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Monday, May 15, 2006

Preachers of Profit

Have you noticed recently that many famous TV preachers are not pushing products?  James Robison has shows pushing Tri-Vita vitamins; Randy White from the huge Church without Walls in Tampa, FL is pushing Omega XL fatty acid pills (at $49.95 a bottle); even Pat Robertson has developed "Pat's Age-Defying Shake" for weight loss.  I've seen some of these programs, and have wondered, "What's up with this?"

Then today, I see this article in Tampa Bay Online.:

TAMPA - Insomniacs and fans of graveyard-shift TV may have spotted a curious program recently starring one of the Bay area's most prominent men of God.

There was Randy White, the hip, contemporary pastor of Tampa megachurch Without Walls International, flashing a smile and urging viewers to call a toll-free number on the TV screen. White wasn't promising eternal salvation on this night. Just a bottle of Omega XL fatty acid pills at $49.95 a pop.

"I guarantee you emphatically and unequivocally it's going to change your life," White says on the infomercial. His wife, televangelist Paula White, also appears on the 30-minute program.

Prominent ministers have long promoted religious items, from books of inspirational testimonies to Christian movies such as the "Left Behind" film series. But with his recent infomercial, White stepped into an emerging role for big-name church pastors: mainstream product pitchman for personal gain.

Nationwide, health care supplement companies in particular have learned that church ministers can make great salesmen. They have loyal followings and, through their ministries, build a huge reservoir of goodwill. Aside from White, James and Betty Robison of "Life Today" television fame pitch vitamins in an infomercial for TriVita Inc., based in Scottsdale, Ariz.

Meanwhile, televangelist and political commentator Pat Robertson created a weight-loss shake, Pat's Age-Defying Shake, a few years ago and provided the recipe free to the public. The minister, based in Virginia Beach, Va., still makes the recipe available, but he now earns profits by licensing the recipe to a supplement company, according to his hometown newspaper, The Virginian-Pilot. The shakes have retailed at GNC stores.

Experts say the role of preachers in such mainstream commercial ventures is hotly debated within Christian circles. In one camp are people who say God wants people to be healthy in both body and spirit. So, they think it's OK to promote healthful products, said Michael Giuliano of San Diego, a former professor at California's Westmont College who has studied televangelists.

In the other camp are people who think it's an uneasy nexus of religion and commerce. Is the preacher just recommending a product, or is he implying God wants the viewer to buy it, Giuliano asked.

Click here to read more of this article... 

This, quite honestly, kind of reminds me of people selling Amway in the church and trying to recruit all their friends.  Is this a line we shouldn't cross?  Why are TV evangelists drawn into vitamin commercials (of all things)?  Do you have an opinion?  I'd sure love to hear it!


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May 15, 2006 in Trends in Today's Church | Permalink

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That is just flat out disgusting.

Posted by: Kent | May 15, 2006 1:13:56 PM

In a word: Greed!

Posted by: eric | May 15, 2006 4:08:57 PM

I kind of agree with Kent but I also figure "why not?" If it's on a different channel and the product isn't being sold in church it would seem to be along the same lines as a side business or investment. However, if they imply that God has used it in their lives or kept them young or whatever because of this product it sounds a little fishy too me- a bit like snake oil in the name of God. As long as they aren't promoting the product in any way that sounds like it is blessed by God then fine. But how in the world do they find the time to do this kind of thing?

Posted by: Jessica | May 15, 2006 4:11:23 PM

A few years back, my wife was asked to sell Creative Memories, whose products she uses frequently (and loves). She declined because of my ministerial integrity. She was afraid that people would feel compelled to buy (because of my position of authority) or that instead of looking at ministry opportunities, we would find ourselves looking for a sale.

Posted by: Brian | May 15, 2006 4:12:03 PM

Apostle Paul supported himself with tent making. If these pastors are supporting themselves (co-vocational) - then fine. I don't know each person's personal balance statement, reasoning behind what they do nor do I know how they market the products - so I've got nothing to make issue with.

If a pastor is doing it for personal gain, I don't see a problem with that - I do things for personal gain too. If they are doing it and neglecting their pastorial duties, then, I'd have a problem with it.

Pastors are people too and I don't see a reason to get upset if they would do what anyone else (Christain) would do. Of course, if they were marketing a product that was less then perfect, then they risk ruining their reputations, especially if their pay is attached with the product sales.

Posted by: Paul Davis | May 15, 2006 4:31:41 PM

It just leaves me with an unpleasant taste in my mouth. Like seeing Tammy Faye Baker with that slick dude with the book about whatever it is...I'm MUCH LESS likely to buy that stuff from big name hawkers.

I frequently view insomniac TV (Thanks to my hubby's snoring) and just seeing Eric Estrada selling real estate how-to books is creepy!! It's as creepy as seeing Peter Brady (real name?) selling exercise machines.

I would hope the pastors and famous people are above board and use the stuff (they probably get it free), and believe in it because of that - but I just suspect that they were approached because they are a big name and that holds less weight with me.

I see all those products as symptomatic of a microwave society - get rich quick, get healthy quick, get thin quick. Blah blah blah.

Posted by: Abbey | May 15, 2006 6:44:13 PM

I'm sickened! When are we going to stop merchandising the anointing?

Posted by: Paul | May 15, 2006 7:45:30 PM

To me, it just seems to draw a stronger correlation between pastor and car salesman.

Posted by: Nora | May 16, 2006 9:57:28 AM

Give me a break! Why all the negativity? If we know anything about our history, we will find that many of the great Preachers who were great thinkers and writers of days gone past were employed in business, before, during and after their ministry activities were being recoginized. Unless you belonged to the state chuch (such as the church of England and others) or were part of the Catholic church and took a vow, these men had to support themselves and their families, often times in farming or merchantile businesses. Look at John Bunyon (Pilgrims Progress and others), William Carey and many others. Dont forget that misitry is part of all our lives. It is not to be separated out for the elite and professional only. Even more confusing is the impression that I get from the above that these men cannot be creative in an area not shrouded in religion. We put no such restriction on any other profession. I know nothing about the men you mentioned or their products but their behavior will be sorted out in the end and the market will decided if their products and methods are valuable, but we have no right to make such statements of judgment simply because they are or purport to be men of faith.
Signed a Lawyer Preacher

Posted by: C asey | May 16, 2006 10:14:17 AM

"To me, it just seems to draw a stronger correlation between pastor and car salesman." Nora

Hey! I resemble that remark. Having spent 15 years in the car business, I would say that MOST of the salesmen I knew were very honest, hard working people that were more real than many of the pastors I have known.

Posted by: Bart | May 16, 2006 4:57:03 PM

Watch it. My mother was a car salesman.

(just kidding)


Posted by: Todd Rhoades | May 16, 2006 5:06:55 PM

"Have you noticed recently that many famous TV preachers are not pushing products?"

They're not? :)

Okay.. Personally? I'd rather see them sell vitamins than exercise equipment. Why? Obviously more reasons than one.. but we won't go there...

Amway? I can remember when people started selling that stuff out of their garages. What was that the 70's or 80's?

Posted by: Camey | May 16, 2006 5:50:10 PM

Well.... I am all for honesty... Honestly I am... Just about everyone on this blog knows me and knows that I love to joke around and have a good time... But to be honest with you, this sort of thing put's a quiver in my liver, and is a thorn in my rear...

It makes me mad... Not jealous... Mad... I am on my soap box now and I am preaching to the choir. It makes me sick to my stomach, and I am sick and tired of them doing silly sensless things like this... If your going to preach the gospel preach it and stop making a profit off of Jesus.. It makes me so sick that I want to do what Jesus did and drive them out of His House... Is it any wonder people are tired of organized religion.. Gee whiz...

Last of all, Randy and Paula are fake as well as a few others... Of course God wants us to take care of our bodies, but he is more concerned about us growing more spiritually because Paul told us that bodyly exercise profits us nothing.

Todd, I am sorry if I was out of line...

Posted by: Clairvoyant 1 | May 16, 2006 6:55:38 PM

This is the kind of "get rich" hucksterism that continues to give media AND any many non-media (read: mega church) evangelicals a bad name. This behavior is a throw back to Rev. Ike's "God will bless your richly when you send me money, i.e. God will multiply your give back to you," and Flip Wilson's parody of "The Church of What's Happenin' Now." Sad and disgraceful.

Posted by: Jack | May 22, 2006 2:06:57 PM

Bart, I owe you -- and all honest car salesmen everywhere (including Todd's mother)-- an apology. Maybe I could have used a better analogy, but what I was trying to say is that in many unchurched people's minds pastors are perceived already as people just trying to bring home the "hard sell" on Jesus. Now these guys come forward (and please don't tell me it's because they need to be bivocational) and are selling some products that may or may not be legitimate, and I just think the unchurched might be likely to draw a correlation between the product they are selling on the infomercials, and the "product" of salvation that they are "selling" every Sunday. So, no offense to you, Bart, but I was thinking of the stereotypical cheesy kind of car salesman, not the good guys out there who are making a perfectly honest living selling cars.

Posted by: Nora | May 22, 2006 2:36:23 PM

Pastors danceing on the danceing floor, what a discare a serius problem sheds a bad light on all pastors that are true to the gospel I say get rid of these flase prohets A.S.S.P.

Posted by: Tomas Espinoza | May 22, 2006 8:50:38 PM

I have seen the Omega XL commercial, and it was implied that God's blessing was on this particular product. I was disgusted. I think that Paula White is an excellent preacher, but I even stopped watching her when she began peddling products and books (not her own, and not related to the sermon) on her show. We need to be careful when our persona is identified with the voice of God (whether or not this is accurate), and make sure that we do not misrepresent him by pushing our own views.

Posted by: viv | May 23, 2006 12:28:20 AM

There's no difference between selling a book or a pill, thats between them and God, ministries use such items to raise money for missions and other projects in their ministries. We have to stop picking ministries and sounding like the pharisee, they picked on Jesus all the time, and realize that revival begins with us and I'm sure we have enough problems in our own. We must pray for them and one another and always understand that God's ways is not our ways. Blessings in Jesus name

Posted by: john A | May 26, 2006 7:58:24 PM

Sad. The picture of the snake oil salesman in the horse-drawn carriage of yesteryear comes to mind. I wonder how many other ways they take advantage of thier millions of fans' trust. I wonder how many pastors of mid to large sized churches take advantage of the respect of thier people and community. I was raised in a church denomination, and after graduating high school, moved to it's headquarters where I see implications of this happening every now and then. And they wonder why people have little interest in even the local church.

Posted by: David | Jun 2, 2006 3:26:37 AM

Why do we suddenly assume that if someone is selling something they must be lying or manipulating? That it is something against the Word of God or immoral.

If you had a product that worked very well for you and you thought it would benefit others, wouldn't you want them to know about it?

Unless they are being asked to compromise their message, lifestyle or beliefs to promote a product (WHICH we cannot know), it shouldn't matter to us.

BTW, Clairvoyant...

Paul said bodily exercise profits LITTLE, not profits nothing. Of course he's the same guy who told us to be aware of what we did with our natural bodies because they are the temples of the Holy Spirit.

Posted by: Juan Montoya | Jun 2, 2006 11:31:01 AM

i think it's very nice to finally treat the body of Christ as a whole we are in fact spirit, soul and body, if people would do their reserch they would see the many benifits of nutrition and biology, they really do go hand and hand, i find it funny that when people who have walked a walk instead of just talking the talk people have a problem with that yet they listen totally with their doctor ,their repair man and all other aspects of life and don't even bat an eye, and thoes who complain are most likley the ones in poor health or dire streights,ie, money, enjoy your life and do the reserch your self so when you have a comment you don't make your self look like a fool.

Posted by: lisa kaplan | May 4, 2007 12:49:08 PM

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