Why do televangelist scandals seem commonplace?
In most settings, the word "televangelist" carries a negative connotation along with it. When people, whether Christians or not, hear the term, many of them associate it with public ministers who are dishonest for the sake of personal gain—they tend to be extremely wealthy, greedy for more, and frequently involved in scandals of all sorts. The inherent distaste for televangelists is in actuality a distaste for hypocrisy within the church. As with any type of "celebrity" status, with fame comes greater public visibility and increased pressure. We see examples of the pressure and scandals surrounding actors, athletes, and musicians. Ministers are not exempt from this pressure, and as we see, it is not infrequently that they are involved in public scandals, whether they be sexual, financial, or a different area. So, why does this happen so often?
Let's first start by clarifying that there is nothing inherently wrong with televangelism itself. It is merely another media tool that can be used to spread the good news of the gospel, like radio, books, or podcasts. What makes television ministry extra tricky sometimes is that it is easier to present a façade of the truth through a screen. Believers need to utilize their spiritual discernment when listening to televangelists as they would with any other ministers.
A lot of the scandals attached to televangelists are directly related to the condition of their hearts, as with most people. While it is popular advice to "follow your heart," it is actually dangerous to do so. The prophet Jeremiah lets us know that our hearts are not to be trusted, because they are deceitful—God sees our hearts and He rewards us according to our fruit (Jeremiah 17:9–10). When left unchecked, greed and pride can take root in a televangelist's heart, deceiving him into believing that the unhealthy or dishonest things he may be doing are actually being done with good or even godly intentions.
Many televangelist scandals are rooted in misappropriation of funds, using money they shouldn't be for their own personal gain. A lot of the televangelists who people have negative opinions of teach the "prosperity gospel," which is a distortion of the true gospel. Ministers of the so-called "prosperity gospel" may make false and exaggerated promises for the sake of receiving financial donations: "If you give me ____, God will multiply it and give you _____ (usually money)." The greed within them causes them to speak falsely and distort the Word of God for their own selfish purposes, whether they realize it or not. Viewers may see some of these preachers flaunting their wealth, but are less certain if their donations are truly being used for kingdom purposes. First Timothy 6:9–10 warns: "But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs." In reality, the Bible promises us hardships and persecution (John 15:20; 2 Timothy 3:12). True believers recognize the error of the "prosperity gospel" teaching, but some less mature believers are enticed by its lure and end up jaded and disappointed later.
The Bible does instruct us as believers to give (1 Corinthians 16:2; 2 Corinthians 9:6), and it says that we will be blessed by the Lord when we are generous givers (Luke 6:38; 2 Corinthians 9:7–11). However, the Bible provides us with a different motive for giving. We should not give in order to receive blessings; we should give out of the existing gratitude and love we have for the Lord. Our Christian giving should be for the purpose of bringing praise and thanksgiving to God and spreading His kingdom and gospel message. Teaching that instructs us to give for the sake of receiving trivializes the purpose of how God designed our giving to operate.
Another thing that causes so many televangelist scandals is a root of pride. With celebrity status comes a certain level of social standing, decision-making power, and increased desirability. Having such a large earthly audience can tempt ministers to seek to please other people or themselves above God. This leads to all sorts of sexual scandals and misuse of power and influence. First John 2:16 says: "For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world." Televangelists, and really everyone, need to have people around them holding them accountable to speaking the truth from the Word of God and keeping their hearts humble before God and man (Proverbs 11:2; 16:18; Philippians 2:3).
Some televangelists get popular by sharing feel-good messages and making promises that are not actually biblical, and they end up hurting more people than they help and profaning the name of the Lord in the meantime. The apostle James warned that those who teach the Word of God will be judged more severely by God for their actions: "Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness. For we all stumble in many ways" (James 3:1–2). Televangelists who have lost their humility and been entrapped by their own evil desires will have to stand before God one day and be judged. It is not our responsibility to judge. It is our responsibility to use discernment when listening to any minister, so that we ourselves will not be led astray. Ultimately, God's truth is what will stand.
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