Challies dot com posted this read on Richard Roberts, the son of the famed Oral Roberts. It is from Longread, which posts extended articles. This article on Roberts is titled The Prodigal Prince: Richard Roberts and the Decline of the Oral Roberts Dynasty.
It is replete with insights into the goings on in the Roberts’ household and organizations. I am not a muckraker but a saddened Evangelical. It is all very unhappy but fits into the culture of celebrity Evangelicalism. Evangelicalism is by definition entrepreneurial and populist. It does not long endure the constraints of denominationalism and transcendent authority. Its downside is that it often gives what the people want to hear and to believe, no matter how toxic the ingredients. Its upside is that it is rooted in the people. Like Martin Luther found out, the populism of the Evangelical impulse can have some very sad results. But so can the unfettered power of church authority. Choose your poison!
Wise leaders choose to balance both the entrepreneurial instinct with reasonable accountability and honest openness. Still, Evangelicalism seems not to have taken these lessons to heart in a normative way. Witness the recent episode with Mark Driscoll, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and the continued pattern of large ministries avoiding financial transparency – Joyce Meyers, Ken Copeland, Creflo Dollar, and the many others. Witness the exorbitant salaries and compensation packages for mega leaders and the undisclosed finances of our mega stars. Remember and do not forget Jim and Tammy Bakker, Jimmy Swaggart, Robert Tilton, Ted Haggard, and Todd Bentley. Recall the outrageous salary of Franklin Graham, uncovered not by transparent financial discloser but by the Charlotte Observer. The list does go on.
I am an Evangelical by heritage and choice. I left the Fundamentalism of my youth but was never inclined to move toward theological progressivism or liberalism. I am stuck in the middle! And I have to fight to keep the middle a good place to be, without retreating into the insularity and anti-intellectualism of Fundamentalism or riding the latest waves of faddish Evangelicalism which seems willing to sell our birthright for fame.
Go to Ministry Watch for more information on ministries that fail the transparency test. I have my own list of popular ministries I will not give to until salaries and compensation packages are published. I also have some “heroes” of financial accountability who refuse to be enriched or live a lavish lifestyle. I continue to be amazed by Evangelical Christians who believe that a Christian leader should be paid what his skills would fetch in the marketplace. This to me is insane.
Perhaps this is a fool’s errand and I am a throwback to an era that can no longer be recovered, an era before the possibilities of consumeristic expansiveness became clear to Evangelical entrepreneurs. At age 65 the recovery of Evangelicalism won’t be my life-defining mission, but still a voice can cry out in the Evangelical wilderness.