Christian evangelists can be forgiven for feeling under siege these days. Amid charges of runaway personal spending, Richard Roberts resigned as president of Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, and six tax-exempt ministries were recently asked by Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) to make detailed financial disclosures. Here are some other revelations:
1. Zion, a city north of Chicago founded by Scottish evangelist John Alexander Dowie in 1902, at various times banned circuses, theaters, alcohol, gambling, tobacco, pork, politicians, doctors, drugstores, jazz, oysters, chop suey, tan-colored shoes, flirting, dancing, swearing, spitting and whistling on Sunday.
3. Billy Sunday was a ballplayer for the Chicago White Stockings who became a well-known preacher. One of his most famous sermons was called "Get on the Water Wagon." A water wagon was a vehicle used to dampen dirt roads to keep the dust down. When a person gave up alcohol, it was said that he had gotten "on the water wagon" -- a slang term that was later shortened to "on the wagon."
4. When Prohibition ended in 1933, Rev. Billy Graham's father bought a case of beer and forced the teenage Billy and his sister Catherine to drink bottle after bottle until they threw up, as a lesson on the evils of drink.
5. One preacher targeted by Grassley is Georgia's Rev. Creflo Dollar, whose ownership of a Rolls-Royce harks back to the quintessential "prosperity preacher" of the '70s, Frederick Eikerenkoetter, better-known as Rev. Ike. The now-retired Ike owned a fleet of mink-appointed Rolls-Royces and said,"The best thing you can do for the poor is not to be one of them."
6. Missouri evangelist Joyce Meyer's early life story is excruciating. Sexually molested by her father, she married a ne'er-do-well. ("One night I caught him trying to get my wedding ring off me in the middle of the night.") She divorced, remarried and became an evangelist, sometimes sleeping in her car because she had no money for hotels. Eventually, she wrote 70 books and became such a financial success that Grassley is now asking her about reports that her ministry paid $23,000 for a marble-topped commode.
7. Meyer gets a grade of C and Dollar gets an F in MinistryWatch.com's ratings of "transparency" -- the ministries'
disclosure of finances and other information. The watchdog Web site also issues "donor alerts" about preachers it deems especially suspicious, such as faith healer Benny Hinn. In addition, MinistryWatch.com highlights 30 "Shining Light Ministries" as worthy stewards of their followers' donations.
8. Oral Roberts' most famous fundraising effort came in 1987, when he said God would "take me home" if he didn't raise $8 million for medical scholarships. Less well-known was another life-threatening experience he revealed the same year. Roberts said Satan had entered his bedroom and tried to strangle him, only to be chased away by Roberts' wife, Evelyn.
9. Tammy Faye Messner (formerly Bakker), the televangelist who died in July, had eye liner, lip liner and eyebrows tattooed onto her face."This way, when you wake up you don't feel faceless," she said. "You can wake up and already have a face."
10. GodTube, an alternative to YouTube, officially debuted on the Internet in August. While YouTube's slogan is "Broadcast Yourself," GodTube's is "Broadcast Him." Among the videos: a parody of Sir Mixa-Lot's "Baby Got Back" called "Baby Got Book."
Billy Sunday is featured in a new book co-authored by Jacob, "Chicago Under
Glass: Early Photographs From the Chicago Daily News."
Sources: St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jet magazine, Time magazine, Memphis Flyer, Patriot-News of Harrisburg, Pa., Encyclopedia of Chicago