Reading a few days ago about the death of Tammy Faye Bakker reminded me of how she first gained national prominence as the wife of religious huckster Jim Bakker and how, together, they bilked countless people out of hundreds of millions of dollars in a fraudulent scheme that ultimately landed Jim Bakker in jail. I never understood how she escaped indictment.
Speaking of religious hucksters, have you ever caught the act of Robert Tilton (pictured above), probably the most unabashed huckster of them all? While some televangelists pleas for donations are subtle and occupy only a small part of their programs, Tilton was open and in your face, all the time, about how important it was for the viewer to send him money â€“ lots of it — and often.
His message, stripped of detail, was that the only way to liberate your faith was to make a monetary vow and to make the vow in an amount more than you think you were able to afford ($1,000 was the vow he pitched the most). His version of preaching consisted of spending a good deal of time with a well-worn Bible in hand, bookmarked to the verses that he could interpret to convince viewers that God wanted you to send money to him (Tilton, not God, because Godâ€™s zip code remains a mystery).
Tilton would often stop in the midst of his preaching to make goofy faces and do a bit of â€œspeaking in tongues.â€ He also would sometimes stop in mid-sentence while he was receiving a direct transmission from the Almighty, which often would be followed by his staring directly into the camera and saying something like, â€There is someone out there who is worried about losing his job and is so troubled that he is unable to sleep. Call me NOW and make a vow!â€
Well, duh, at any given time, that probably applied to a couple thousand people, particularly since his show was broadcast at a time when viewed by insomniacs. Still, I am certain that more than one poor, vulnerable person thought, â€My God, he is talking to ME!!â€ whereupon they called the prominently displayed 800 number and promised away the familyâ€™s rainy day money.
If the viewer was not convinced by either of the foregoing ploys to make a vow, the â€œtestimonialsâ€ surely would push him over the top:
“Pastor Tilton, we were being hounded by creditors and the bank was ready to foreclose on our home. I watched you, and I called in my vow. I sent our last hundred dollars and vowed to send one hundred dollars a month. You know what? The day after I sent my check, my husband learned that he would be getting lots of overtime for the next six months!â€
To which Tilton would respond with a â€œHalleluiahâ€ followed by something that sounded like, â€œKondobatoya akaloomboyaâ€ (the tongue-speaking thing).
Tilton was off the air for a while following a network special that exposed some of his shenanigans, and after that he tried another show in which he was doing â€œdemon blasting,â€ (i.e. shouting crazy shit at a â€œpossessedâ€ person), which apparently never caught on (although I suspect the demons might have gotten a kick out of it).
He is back on the air these days on the BET Network, where he, along with the help of his third wife, is busy relieving people of their money in exchange for a promise of a heavenly payoff commensurate with the size of their â€œvow.â€ He is currently selling his books on his website, entitled, How to Pay Your Bills Supernaturally and How to be Rich and Have Everything You Ever Wanted, both of which Iâ€™m quite certain advocate the spiritual importance of sending him money.
I find the antics of religious con artists like Tilton (and the Bakkers) to be beneath contempt, but Tilton did provide excellent fodder for the masterfully done, hilarious videos that appear here, here, here and here.
Iâ€™m not religious, and I certainly donâ€™t pretend to know what God would think of people like Tilton, but I like to think that he/she/it wouldnâ€™t approve.