Joe Bob's America

God Apparently Flies First Class

June 07, 2018

Multiple Pages
God Apparently Flies First Class

MARSHALL, Tex.—The most frightening thing about Jesse Duplantis is that I think he truly believes what he’s saying.

I mean, at some deep, deep level, even a guy who wears a yellow plaid shirt under a navy blue blazer is woke enough to realize that having a conversation with God—and, by the way, God needs to improve His syntax—having a conversation with God about how Jesse needs a $54 million jet to spread the Gospel is, among other things, insane.

(Quick digression: As recently as the ’50s, anyone claiming to get messages from God was immediately booked into the Rusk State Hospital for the Feeble-Minded. Today these guys get international TV shows.)

By this time you’ve probably heard about Jesse’s appeal for help in granting God’s wish that he start using a Falcon 7X corporate jet for church business. His three previous multimillion-dollar jets have proved inadequate for the spreading of the Prosperity Gospel because their range requires Jesse to stop and refuel, thereby wasting God’s valuable time. Jesse’s video went viral and attracted all kinds of attention from the secular press.

But that’s the second-most frightening thing about this story—that it’s being treated by the media like a weird aberration. Get a load of this yahoo in southern Louisiana—can you believe what he just said?

When actually, they say this stuff all the time. All these Prosperity Gospel guys do. What’s remarkable is that this particular comment got noticed.

There are 1,700 hours of American-based religious programming per week, much of it beamed by satellite into countries like Iran and Nigeria that have large populations struggling to break away from cycles of poverty and violence. The preaching is loud, charismatic—the more primitive the audience, the more tongue-talking you get—and, above all, focused:

God will make you rich.

Jesus will help you get material rewards.

The Almighty wants to reward the Faithful.

“We treat these guys as jokes when they’re bringing misery into the world on a massive scale.”

It’s that third line that grabs the money for Jesse’s jet. God is ready to give you everything you want, but only if you believe.

What? You prayed for a new pickup and it never came? You must not have prayed hard enough.

What? You prayed for your daughter to be healed but she’s still sick after a year? There must be some lack of faith in your family, some doubts that are getting in God’s way.

You know what you can do, though? Double down on God! (It’s remarkable how many gambling metaphors these guys use.) Make a “faith pledge.” Send in a hundred dollars and God will recompense you tenfold—scripture says so—so that’s a thousand. Send in a thousand dollars and God will recompense you a hundredfold—scripture says so—so that’s a hundred thousand. Send in a mere ten thousand dollars and God will recompense you a thousandfold—it’s promised in holy scripture!—so that’s ten million dollars, waiting on your faith.

Who responds to a con job like that?

Widows and orphans.

Widows and orphans are mentioned repeatedly in both the Jewish Bible and the Christian expansion of it. A widow is anyone who has lost her family—it doesn’t just mean women, and it doesn’t just mean previously married people. An orphan is someone who never had a family in the first place.

So why are we supposed to take care of these people? Because they don’t have any emotional resources. They’re adrift in conditions of sadness and misery and loneliness. They need protection—from guys like Jesse Duplantis.

So what they do is they stay up late watching the nonstop Prosperity Gospel infomercials that pass as “ministries” and then they call the Prayer Line and they talk to a counselor who mines their personal data and gets a credit card number or a checking account number and makes notes like “In grief about her deceased brother—2015” and then the lonely person supposedly gets put on a Prayer List so that the televangelist, who is too busy to come to the phone, promises to talk to God about this person’s problems. Meanwhile the data is being massaged for ongoing contributions, sold to other televangelist organizations, and used to engender fake “personal notes” from whatever preacher the person wants to hear from.

If there’s any sign that we’re living in the End Times, it’s this: We’ve monetized and commodified and turned into a corporate business the Fleecing of Widows and Orphans.

“If Jesus came back today, I don’t think he’d be riding on a donkey!” crows Jesse Duplantis. And he means it. And he thinks he’s being profound.

But why do these guys need jets? They all have them. In fact, it’s not uncommon for their churches to be built next door to a private airstrip.

They need jets for the same reason they need isolated locations for their churches, which are really elaborate television studios. Jesse Duplantis’ “church” is in Destrehan, an upscale suburb of New Orleans, where he lives in a church-funded mansion. Kenneth Copeland’s “church” is in Newark, Texas, a lakeside exurb of Fort Worth.

They need out-of-the-way locations for their church services, and they need private jets for their travel, because they can’t stand to be close to the starving, desperate people they take money from.

In a rare moment of candor, Copeland admitted as much in a 2015 interview when he said that he can’t fly commercial because there are too many people on airplanes who would ask him for a blessing or want to talk to him. He said it was “like getting in a long tube with a bunch of demons.”

The church service is for the TV audience, not any flesh-and-blood specimen of humanity that might actually show up and get in the preacher’s way.

But just to deal with Duplantis for a moment: The plane he wants, the Falcon 7X, is made by the French company Dassault, and they’ve sold only 260 over twelve years of production. It accommodates about sixteen people, has a 5,000-plus-mile range, and is mostly used by huge companies with far-flung properties (Shell Oil, Volkswagen), militaries (the Ecuadoran air force uses one to escort the presidential plane), and heads of state (Sarkozy used one when he was president of France, mainly to support Dassault, and the Prince of Monaco uses one).

Even if we accept the premise that Jesse Duplantis needs a jet to evangelize the world—a premise I totally reject—he could simply buy an Embraer Phenom 300 for about $8 million. This might be a disappointment to God, since He apparently requested the Falcon 7X, but it would be a relief to the widows and orphans on the master fund-raising list.

Normally I would be making dozens of jokes about this—“What would Jesus fly?”—but part of the problem is that we treat these guys as jokes when they’re bringing misery into the world on a massive scale. We think it’s harmless rednecks on the fringes of society, but we’re talking about billions of dollars mined from despair, and the source of their ability to do that is the United States tax codes. Anybody claiming to be a church is put beyond the reach of taxation authorities, but, more to the point, beyond the reach of ordinary consumer fraud laws. The secular Jeffersonian writ of “separation of church and state” means that no law enforcement agency can touch these guys. There’s the assumption that it’s an “eyes open” transaction—one guy talks about God, and the other guy gives the preacher money for talking about God—but let’s be clear that the gods we’re talking about are not the ones you think we’re talking about.

The Prosperity Gospel is the gospel of gods called Pluto, Fortuna, Moneta, Horus, Odin, and Lakshmi. Gods of wealth and luck. Gods found in all cultures in all times and places. Gods found on the horoscope page in the daily newspaper and the color-coded cards at the lottery office. Gods that are easy to sell because they legitimize selfishness. Gods that say, “Forget those other people—all that matters is your household altar to me.” Gods that are especially attractive to anyone who’s broke, friendless, and unemployed. If you wanna study a few of them, go to any archaeological museum and look at the broken marble that someone once ardently prayed to, thinking that their loneliness or their poverty or their sickness could be helped by the positioning of their body in relation to the idol. It’s not a new con, but we should probably stop joking about it. These guys are about as far from Jesus as you can get.

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