An old friend of mine from the Word-of-Faith/Full-Gospel church I used to go to posted a news story on Facebook about a (supposed) homeless, pregnant woman who was seen panhandling on the side of the road with a young child. The kicker to this story is that the woman was caught sneaking away to her waiting Mercedes Benz after collecting her daily hand-outs. The lady who noticed this took it upon herself to follow this crook to her $2,500 a month, upscale apartment. Shocking, huh.
The irony that I picked up on was that the friend who posted this story, along with condemning comments about the scammer, is currently still mixed up in the cult that I used to be in. The church, which shall remain nameless, is one that is led by a charismatic, slick-talking, power-hungry, leader. I don’t know how things are now, but when I was attending it was taught heavily that as a member I should “give till it hurts” to exercise my faith. They would use gimmicks like ‘sowing and reaping,’ where they promised that if I was faithful in sowing (money), that the Lord would return it back to me, “30, 60, and 100 fold.” I saw many friends give to the point where they couldn’t pay their bills. Now, if this were for a good cause, I wouldn’t have a problem with mutual sacrifice with my peers. But it wasn’t a good cause.
One of my jobs while I was in the cult was ‘parking and security.’ Basically I would throw on a reflective vest, help people get parked, and then patrol the grounds during the service. More than once we had homeless people come panhandling. Every time they were rudely and sometimes forcefully turned away. When I questioned this I was told that, “they are probably just going to buy drugs or alcohol with whatever they get,” and I knew that was probably true. What got to me was the way that we treated them… like they were subhuman, pests to be shooed away. The church (at the time) didn’t really do anything for the poor. When I would bring this up, the standard response was, “It is not our mission. Our mission is to spread the gospel around the globe, and to do this the Lord is sending us wealthy people to pry the money from the hands of the Devil.” What a crock of shit. No doubt, the church was full of wealthy people, and among the most was the pastor.
Now-a-days I’m a little more keen in spotting scam artists. For sure, the pregnant lady in the story is one of them, but she pails in comparison with the high caliber charlatan that ran the cult/church I used to belong to. The man was an expert at manipulation. He was our prophet, the guy who has a direct line to God Almighty, and we believed it. I believed it, and I gave and gave. This fellow would often tell us that as the ‘anointed of the Lord,’ giving to him directly would ensure a bigger return from God. He would use bible quotes, like “the less is blessed of the better,” and “when you give to the poor, the Lord shall repay.” He would say this, and explain that when you help the poor God will only replay – dollar for dollar, but when you “give up” God will return it to you, “good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over.”
I remember one time during a service, our mighty prophet was a little ticked because too many “junky cars” had parked in the front row, facing the street. What he said was something along the lines of, “please don’t park those junky cars next to the road. We need for the community to see our best face, so we can attract the right kind of people.” Well, my car wasn’t all that great, and this kind of got to me. Looking back, I think this was one of the biggest revelations that pushed me into becoming more skeptical with the way things worked around there.
We live in a world that is so wonderful and mysterious. I don’t pretend to have the answers anymore. If anything, I’ve only gained a multitude of new questions, and that’s ok. It’s the unanswered questions and the frighteningly mysterious nature of the Universe that makes life worth living. I think this is why i get so disgusted with the charlatans and weasels out there. They get in the way, and murk up the waters. This isn’t really worth fretting over though. They are not going away, so the best we can do is try to become more adept at spotting them and avoiding them.
Not every ragged person on the side of the road had a Benz waiting in the wings, but some do. It’s a shame too, because the ones that don’t really, really need our help.