of exempt organizations. And it must give the ministry up to 90 days’ notice before looking at any of its records.
Other measures hamper the IRS’ reach. First, federal law allows religious groups to enjoy tax-free status without ever proving that they have a charitable purpose, as other nonprofits must.
Further, religious groups never have to report their finances publicly, as other nonprofits must.
Despite these safeguards for religious groups, Philipson said, the IRS usually can get approval to start an investigation when one is merited.
County, Meyer joust over tax exemption
Atop a hill in Jefferson County sits the $20 million headquarters of Joyce Meyer Ministries. The 52-acre complex is the focal point of county Assessor Randy Holman’s toughest tax battle.
For two years, Holman has wanted Meyer’s complex and its $5.7 million in contents on the county’s tax rolls. If Holman wins, Meyer will have to pay $600,000 in annual real estate and personal property taxes that would help pay for schools and for fire and police protection.
But Meyer is standing firm.
"You’re not going to, out of the kindness of your heart, pay over a half million dollars in taxes that you don’t owe," she said in an interview. "If we’re not tax-exempt, I don’t know who would be."
Missouri law mandates that religious institutions asking for tax exemptions on real estate must use the property solely for religious purposes — "exclusively for religious worship, for schools and colleges, or for purposes purely charitable and not held for private or corporate profit," according to Missouri state law.
Holman argues that Meyer’s property does not comply with the law because it is a business. He says it consists of a 158,139-square-foot office building, a 35,020-square-foot distribution center and a 5,000-square-foot automotive maintenance center on Gravois Road in Fenton.
In 2001, as work at the complex was almost finished, Holman’s commercial supervisor strolled inside the buildings and concluded that "the entire operation has the look and feel of a business — the business of selling religion and, specifically, Joyce Meyer religion."
At the headquarters, Meyer and her staff of 510 produce Meyer’s television program, audiotapes and videotapes, take in money from contributions and the sale of Meyer’s products, answer phone calls from viewers responding to Meyer’s television show and ship out orders.
An armed guard stands outside in a shed at the edge of the headquarters, checking the identification of all employees. He stops members of the public from entering, unless they want to go into a 300-square-foot bookstore to buy Meyer’s books and tapes. Only Meyer’s staff members can attend services in the chapel in the main building.
Meyer argues that the complex is the site from which her television program is sent around the world. Her conclusion: Because her church is her television program, the property houses her church.
Meyer and Tom Winters, her lawyer from Tulsa, Okla., declined to discuss the matter further because Meyer’s appeal of the assessment is before the State Tax Commission.
Holman said that during the decade Meyer ran her ministry out of an office park at 300 Biltmore, just a block from her current headquarters, Holman taxed Meyer as a business — and Meyer paid her taxes, which were $109,000 for the last year there.
And when he sent Meyer the first tax assessment in 2001 on the new headquarters, Holman said, Meyer said nothing. Then, in December 2001, as the tax bill came due, Meyer sued Holman.
Meyer dropped the suit in April, after county lawyers defending Holman demanded a second inspection of the headquarters and financial records for the ministry’s operation.
In the meantime, Meyer went through the normal channels last year and appealed to the county’s tax appeals panel, the Board of Equalization. The board sided with Meyer, saying she is tax-exempt as a church, and removed Meyer’s property from the tax rolls.
The move sparked angry cries from citizens and taxing bodies alike. Schools and fire departments had to trim their budgets and boost their tax levies.
Last summer — months after Holman called the building a business park, Meyer erected a five-story, blue-lighted cross at the headquarters to help designate it as a religious place.
Holman put Meyer’s property back on the tax roll this year. But when Meyer appealed this time, the county’s tax board chose to keep her on the tax rolls. So, Meyer took the matter to the State Tax Commission, which has the final say.
To offset outcries this time around, Meyer responded to the local police department’s plea for help by buying the department a new van. And she gave the cash-strapped Northwest R-1 School District $110,000 for this school year. She foots the bill for the county sheriff’s Christmas party.
Meyer says she’s confident that the commission’s hearing officer will see it her way.
"There are two other ministries right here in the same district that have had to fight at the state level and won, and so there’s already a precedent set," Meyer said. "I don’t know how we could possibly lose."
pitch is a hit with followers
By Carolyn Tuft and Bill Smith
©2003, St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Shopping spree: Joyce Meyer’s followers crowd product tables at her conference in Buffalo, N.Y. Responding to Meyer’s urging, this unidentified woman fills her arms with Meyer’s books, tapes, coffee mugs and other items that cost her $116.
The spray on Joyce Meyer’s hair and the sequins on her tailor-made pink suit sparkled in the bright stage lights. She stood before 8,000 people in the arena where the Buffalo Sabres play hockey.
Meyer’s rough, homespun south St. Louis drawl thundered out to her audience, which suddenly had become silent and still.
To give is godly, she said. Never fear giving too much in the name of God, even if it means sacrificing dinners out during the three-day conference. Fear, she said, is the work of the devil.
She lectured for nearly an hour before ending with the same plea she’d been delivering for a decade: “Make your checks payable to Joyce Meyer Ministries/Life in the Word. And million is spelled M-I-L-L-I-O-N.”
Many in the crowd flipped open their wallets or pulled out their checkbooks.
No one came forth with a million dollars that day in June. But in September, the ministry says, an East Coast woman gave stock worth that amount. Meyer then asked for more.
“I didn’t have that thing for five minutes and I said, ‘OK, God. Next I’ll take $5 million,’” Meyer later told an audience in Tampa.
It is this kind of hard-edged audacity that has made Meyer one of the biggest names in big-name TV evangelism and has endeared the Fenton grandmother to millions of faithful supporters worldwide. At 60, she shows no signs of slowing down as she stretches herself further.
In St. Louis last month, Meyer asked for a $7 million check.
“That would really bless me,” she said.
Meyer’s 20 or so conferences each year, where followers usually have their only opportunity to see and hear her live, are part old-fashioned tent revival, part motivational rally and part unrelenting sales pitch.
Meyer attracts her fans to her gatherings with promises of a free conference. The only conference with an entrance fee is her annual St. Louis women’s conference, which charges $50 per person.
Yet, from the moment followers enter one of her free conferences, Meyer pushes for their money.
“God does not need our money. The giving thing is not for Him, it’s for us,” Meyer told a Detroit audience in September. “I should not have to work to try to support myself.”
The Post-Dispatch attended four of Meyer’s conferences: Buffalo in June, Atlanta in August, Detroit in September and St. Louis in October.
The newspaper found virtually identical elements at each conference — heavy doses of modern religious music, an unwavering religious faith of her audiences and a strong, focused effort to bring in money.
Joyce Meyer Ministries is, without question, a well-oiled moneymaking machine.
Selling as the doors open
Faithful followers line up outside the arena hours before a Meyer conference begins. The doors open exactly two hours early. Some fans arrive in dresses and matching handbags. Others wear jeans and T-shirts. Still others wear miniskirts or shorts. Sheri Davis, 39, a former St. Louisan living in Atlanta, wore an “I Love Jesus” motorcycle jacket.
White women over 30 are Meyer’s biggest audience. But all ages and races are represented. The relatively few men in the crowds seem to accompany wives or girlfriends. Children play in the aisles.
After bags and purses are checked by security, Meyer’s volunteers hand the followers a 20-page catalog listing Meyer’s products for sale.
Just a few steps inside the arena, followers find 100-foot-long tables with Meyer’s items for sale. People crowd them, jockeying for places to look at Meyer’s products.
Videotapes, audiotapes, books, CDs, calendars and coffee mugs are stacked up to 10 high. Prices range from $3 for palm-size books of 60 pages to $110 for videotape and audiotape packages. The average cost of a videotape is $22.
Meyer’s ministry depends on more than 100 volunteers from local ministries to help work her conferences.
Her workers flown in from St. Louis handle the sales. Followers, their arms overflowing with books and tapes, line up in roped-off lanes similar to those at airport ticket counters. Ministry workers behind the counters keep 10 credit card machines whirring.
Nearly everyone in attendance carries a plastic Life in the Word bag containing the products they bought.
Inside the arena, followers troll for seats as close as possible to Meyer. They seem undaunted by having to sit behind two cameramen, perched 10 feet above the center of the crowd.
Another camera, mounted on a mobile arm like those used on TV programs such as David Letterman’s, is positioned beside the stage to catch Meyer’s every move and her audience’s reactions.
The stage is set to look like the gates of heaven, with towering columns and flowing drapery. An image of a blue sky with puffy clouds is projected behind the stage.
On each side of the stage is a large video display. Each flashes messages to the audience:
“Buy $500 worth of product and get $100 free.”
“The music now playing is from our ‘Free at Last’ CD and is available at the product table.”
“The tapes of these sessions can be ordered at the product table.”
Minutes before the session is scheduled to start, Meyer’s daughter Laura Holtzmann steps onstage. She urges the audience members to buy Meyer’s books and tapes and offers them special deals. She tells them not to be discouraged by long lines at the product tables. The lines move fast, she says, because 15 Life in the Word employees are working them.
Holtzmann tells them that their money will go to good causes — 50 charities.
In June in Buffalo, a video outlined one of Meyer’s charities: Her ministry says it has sent care packages with Meyer’s books and shampoo to 789,898 prisoners in 946 prisons in more than 40 states. Unnamed men identified as prisoners tell how they love Meyer. The tape ends, but no one applauds. The crowd wants to see Joyce.
The videos often show followers giving testimonials on how great things happened to them after they gave to Meyer. In Buffalo, Meyer called a woman to the stage to talk about how her husband gave his last dollar after seeing Meyer at a conference. Her husband’s name: Dan Goodson, Meyer’s general manager.
Enter: Joyce Meyer
At each conference, Charlie and Jill LeBlanc come onstage and sing modern gospel songs, preparing the audience for Meyer. The video screens flash lyrics so the audience can sing along. After each stanza, the screens tell the audience members how they can buy CDs containing the songs.
Meyer walks onto the stage, singing along. The audience goes wild. They hang on every word. When she tells them to do something — stand, say amen, answer her — the audience quickly responds.
Hundreds yell: “We love you, Joyce,” “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.”
Meyer keeps the audience standing. She tells them that through her, God will cure their headaches, depression, stomach problems, drug addiction and homosexuality.
Buffalo, Meyer instructed the women in the audience to place their hands on
their stomachs while she spoke. Most did. She told them she had healed all of their
female problems. She announced that she once did this and a woman with cancer
went to the doctor and found it had gone away.
Meyer then told the audience, which had been standing for an hour, that she was going to heal their backaches. She let them sit down.
“I know someone is already feeling better,” she quipped.
Meyer then delivered her sermon for giving. She told them that some Christians are worried that if they give it all, they will end up with nothing. If they give, she said, they can expect much more in return.
“Sowing and reaping is a law,” Meyer told the Buffalo audience. “If you sow, you will reap. I believe stingy people are very unhappy people. I want you to give your best offering. I believe one person could write one check to cover all of the expenses of this one conference.”
A middle-aged man wearing worn jeans pulled a wad of $20 bills from his pocket and placed them in an offering envelope. An elderly woman in a wheelchair wrote out a check for $100.
As hundreds of volunteers passed around white paper tubs resembling movie theater popcorn buckets, Meyer lectured on her partnership program. She said regular partners who allow her to deduct a monthly donation directly from their bank accounts get a tape of the month, the ministry’s monthly magazine and are prayed for “as if in the room.”
She said she has 120,000 partners that have monthly donations taken out of their bank accounts. She’s hoping to double that number by next year.
“Don’t procrastinate, because procrastination is the tool of the devil,” she warned the Buffalo audience.
After the offering, the bucket-bearing volunteers were ushered to a remote part of the arena. There, ministry workers counted the money, supervised by Dave Meyer, the ministry’s business administrator and Meyer’s husband.
A practical message
While money pleas dominate most of her conferences, Meyer also gives a practical lesson. It’s the main thing the followers come to see. Each lesson is edited for use on her TV show and videotapes that she sells.
On June 26 in Buffalo, Meyer’s message was about “thinking big.” She told the crowd that everyone there needed to become a “fresh piece of clay, starting over.”
“Stretch out your borders. Enlarge your tent,” Meyer urged. “You need to stop telling God what you’ve done wrong all the time. You need to move on.”
Meyer told them they should never let their disabilities or disadvantages stop them. Like her — an abused girl, and a housewife from Fenton when God called her to preach — He has a plan for them, too.
“I don’t care what anyone says about me,” she said. “Just hide the wash. Mmmm, mmm! I feel like the Holy Ghost.”
The hall erupted in shouts of “Hallelujah” and “Praise the Lord.”
“Don’t let mutterers stop you in life,” Meyer told them, shaking her fist in the air. “People are jealous, critical. They’re resentful. Most people want what you get but they don’t want to do what you did to get it.”
She told a biblical tale about Zacchaeus, a short man who wanted to see Jesus so badly that he climbed a tree. Jesus liked his ingenuity so much, he went to the man’s house to eat dinner with him.
“When an opportunity comes before me, I go for it,” Meyer said. “Thinking about it kills it. Narrow-minded people almost always miss their miracle. They look for Him to come in the front door, and He comes in the window.”
Dress well, live well
Outside the Philips Arena in Atlanta in August, about a dozen people had gathered nearly three hours before Meyer’s conference was set to begin.
One was Ronald Granville, 45, of Sacramento, Calif., a seminary student. He wore a black shirt with white and gold letters that said, “God has been so good to me.”
Granville said he’s heard the criticism of evangelists like Meyer: They live the high life while many of those who support them live at or near poverty.
“That’s between them and God,” Granville said. “If they’re getting the word of God out, why should they ride around in a 1980 Pinto? Is Joyce Meyer supposed to come out here in Salvation Army clothes or patched-up jeans?”
Meyer wears nothing but the best. Her clothes are tailor-made. She has a private hairdresser. Her nails are perfect. She wears glasslike slippers and dangly earrings and sparkly necklaces.
Her workers back in St. Louis pack the things she needs at the conference. Perrier water is a must.
It takes four 18-wheelers to carry her products and stage setup from St. Louis to each conference.
On the road, Meyer and her husband live in exclusive hotels.
In Detroit, they stayed in a suite in the Townsend in Birmingham, Mich., the area’s richest suburb. The Townsend houses movie and rock stars when they appear locally. Privacy protection is the hotel’s hallmark, and it prides itself on its “discreet” handling of each guest. Suites cost about $1,500 a night.
There is something magnetic about Meyer’s appeal to women. Much of this appeal is Meyer’s willingness to share nearly every aspect of her life, including sexual abuse by her father, her quick temper with her four children, how she hates it when her husband overdirects her — telling her how to walk or to close the blinds while undressing in front of hotel windows.
In St. Louis last month, Meyer told her audience about an exploded hemorrhoid that had sent her to the hospital during her Thursday evening session.
All of Meyer’s past flaws are an open book to her fans: She chain-smoked. She drank. She slept with men she had just met. She stole things she didn’t need.
And those are the things that endear Meyer to her followers. Her advice hits home: Forgive those who hurt you. Copy others’ successes. Believing will heal you and make you wealthy.
At times, Meyer’s speeches ramble as if she is speaking thoughts at the very same time they occur to her.
“I can stand up and talk all day and not even know what is coming out of my mouth next,” she told the Buffalo audience in June. “That’s my gift.”
In Atlanta in August, Meyer’s followers wanted to see her perform one of her classic acts. Meyer hinted she might do her so-called robot routine. Hundreds of women began chanting: “Robot, robot, robot. . .!”
Meyer finally went into a stiff-armed, animated walk, her representation of a self-indulgent, windup robot that repeats the phrase: “What about me? ... What about me? ... What about me?”
Meyer demands order at her conferences. In St. Louis, Meyer commanded that nobody leave the hall during her sessions. She said she has to talk for two hours without going to the bathroom, so if she can wait, they can wait.
In Buffalo, when her microphone was not positioned the way she liked, she stopped the conference and ordered an employee to the stage to fix it.
Meyer wanted to teach them to talk in tongues, a practice that she says caused her, in part, to leave her Lutheran church in St. Louis. She ordered the crowd to stand and told them she was filling them with the Holy Spirit.
“Soak in the Holy Ghost,” she demanded. She began muttering inaudible words. Many followed her lead.
“I believe His presence is here,” her voice thundered.
A middle-aged woman wearing a white bow in her hair and a hunter-green dress began howling, “Oh, Jesus ... Oh, Jesus.” She collapsed on the steps inside of the arena. Meyer’s workers quickly whisked her away.
“Thank you, God, for reaching the people tonight,” Meyer told them. “We’re not going to leave the way we came.”
Meyer’s money pleas
Sometimes soft, sometimes tough, Meyer’s plea for money, like most things she does, is matter-of-fact and without apology.
“Some of you need to sow a special seed this weekend,” Meyer told her Detroit audience. “Don’t be a $10 man all your life. Don’t even be a $100 man all your life. . . . You have to give sometimes until it hurts. It needs to cost you something.”
Sometimes, she’s more demanding.
“I don’t have to stand here and beg,” she told the crowd in Buffalo. “What God wants you to do here tonight is to pay for somebody else to watch my show.”
Meyer told her Detroit audience about those who are unhappy with the way she pleads for money.
“People say, ‘I don’t want to hear about the money, the money, the money, the money. I came to hear Joyce. I didn’t come to hear about the money,’” Meyer said. “Giving will change your life. When God gives you an increase, you give more.”
Meyer often stands on stage hawking her products. In Atlanta, she held an enormous basket, overflowing with 50 of her books — “free” for a $1,000 offering.
She showed off new tape offerings packaged like suitcases. At one point, Meyer struggled to carry four of the massive tape cases, which sell for $110 apiece, across the arena stage.
“I need to see you leaving my meetings just like this,” she said.
She pointed out that her audiotapes are cheaper than the $100 an hour that some professional counselors charge.
She told her flock in Buffalo that they have to stop being jealous of people like her who have nice things.
“Don’t be jealous of what somebody’s got,” she said. “It’s not about somebody getting your money. You need to give.”
Reporter Carolyn Tuft
Reporter Bill Smith
Photographer Robert Cohen
9 years of giving, man has no Chrysler, no wife, no wealth
By Carolyn Tuft
Bob Schneller gave to Joyce Meyer until it hurt. Nine years later, he says, it still aches.
He’s out of money, out of a marriage and out of faith with televangelists.
Schneller, 59, lives alone in a 600-square-foot, early-model mobile home in House Springs. He’s surrounded by videotapes of televangelists. He says he studies the tapes to learn how he was taken in by Meyer.
Not so long ago, Schneller spent his days hanging on Meyer’s every word. The money he gave her — $4,400 a year — surpassed his annual mortgage payment. He and his wife lived on $30,000 a year.
“She teaches you that if you give a seed offering, it will come back tenfold or a hundredfold,” Schneller said. "I know it sounds ridiculous, but you get caught up in it. You believe it as truth."
Schneller was reared as a Roman Catholic but said he was reborn as a Protestant Christian when he was 40.
A year later, in 1985, the Schnellers started attending Life Christian Center, near their home in Fenton. At the center, they learned what Schneller calls the prosperity message: If you give, you will get more in return. And there they met Joyce Meyer, then an up-and-coming preacher.
“Her teachings were practical,” Schneller said. “I’d never heard anyone preach that way before.”
He and his wife, Mary Jo, followed Meyer to her church meetings in a Ramada Inn in South County, one of several places she preached.
Soon, the Schnellers were working for Meyer. Bob Schneller became Meyer’s exterminator. Mary Jo worked as Meyer’s hairdresser.
Most of what Meyer taught, Schneller said, is what he calls the “name-it-and-claim-it” theology: If you have enough faith, you can name what you want.
“So I laid across the hood of a brand new 1985 Chrysler Fifth Avenue,” Schneller said. “I never did get it. She would say that I didn’t have enough faith, or that there was sin in my life blocking the blessing. It always goes back to you.”
The Schnellers began giving more to Meyer: $350 a month. They went to Meyer’s home Bible sessions.
By the early 1990s, Meyer’s popularity started to climb.
But Schneller was less fortunate. His back went out, and he lacked money to pay his bills. He went to Meyer and told her what was happening. She laid her hands on him, he said, and told him that he would be healed, that his problems would soon go away.
“One day, I went out to my mailbox, and there inside were six $100 bills wrapped up,” Schneller said. “Right after that, she had me give testimony, and she used it to prove that you can be blessed.”
Despite the $600, nothing changed, he said. He went on workers’ compensation and underwent neck surgery. Meyer called him to wish him well, he said. She began giving seed money to a ministry that Schneller and his wife had started, Sword of Spirit of Truth.
Then, in the spring of 1994, a new technique was percolating among charismatics like Meyer. It was called “holy laughter,” a ritual in which the congregation sings songs repetitively. The preacher steps onstage and begins laughing. Immediately, the room breaks into laughter. People slide out of their chairs and onto the floor, “drunk on the Holy Spirit.”
But Schneller felt uncomfortable with it.
The Schnellers went to a church in Waterloo. There, Schneller spoke out against holy laughter. A few days later, Schneller said, his wife was called into Meyer’s office.
Meyer told her, Schneller said, that because of their position on holy laughter, “I can no longer support you.”
They parted ways.
Since then, Schneller’s marriage has fallen apart. He works as a security guard and attends a “regular church, where the Bible is taught verse by verse.”
Referring to Meyer’s ministry, he says: “My advice to other people thinking about getting involved and giving: Don’t give it — you’re being ripped off.”
The prosperity gospel
By Bill Smith and Carolyn Tuft
The end of the 1980s was a bad time for TV preachers.
One moment, men like the PTL Club's Jim Bakker and television's Jimmy Swaggart seemed bigger than life, supermen blessed with an uncanny ability to attract followers and money. The next instant, they were only men -- fragile, flawed and the butt of barroom jokes and newspaper cartoons.
In many ways, it seemed like the beginning of the end for big-time TV religion. Look, the critics said, the emperors really do have no clothes.
But Americans, at least many of them, seem to have forgotten and forgiven. TV's salvation shows are still here, bigger and flashier than ever, thanks to the proliferation of the internet and the continued spread of satellite and cable TV.
The names may have changed -- Juanita Bynum, Kenneth and Gloria Copeland, Creflo Dollar, Benny Hinn, T. D. Jakes, St. Louis' Joyce Meyer and a dozen others have replaced Bakker, Swaggart and Oral Roberts at the top of the evangelical mountain -- but the message remains virtually identical.
Believe with all your heart and soul, they tell the faithful. And give, give, give until you can't give any more.
God, they say, loves a cheerful giver.
In the late 1980s, when the sex-and-fraud scandals boiled over into America's living rooms, Joyce Meyer's little radio ministry was scarcely a blip on the evangelical radar screen.
Today, Meyer heads a ministry fast approaching $100 million a year and is among a dozen or so evangelical superstars headlining a revived, and very healthy, industry.
The prosperity gospel also has been called the ``name it and claim it'' theology. God wants His people to prosper, evangelists like Meyer maintain. Those who follow God and give generously to his ministries can have anything, and everything, they want.
But critics, from Bible-quoting theologians to groups devoted to preserving the separation of church and state, abound. At best, they say, such a theology is a simplistic and misguided way of living. At worst, they say, it is dangerous.
Michael Scott Horton, who teaches historical theology at the Westminister Theological Seminary in Escondido, Ca., calls the message a twisted interpretation of the Bible -- a ``wild and wacky theology.
``Some of these people are charlatans,'' Horton said. ``Others are honestly dedicated to one of the most abhorrent errors in religious theology.
`` I often think of these folks as the religious equivalent to a combination of a National Enquirer ad and professional wrestling. It's part entertainment and very large part scam.''
Sociologist William Martin of Rice University said that most people who follow TV religious leaders put so much trust in them that they want them to thrive. Martin is a professor of sociology at the university, specializing in theology.
The preachers' wealth is ``confirmation of what they are preaching,'' Martin said.
Ole Anthony's Trinity Foundation, best-known for working with the national media to uncover questionable activities involving TV evangelists, often resorts to digging through preachers' trash to find incriminating evidence. Anthony said that most of the preachers begin with a ``sincere desire to spread the faith. But the pressure of fundraising slowly moves all of them in the direction of a greed-based theology.''
Even J. Lee Grady, editor of Charisma & Christian Life magazine has become alarmed at what he sees as the excesses of some TV preachers.
Grady defends the principle that if you are stingy with your money, you will lack things in life; and if you are generous, you will get things in return.
``But that doesn't mean you can treat God like a slot machine,'' Grady said in an interview.
Bakker, who spent five years in prison for defrauding Heritage USA investors, says he has had a change of heart about the prosperity gospel.
The same man who once told his PTL coworkers that ``God wants you to be rich,'' now says he made a tragic mistake.
``For years, I helped propagate an impostor, not a true gospel, but another gospel,'' Bakker has said in his 1996 book, ``I Was Wrong.''
``The prosperity message did not line up with the tenor of the Scripture,'' he said. ``My heart was crushed to think that I led so many people astray.''
While Bakker may have changed his tune, many more TV preachers are steadfast in their conviction that if you give money, you will receive it many times in return.
Meyer spends most of her three-day conferences on lessons in giving, and she is blunt when she addresses what the critics say about her seed-faith interpretation of the Bible. She says that those preachers who believe that to be godly is to be poor are the ones who have it wrong.
``Why would He (God) want all of His people poverty stricken while all of the people that aren't living for God have everything?'' Meyer said. ``I think it's old religious thinking, and I believe the devil uses it to keep people from wanting to serve God.''
Bakker returns to TV pulpit in Branson, Mo.
To much of America, Jim Bakker was the preacher with the Midas touch.
Everything seemed to turn to gold in his hands, from his massive PTL Club ministry to his squeaky clean, fun-for-the-whole-family, Christian-based Heritage USA theme park. At the height of his popularity in the mid-1980s, he owned six mansions and a Rolls-Royce and was pocketing an annual salary of nearly $2 million. God, it seemed, was good business - very good business.
Today, the nation's most famous fallen electronic preacher is in Branson, Mo., the family entertainment capital of America's Bible Belt. He's older and wiser, Bakker says, and scraping to make ends meet at a little cafe-TV studio just north of the town's famous "strip." He hawks whipped cream-topped pies and barbecue sandwiches, pleads for a new piano and begs for volunteers to operate his TV cameras.
"This is the lowest-budget show in America," he said last month during a taping of "The New Jim Bakker Show," set in the 260-seat Studio City Cafe. "It's just a miracle that we're even on the air."
Bakker's hourlong, five-day-a-week program, which first aired Jan. 2, marks the evangelist's first tentative steps back into the life that cost him his first wife, Tammy Faye, his fortune and his freedom. Convicted of 24 counts of fraud and conspiracy for taking more than $3 million from his followers, Bakker spent five years in prison before winning an early release.
"I didn't ever plan on being on television again," Bakker said last month from the basement office of the restaurant. "And I thought I could never move to Branson.
"This is a show town. I know that every move I make is being analyzed."
Bakker, 63, and his second wife, Lori, moved to Branson and the Studio City Cafe at the urging of Branson businessman Jerry Crawford, who credits Bakker's old PTL ministry with helping to save his marriage. Crawford says he was born again during a PTL visit in 1986. It was Crawford who built the cafe, paid for the TV equipment and offered them to Bakker for his program. Crawford lets Bakker and his family live rent-free in a home he built near his own.
Bakker says he made $16,000 last year and still owes the government about $7 million in penalties and interest tied to his conviction.
A Joyce Meyer fan
Bakker said that most mornings, as he and his wife are getting dressed to come to the cafe for the show, they watch a videotape of their favorite TV preacher: Joyce Meyer. He says Lori Bakker began listening to Meyer on the radio 13 years ago.
"She has such a practical teaching," Jim Bakker said.
He says he worries about so-called prosperity preachers - men and women who have followed in his ministry's "give and you shall receive" philosophy.
"It's very, very dangerous when we focus on material things," Bakker said. "Especially the church - to focus on material things is opposite of what Jesus taught."
He says he is amazed by the good will he has received from the community since his move to Branson.
He talks of praying with Andy Williams, Tony Orlando and the Osmonds. He says the Lennon sisters have embraced him and his family "like we're old friends."
He is so comfortable here, he says, that he never wants to leave. He hopes to stay "until death or rapture, whichever comes first."
Some hype remains
Bakker's show, which features religious music, interviews with guests and party hats for diners celebrating birthdays, is aired in more than 150 countries, according to a ministry news release. The cafe walls are hung with gold-framed religious paintings, and photos of Bakker with celebrities and former Presidents Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan and George Bush. A framed picture of a Rolls-Royce hangs in the cafeteria men's room.
Bakker also spends part of the show selling his and his wife's books and soliciting donations. For a $100 contribution, visitors from the cafe audience are invited onto the set to pose for photos with the Bakkers.
Many of those who come to the diner are the same people who watched Bakker on the old PTL Club program. Some lost money to Bakker and his ministry when a plan to offer lifetime memberships to Heritage USA went sour.
Among the ministry's volunteers are Stan and Diana Stuart, who followed Bakker when they lived in Colorado in the 1980s. Stan Stuart maintains that Bakker was railroaded by the government.
"At the time," Stuart said, "it seemed almost like a crucifixion."
When Bakker talks of the old days, there is a hint of regret in his voice. Still, he says, he would not want to return to them. Even now, he sometimes worries that things are happening too quickly.
"There are times I say to Lori, 'Let's just go back to the ghetto ... people loved us there,'" he said, referring to the post-prison days at the Los Angeles Dream Center. "I tell you what, riches and things are just not all they're cracked up to be. The more you have, the more stress you have."
The "New Jim Bakker Show" is not available on St. Louis-area TV, but programs can be viewed live at jimbakkershow.com, the show's internet Web site.
Joyce Meyer is one of America's best-known prosperity-gospel TV ministers - preachers who teach that personal wealth can be attained through a strong faith in God and a strict adherence to the Bible.
Following is an alphabetical list of a new wave of popular word-faith ministers who have used television to build large followings:
Headquarters: Waycross, Ga.
Reach: Her program, "Weapons of Power," is seen worldwide on TBN; she holds conferences throughout the United States.
Wealth: No information available.
In the news: In April, Bynum married Thomas Wesley Weeks III in the palatial Regent Wall Street Hotel in New York City. The ceremony featured a wedding party of 80, a platinum-colored satin bridal gown with a bodice covered in Swarovski crystals and a 7.76-carat diamond ring.
Kenneth and Gloria Copeland
Headquarters: Fort Worth, Texas
Reach: Ministry Web site says its TV show, "Believer's Voice of Victory," is seen by more than 76 million households on nearly 700 U.S. stations. Show also airs on about 135 international stations.
Wealth: A ministry official estimates the ministry's annual revenue at $70 million.
In the news: In June, the Copelands joined four other TV preachers who gathered around Oral Roberts, 85, considered the grandfather of the prosperity gospel, to pray for healing the failing founder of the university that bears his name.
Jan and Paul Crouch
Headquarters: Costa Mesa, Calif.
Reach: The Crouches are owners of Trinity Broadcast Network, the world's largest Christian TV network. TBN reaches millions of viewers on more than 5,000 TV stations and 33 international satellites around the world.
Wealth: The Crouches and their son Paul Crouch Jr. said they earned a total of $855,000 last year. TBN's annual income exceeds $100 million a year, according to the Los Angeles Times. The ministry provides the Crouches a $10 million, 80-acre, eight-home ranch near Dallas and two Land Rovers that the Crouches drive. In 2001, the couple bought a $5 million oceanfront estate in Newport Beach, Calif.
In the news: The ministry recently purchased the Nashville, Tenn., home and estate of the late country music performer Conway Twitty and opened Trinity Music City USA as a tourist attraction there.
Headquarters: College Park, Ga.
Reach: Dollar's "Changing Your World" TV program on TBN reaches 150 countries.
Wealth: The ministry's income is unavailable, but newspaper accounts say the ministry paid $18 million in cash for his new 8,000-seat World Changers Church International on the southern edge of Atlanta. He drives a black Rolls-Royce and travels in a $5 million private jet.
In the news: Dollar's ministry became a focus of a court case involving boxer Evander Holyfield in 1999. The lawyer for Holyfield's ex-wife estimated that the fighter gave Dollar's ministry $7 million. Dollar refused to testify in the case.
Reach: Her TV show, "Today with Marilyn," on the TBN and Black Entertainment Television networks can be seen around the world. She has offices in England, South Africa and Australia, and is on the board of Oral Roberts University.
Wealth: Her ministry occupies a 260,000-square-foot former shopping mall in Denver. No information on ministry or her personal wealth is available.
In the news: She has been dubbed the "fairy godmother of the word-faith movement" and "the mistress of mail-order madness," by the Texas-based Christian Sentinel, a ministry that monitors what it calls "religious deception." Hickey got the "mistress" name for her use of trinkets - blessed cornmeal, cloths, seeds and coins - sent out to followers to urge them to send in money.
Headquarters: Grapevine, Texas
Reach: Hinn's "This is Your Day" program is seen throughout the United States and in nearly 200 foreign countries.
Wealth: The ministry took in $60 million in 2001. A news story earlier this year in the Colorado Springs Gazette said annual income now exceeds $90 million. Hinn told CNN in 1997 that he drew an annual salary of $500,000 to $1 million a year. He has a $3.5 million home in the Los Angeles area and drives an $80,000 Mercedes-Benz G500.
In the news: A "Dateline" segment on NBC examined five of Hinn's faith-healing "miracles," showing that none of the people was cured and that one woman with lung cancer died nine months later.
Headquarters: The River at Tampa Bay, Tampa, Fla.
Reach: His live broadcasts from his River at Tampa Bay Church stream online on his Internet site www.revival.com and can be seen worldwide.
Wealth: He and his wife, Adonica, oversee his $16 million church, which they founded in 1996. The couple live in a six-bedroom, four-bath lakefront home on Cory Lake in northwest Tampa. The home includes a dock, spa, pool and gazebo.
In the news: Howard-Browne has called himself the "bartender of holy laughter." Holy laughter was a controversial movement that swept evangelical circles in the mid-1990s. He would walk on stage laughing uncontrollably. The congregation would begin laughing. Howard-Browne would sweep his arm toward the crowd. People would appear "drunk on the Holy Spirit" and slide out of their chairs or dance in the aisles.
Reach: Jakes' "The Potter's House" TV program is seen throughout the world on TBN and Black Entertainment Television. His ministry boasts more than 26,000 members. A rally at the Georgia Dome in 1999 drew more than 100,000 people.
Wealth: He has mansions in Charleston, W.Va., and Dallas.
In the news: Called the best preacher in America by Time magazine in 2001.
Reach: He once ran his Farmers Branch Church in Dallas before scandal toppled it in the early 1990s. His show now airs on Black Entertainment Television and has a potential audience of 74 million homes.
Wealth: He is building a two-story home on a $1.39 million oceanfront lot on an island in Biscayne Bay off Miami Beach, and his ministry owns a 50-foot yacht. His ministry takes in about $24 million a year.
In the news: Tilton is rebounding after his ministry collapsed in scandal a decade ago amid news reports that prayer requests he said he personally prayed over were found in a trash bin after the money, food stamps and rings had been removed.
Randy and Paula White
Headquarters: The Without Walls International Church, Tampa, Fla.
Reach: The "Paula White Today" TV show can be seen worldwide on TBN and Black Entertainment Television. The ministry's Operation Explosion travels into public housing complexes with "rolling theatre-style pink trucks" to share Christianity in a Nickelodeon-type program for underprivileged children.
Wealth: The Whites live in a $2.1 million, 8,000-square-foot home facing Tampa Bay. Their ministry owns a jet airplane, a Cadillac Escalade and a Mercedes-Benz sedan.
In the news: Paula White calls Joyce Meyer her mentor; Meyer visited their church in September.
with a big stick
Oct. 23, 2004
By Pat Burson, Staff Writer
Juanita Bynum speaks to a flock in need of tough love -- and to critics who are tough on her
A woman in a white doctor's coat clutches the head of a wireless microphone, steps in front of hundreds and yells to them to lift their hands and voices.
It's the Monday night "prayer clinic" at New Greater Bethel Ministries in Queens Village, and "Prophetess" Juanita Bynum is about to deliver a message from the Great Physician.
"C'mon and bless him tonight!" she shouts in a voice that pummels the eardrums and permeates every crevice of the converted movie theater. She walks back and forth as congregants lose themselves. "C'mon and bless the Lord! Hallelujah!"
"Glory!" They shout back.
Once the roar subsides, Bynum stands behind a table that is draped in white cloth and purple satin, and for the next two hours teaches about the spiritual requirements for entering into the presence of God. She admonishes believers to be like Christ.
"Oh, I'm not hearin' nobody say nothin'!" she says. A roar of response rises and then subsides. "You put on the garment of righteousness to serve the Lord, not yourself," she says, her volume building with every word. "He saved us so that we could serve -- ANYWHERE!"
Bynum, 45, who splits her time between homes in Hempstead and Washington, D.C., delivers the same brand of tough- love evangelism she has become known for during worship services in small churches, national conferences in giant arenas and on the Trinity Broadcasting Network to millions of viewers. She's a bestselling author with a new book and a music CD on the way -- all of which has afforded her a lifestyle where she can have a million-dollar wedding.
She is a rising star among charismatics and black women, who can't get enough of her openness and tell-it-like-it-is style. Her supporters say her ministry is helping them to become better Christians, but critics question whether her lifestyle is too extravagant, her fund-raising tactics too heavy-handed and her teachings biblically sound.
A teen ministry
Born in Chicago to a rug salesman and a school nutritionist, Bynum, who has four siblings, followed her parents, who both preached in their Pentecostal church, into ministry as a teen. After graduating as valedictorian from Saints High, a school run by the Church of God in Christ in Memphis, Tenn., she worked as a beautician. A job as a Pan Am flight attendant brought her to New York almost two decades ago.
In full-time ministry for the past 15 years, Bynum describes herself as a "prophetess," which she defines not only as someone God reveals future events to, but also "empowered with a special gift to really change the hearts and minds and the direction of people by knowledge."
Bynum emerged from relative obscurity in the late 1990s when Dallas preacher Bishop T.D. Jakes asked her to address a singles conference. Her sermon, "No More Sheets," dealt with a slew of failed romances. Using four sheets borrowed from a hotel maid's cart, she demonstrated how every man she'd slept with who walked away left her in spiritual bondage.
"Every time you sleep with somebody, you become one with that person, and so it's almost like getting married and divorced in our soul constantly -- married and divorced, married and divorced," she says, sitting in the front pew after the prayer clinic for an hour-long interview. "You're just constantly taking yourself through that emotional trauma like that until you get to the point where you don't know who you are. ... People were just waiting for somebody in Christendom to say, 'I did that,'" says Bynum of the sermon, which became a bestselling video and book.
'Robe of righteousness'
The message resonated with Laurelton teacher Melissa Brooks, 40. "I was the type of person, I would have me some sex before I went to church and after I got home," she says.
After three years in Bynum's mentorship classes for women and now the Monday night prayer clinic, Brooks says she's on a different path. "I'm understanding about putting on the robe of righteousness," she says.
Bynum, who holds an honorary doctorate in theology from Truth for Living Bible College in Jacksonville, Fla., says it's been as important for her to live as morally uprightly as she demands others do. "Trust is a huge thing in Christianity," she says. "I've strived to live my life so that people can trust God again. I wouldn't want to do anything to hurt people."
But some believe she does.
Jackie Alnor, who produces the online church watchdog publication "The Christian Sentinel," criticizes Bynum for flawed teachings and aggressive fund-raising. "My biggest problem with her is that she's claiming she is a prophet."
Bynum's pleas for money on her show amount to "spiritual extortion," Alnor says. "She focuses on the people struggling, living hand to mouth, and tells the poor to give to the rich. She's the opposite of Robin Hood."
Alnor is also among those who criticize Bynum's 2002 televised wedding to Bishop Thomas W. Weeks III, pastor of the Global Destiny Church in Washington, D.C, at the Regent Wall Street Hotel in Manhattan.
Media reports said the ceremony featured a wedding party of 80, a gown with a bodice covered in crystals and a 7.76-carat diamond ring -- a far cry from their private ceremony a year earlier at Las Vegas City Hall.
Bynum had waited all her life to have a fairy-tale wedding, she says. "It started out with a $500,000 budget, and then it just started growing like the blob," she says, adding, "I didn't think it robbery to celebrate my day."
She says she doesn't put much stock in what her critics say. "It's just not important," she says, adding, "If you talk about me, and you don't talk to me, then that's too low for me. I can't come to that level."
More than an expositor of the gospel, Bynum is also an industry. According to TBN, viewers around the world tune into her weekly "Weapons of Power" show. She's also an author and a gospel singer, with her sermons, books and CDs for sale on her Web site.
And she heads Juanita Bynum Ministries Inc., based in Waycross, Ga. Tonya Hall, her administrative assistant, declined to disclose either Bynum's or the ministry's income. "Her financials are something that we do not release," Hall says. (Although some religious institutions file financial disclosures, an Internal Revenue Service spokesman says Bynum's ministry has not.)
What Bynum will talk about is her latest book, "My Spiritual Inheritance," out last month, about the importance of finding mentors in the church.
She says she believes it's her destiny to expand her TV ministry to reach more believers and nonbelievers -- and she likes being called "the Christian world's Oprah Winfrey."
"She is an intelligent black woman who's making a statement and doing it in style," Bynum says, "and I want to bring that same something to Christian television."
from some of her own...
You might be aware that, in less than 2 weeks, Dr. Juanita Bynum will be returning to Nassau to be the keynote speaker at a 5 day event scheduled for Clifford Park. This event is being spearheaded by Bishop Neil Ellis and other local church leaders.
Dr. Bynum is no stranger to the Bahamas, having spoken here on at least 3 previous occasions of which I am aware.
Recently, without soliciting any information, persons whom I deem to be credible and close to the events about which they were speaking, have advised me and alleged that Dr. Juanita Bynum’s compensation for speaking engagements in the Bahamas, prior to 2002, has been a pre-arrangement of 50% of the offerings she raised. I was also advised of her methodology for raising offerings.
Specifically, on two separate occasions, it is alleged that Dr. Bynum received approximately $25,000 and $125,000 respectively for speaking engagements in the Bahamas. It is further alleged that these amounts represented payment in accordance with the 50% of the offerings pre-arrangement….meaning that offerings of approximately $50,000 and $250,000 would have supposedly been raised by Dr. Bynum.
This information gave me and still gives me grave concern especially in light of her impending return to the Bahamas at an event that is expected to be hundreds of times bigger than the ones in question.
Without fear of contradiction, I say unequivocally that the practice of setting upfront fixed amounts or percentages to speak to or minister to the people of God is inconsistent with the Word of God, contrary to the Spirit of Christ and opposite to the way of the Kingdom of God. Even if the amounts were nominal (and they are not and I do not believe that a reasonable person would find them to be) the principle of such upfront requirements is wrong.
However, beyond the alleged 50% of the offerings pre-arrangement, and the amounts received, the alleged manner in which the offerings were raised is also of grave concern to me. It is alleged that people were encouraged/asked to give specific amounts based on prophetic words/insights with promises of financial blessings in return. It is alleged that amounts as high as $25,000 were given one occasion.
All of this raises an obvious question: What are the compensation arrangements for Dr. Bynum’s upcoming speaking engagement in the Bahamas? Is it 50% of the offerings or a fixed amount or some combination of both? Or, is it an aggressive offering that she or others will raise for her? Clearly, these and other questions need to be answered. Concerning her requirements and compensation for previous speaking engagements in the Bahamas, I have written Dr. Bynum. To date, I have received no response. Accordingly, I publicly call on Dr. Bynum to:
1. Confirm whether or not her financial pre-arrangement for speaking engagements in the Bahamas prior to 2002 was 50% of the offerings raised.
2. Confirm or deny whether, prior to 2002, she received approximately $25,000 for one occasion and approximately $125,000 for another, each in fulfillment of a 50% of the offerings arrangement.
If she denies having received these approximate amounts, I call upon Dr. Bynum to fully disclose the total dollar amount of monies she received in connection with each of her ministry events in the Bahamas through December 31, 2002.
3. Substantiate Biblically the practice of any minister setting offering percentages or fixed dollar amounts as compensation for them speaking to the people of God as a servant of Jesus Christ.
4. Fully and frankly disclose the written and or verbal compensation arrangements and cost coverage for her and her team for the upcoming 5 day event.
In light of the past allegations regarding compensation and the public nature of this event, all of these requests are reasonable.
have coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel" – the apostle Paul in
The TBN pledge drive gets more bizarre by the hour. This morning Paul Crouch was beaming as he informed viewers that donation pledges were pouring in as a result of the recent Praise-A-Thons. He said the demand was so great for the "anointed" prayer cloths peddled Friday by Juanita Bynum that supplies might run out. These little squares, which Bynum said were cut from Hebrew prayer shawls, look like torn bed sheets. And one can be yours for sowing a $1,000 seed.
This snake-oil act was so upsetting I could hardly sleep Saturday night. The prayer shawl, or tallit, is a holy garment and a symbol of the Lord's covering over us. Had a religious Jew tuned in and seen Bynum lay tallits across the studio floor and walk on them in this disgraceful ritual, they would have been confused and offended. The apostle Paul wanted believers to provoke the Jews to jealousy by their witness (Romans 11:11), not repulse them. Crouch admitted that Bynum was "swinging from the chandeliers" during the Praise-A-Thon, but gave his nod of approval. He looked almost giddy. But how many broken lives and bank accounts will TBN leave behind? How many low-income seniors will go hungry this month because they mailed in their last few dollars for the promise of a blessing?
I don't know why God allows these con men and women to prosper. But one day they will stand before the righteous Judge, as we all will, and give an account. The Lord addresses these abuses in Ezekiel 22:7 – "In your midst they have oppressed the stranger; in you they have mistreated the fatherless and the widow." The Hebrew word for "oppressed" is osheq, which means fraud, unjust gain, extortion and cruel behavior. Now look at verse 13: "Behold, therefore, I beat My fists at the dishonest profit which you have made, and at the bloodshed which has been in your midst." The word "beat" in Hebrew is nakah, meaning to slaughter and punish. God ultimately will administer justice in His timing and, as we can see here, the penalty will be severe.
TBN's greed was transparent Friday. Bynum said if all you have are your clothes, send them. God's rebuke in Ezekiel 22:25-26 was directed at the false shepherds of ancient Israel, but the application is timeless: "The conspiracy of her prophets in her midst is like a roaring lion tearing the prey; they have devoured people; they have taken treasure and precious things; they have made widows in her midst. Her priests have violated My law and profaned My holy things."