The Menacing Minister

This Halloween, there are spookier things than ghosts or the number of women’s costumes attempting to make cats and other household pets sexy. 

For a real thriller, look no further than the flagrant manipulation of religion occurring in our own state.

Televangelist Jesse Duplantis and his ministry based in Destrehan, La. scare me more than the harbingers of hell in Free Speech Alley. I at least admire their conviction, but Duplantis is less genuine than the thanks received by your neighbor who gives out “healthy candy alternatives” on Halloween night.

While religion can be a wonderful thing, providing community, solace and moral grounding, it is susceptible to human abuses. If you’re unfamiliar with Duplantis, here’s a quick rundown: He’s charismatic, an excellent orator and spouts Bible quotes like nobody’s business. He’s also a chief perpetrator when it comes to unscrupulous religious practices.

His extravagant personality can’t be contained to the stage of his mega-church and seeps into every aspect of his life, including his $100,000 car and third private jet. He blurred the line between religious and frivolous most recently when he purchased a $3 million, 35,000-square foot plantation home with church donations, claiming it under Jesse Duplantis Ministries to maintain tax exemption.

How does Duplantis manage to make such conspicuous purchases without raising the ire of those who follow him? For one, Jesse is wilier than other dime-a-dozen shameless televangelists.

If you remember reading about the Protestant Reformation and Martin Luther’s criticism of selling indulgences, you know religious exploitation is nothing new. As a result, some televangelists have resorted to wacky tactics to get your money.

Danny Davis, master of the secret mullet — you know, the kind that can’t be seen head-on — peddles “No Evil Oil” and “Favor Prayer Cloths.” Peter Popoff, who disappeared briefly after being exposed as a fraud, asks you to buy his DVD “Prosperity Thinking: God’s Dynamic Forces That Bring Riches to You!” and gives “free miracle spring water.” The water rids you of disease and poverty, but only after sprinkling the enclosed “sacred Dead Sea Salt” on a $27 check addressed to Popoff. 

While these gimmicks may seem obvious, Jesse is a less blatant subscriber to the so-called prosperity gospel. According to Pete Evans, an investigator from the religious watchdog group the Trinity Foundation, the prosperity gospel posits that “if you give ‘x’ amount of dollars, you’re going to get that multiplied and given back to you [by God].”

Head of the Trinity Foundation Ole Anthony has cited the prosperity gospel and preachers like Duplantis as the cause of the overwhelming number of homeless and poverty-stricken people who visit his soup kitchen. Duplantis disagrees.

“You know, it’s OK to make money. You serve a Jewish God! He ain’t broke and neither should you be,” he exclaimed in his DVD “Strike 1, Strike 2, Strike 3: Satan’s Out!”

Duplantis argued that it was the love of money, not money itself, that’s bad. The distinction between the two becomes difficult to make, however, when Duplantis has been caught using the church-funded jet for multiple vacations, including a 17-day trip to Hawaii that racked up a calculated $40,000 in fuel and storage fees.

Actions like that should be red flags for congregation members, but like the big questions in life, even minute dealings with religion are complicated. Cathy Roe, a woman impoverished by Popoff, told Inside Edition she felt she was “brainwashed” by watching him on television.

I find it difficult to believe all of Duplantis’ followers are under a spell, though. Instead, they seek what we all seek: hope that our lives will improve, that someone cares and that there’s more than what’s readily seen by the eye. 

They can’t be faulted for the misdeeds of Duplantis, but it’s important that we all exercise a little caution when choosing our religious conduit. Sometimes, the best we can do is point out inconsistencies. 

The Bible tells us, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” Jesse Duplantis tells us in his DVD, “I respect the Pope, but what are you mad at me for? He got a jet. The president got a jet and we bought it.” 

Load comments