Celebrity televangelists reach millions of viewers each broadcast. However, there is a strong difference between what is true and what is popular. To keep their popularity, these televangelists present strong ideas to confirm their viewers’ beliefs. Relying on confirmation bias, televangelists will alter their sermons and teachings to reassure their audience to grow and maintain high ratings. Celebrity preachers then extort the strong belief of their followers to sell products, demand donations or even instill prejudices. While countless churches truly help the community, many megachurches can spread harm by forcing toxic ideologies and abusing those of faith. Often their end goal is either monetary gain or spreading twisted beliefs.
Joel Osteen lives in a $10 million mansion and preaches in a $100 million stadium. The stadium consists of waterfalls and jumbotrons as opposed to mosaics and crucifixes. When confronted on his extravagance and seemingly secular lifestyle, Osteen responded by claiming he doesn’t think “there’s anything wrong with having a nice place to live and being blessed.”
Osteen claims his biggest sign of God’s blessing is his wealth. In his teachings, he proclaims those who are in his God’s favor will receive prosperity, and those who lack this wealth simply need to have more faith. Luckily, you can buy one of his books to learn more on how to turn to God to accrue fortune. His preaching vilifies poverty but shifts the blame on lack of faith instead of personal inability. This lack of accountability allows viewers to blame the universe instead of focusing on self-improvement. Without bettering themselves, they become permanently dependent on Osteen for consolation and guidance.
Pastor Kenneth Copeland’s preaching brought about tangible consequences. By shaming their viewers for relying on vaccines instead of their faith, many avoided vaccination, despite an outbreak of measles. The Copelands focus on faith healing, another aspect of prosperity theology, which claims those who are in God’s favor will prosper physically. To gain His favor, a donation to their church will more than suffice. By preying on the gullible, they solicit money from viewers which would be far better spent on medical aid. Not only is this practice selfish for abusing another’s faith, but it is also dangerous to those who fall victim.
The Rev. Franklin Graham uses his power and influence to propel his twisted ideology and views on Islam. During a service at the Pentagon, Graham called Islam a “very evil and wicked religion.'' He later errantly links the religion to misogyny and child abuse. Graham has often been confronted on his Islamophobia as well as homophobia, but there is nothing to stop him from further perpetuating these beliefs. His position of power allows him to spread these fallacies and errant beliefs to all who hold faith in him. To those who idolize and follow Graham, these fears and hatreds become moral goods.
These televangelists line their pockets and spread lies at the expense of their viewers. These preachers market secular self-improvement as religion. This false advertisement fools viewers into believing they are following their traditional religion while unknowingly following an aberration — prosperity gospel. Many televangelists even have little to no official religious background. Furthermore, the very nature of popular televangelism restricts true religion. Religion is meant to focus on self sacrifice and truth.
The truth is often unpopular and turns many people away. Self-sacrifice takes true devotion. It is for this reason televangelists twist hard religion into something appealing. However, these preachers only have as much power as the viewers allow them. It is the responsibility of members of these faiths to raise awareness of the detriment that follows supporting these twisted ideologies.
Ethan Gilberti is a 20-year-old English sophomore from New Orleans, Louisiana.