The Preachers Getting Rich from Poor Americans

May 29, 2019

Televangelist Todd Coontz has a well-worn routine: he dresses in a suit, pulls out a Bible and urges viewers to pledge a very specific amount of money. “Don’t delay, don’t delay,” he urges, calmly but emphatically.

It sounds simple, absurdly so, but Coontz knows his audience extremely well. He broadcasts on Christian cable channels, often late into the night, drawing in viewers who lack financial literacy and are desperate for change.

“I understand the laws that govern insurance, stocks and bonds and all that is involved with Wall Street,” he once said, looking directly into the camera. “God has called me… as a financial deliverer.”

Crucially, he always refers to the money as a “seed” – a $273 seed, a $333 seed, a “turnaround” seed, depending on the broadcast. If viewers “plant” one, the amount will come back to them, multiplied, he says. It is an investment in their faith and their future.

In 2011, one of those desperate viewers was Larry Fardette, then based in California. Larry watched a lot of similar televangelists, known as prosperity preachers, who explicitly link wealth and religion. But he found Coontz particularly compelling. He assured quick returns. He seemed like a results man.

And Larry needed some fast results.

The Fardette family was going through a tough time. Larry’s daughter was seriously ill and he had health problems of his own. His construction business was struggling, and to make matters worse both his van and his car broke down irreparably within the same week. When a local junkyard offered him $600 for the van, he thumbed the bills thoughtfully and remembered Coontz’s rousing speech.

Maybe he should invest the sum as a “seed”?

He instantly recalled the specific number that Coontz had repeated again and again: $273. It was a figure the preacher often used. “God gave me the single greatest miracle of my lifetime in one day, and the numbers two, seven and three were involved,” he once said. It is also – perhaps not coincidentally – the number of Coontz’s $1.38m condo in South Carolina, paid for by his church, Rockwealth, according to local TV channel WSOC-TV.

Larry has now come to realise there was no foundation to Coontz’s promises that donated cash would multiply, but at the time the stirring speeches gave him hope. He did not see any other way out.

He sent off two cheques: one for $273 and another for $333, as requested. Then he waited for his miracle.

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