Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Charlatan

Peter was a preacher – the ‘was’ is important.  His ministry focused on miracles; thousands of people attended his crusades and church conventions in the seventies and early eighties.  Peter would stand at the front and call out the names of people he’d never met, describe their illnesses in detail, sometimes give their addresses and assure them that God wanted them well.  Somehow, Peter’s ministry prospered – and so did Peter himself.

Some people were suspicious, though – some people always are!  One of them was very suspicious, and in 1983 employed the aid of an investigator with high-tech radio scanning equipment.  They discovered that Peter’s wife, and a team of helpers, were meeting people as they arrived, chatting, getting personal details, asking if they had particular needs  - then writing them on index cards.  Elizabeth, the wife, would then use simple radio transmission to transmit the details to Peter on stage.  Not surprisingly, he was never wrong.

After he was exposed in this way, with exposure made on national TV, too, Peter and his ministry went bankrupt.  ‘Good,’ you say; and I agree.  But by 2005, Peter was back in business.  His website makes no mention of the scandal, but does invite you to send in for your bottle of miracle spring water and debt cancellation kit – stick with Peter, and you can be healthy and rich.  Sadly, once more, Peter is a preacher. 

There are frauds and charlatans in every walk of life.  In the US at least, one of the best ways of making a fortune from flim-flam is the religious way, and Peter is by no means alone.

There are charlatans in every walk of life; crooked accountants though don’t destroy our confidence in  accounting or accountants, crooked lawyers don’t destroy our faith in the law.  Crooked ministers, though, can all too easily inoculate us against the real thing.

My Sunday morning sermon this past week dealt with one of the dangers of the charlatan and how to recognise him;  Jonathan Hunt has linked to another ministry that appears to be - shall we say? - dubious.  It's a perennial problem.

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