Friday, March 23, 2007

Me and "Dr." Jerry Johnston

Before moving back to MO, I came back regularly to visit family. On one of those trips I was surprised to learn about the pastor of a mega-church named Jerry Johnson. "Hmmm," I thought. "Jerry Johnston. How do I know that name?" Then it hit me. I had a bit of a history with Jerry.

It seems that once upon a time when I was but a youth, Jerry was the camp evangelist at a Southern Baptist youth camp I attended. I'm pretty sure that his nightly sermons about teenagers overdoing on acid and his warnings that I could die tonight and spend eternity in hell resulted in me walking the aisle to rededicate my life to Christ. The odds are pretty good, since I think I had the hell scared out of me every time I went to one of these camps or evangelism rallies or whatever. When faced with the prospect of eternal damnation, can you ever really have enough fire insurance?

Thankfully I had a good youth minister who reminded me of Paul's words, "He who has begun a good work in you will be faithful to complete it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) That didn't really sink in until much later. How could I really trust God when I had people like Jerry Johnston reminding me what an awful sinner I was?

Later on in high school, I read a book by Johnston, Edge of Evil: The Rise of Satanism in North America. Wow, this guy sure did know a lot about Satanism! It seems Johnston has written a lot of books. He rode the Satanism craze with Edge of Evil (remember all those thousands of peoples with "repressed" memories about being sexually abused by Satanists? The FBI investigated and determined there was no league of Satanists and there would have to be millions of dead bodies from all the reported Satanic rituals if the memories produced by manipulative therapists were actually real.) He also has written a bunch of books about family and marriage (a little jealous of Dr. James Dobson are we?). Later he wrote The Last Days of Planet Earth, a title that sounds suspiciously like Hal Lindsey's famous book of prophecy from the 70's The Late Great Planet Earth. (That one predicted Jesus would return in 1988). I guess he wanted to cash in on the whole Left Behind phenomenon and the anxiety over the millennium. He also jumped on the Passion of the Christ bandwagon, the evolution controversy bandwagon and the anti-gay marriage bandwagon. It seems there's Jerry has a habit of jumping on whatever religious wave goes by as long as it draws a crowd, gets him attention and makes him money.

So, I was not surprised when I recently read the series of articles in the Kansas City Star about Jerry. The articles report that Jerry or "Dr." Jerry as he likes to be called has been less than forthright with all sorts of people. Apparently, he only had a GED and never went to college (he's getting his B.A. now at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary's Bible college). The "Dr." on the church signs and letterhead was an honorary one given to him by Jerry Falwell's Liberty University.

Apparently, there's not a whole lot of honest disclosure going on in terms of financial matters either, at least according to the Kansas City Star. Both Jerry and the church have been delinquent in paying tax bills. The church also has several court actions against it for unpaid bills to contractors. The church won't provide financial information even to its members. The board of the 4000+ member church is not elected, and you guessed it, both Jerry and his wife serve as one of the few board members. One of the people listed as a board member, when contacted by the Star, said that he hadn't been to the church in years and didn't even know he was on the board. So much for financial transparency.

A number of previously pro-Jerry church members have left and are spilling the beans to the press. The church raised money for a Christian school they failed to start. The church had a capital campaign to furnish their new giant church building promising donors names would be engraved on a 1.5 ton monument that never appeared--at least not until the Star began investigating the church. (It's a much smaller monument that has a plaque on it that some claim doesn't even have all the donors' names on it.) He claimed 200 acres had been donated to the church for a youth camp, but it turns out that his son bought the land at a discount via a mortgage through a rich land developer. He makes a nice profit off of religious tours around the world. He and his family members drive expensive SUV's owned by the church. His son serves as the media buyer for the church and makes an undisclosed amount of money for each time a church service is aired on any station anywhere. He has a number of relatives on the payroll and even canned other employees so his family could remain employed by the church. And, last but not least, Jerry has his own Centurion AMEX on the church's account. It's only for the most elite cardholders. It's annual fee is a mere $2500 dollars.

Here's what Jerry teaches his flock about how they should sacrifice for Christ.. This is an excerpt from one of his sermons as quoted in the Star: “Maybe we’re going to decide to wear the same pair of pants for a year because we’re going to honor God with our finances and we’re going to get it right,” he said. “Lordship means I seize the moment regardless of the inconvenience.”

His radio and television ministry keeps growing and growing with broadcasts of his preaching going around the world. However, it would appear that spreading the Gospel is only part of Jerry's concern. Here's another quote from one of the Star articles:

A former church member recalled Johnston saying the church needed to focus more on its TV ministry. “Jerry said, ‘You know why we’re on TV, don’t you?’ And he looked at me and said: ‘That’s where the money is. Elderly and shut-ins.'”

Obviously, this is all perfectly appropriate when God has called you to be the next great leader of Christendom in America. Here's what Jerry had to say about Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson:

"Guess what?” he asked his congregation after rattling off the names of evangelists such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson in a 2005 sermon. “Those men are getting old. Really old.

“See, God’s calling us to step up to the plate. And there are national Christian leaders all over this nation that are looking to First Family Church to do the job.”

Somebody's got some delusions of grandeur.

It seems like all that's missing is an affair with a secretary (a la Jim Bakker) or a prostitute (a la Jimmy Swaggert) or a homosexual tryst (a la Ted Haggard). We'll have to wait and see.

I guess I was most shocked to read how young Jerry is--only 47 years old. That would mean that I heard him speak when he was in his mid-twenties. He was just a young pup, but even then he was special. He certainly left my middle school self quaking in my high-top sneakers and running down the aisle lest a meteorite hit me before I could "really and truly" be saved.
He seemed older and wiser--like he knew everything.

Do I sound like I'm taking this personally? Like I've been betrayed?

I guess I do feel that way. I gave up listening to people like Jerry Johnston a long time ago. Certainly on my trips back to Missouri I felt it was pretty evident what a poseur this guy really is. Yet, I can't help but think about the 13 year-old me. I believed what he said. I trusted him. I agonized over what he preached. I was tender-hearted, vulnerable and doing my best to be a good Christian. I was manipulated. I only lost a bit of innocence. I never recall giving any money to Jerry Johnston, like so many others. Yet, he betrayed me and he betrayed the Gospel by teaching me about a vengeful God and offering nothing of God's grace. Jerry's gospel was about Jerry. Then and now.

Grace and Peace,



Andrew said...

Oh, THAT is too rich!

Thank you for that. And thank you for pointing out that he holds a Centurion AMEX. I have a story for you, if I have a chance to tell you, on Sunday.

Anonymous said...

Beautifully stated. You were a teenager and "fear" was used to try to steal your soul. How pitiful. Jerry Johnston, in my opinion, deserves every bit of bad press he receives. I only wonder what has taken so long. Don't you think this "stuff" he preached to the most vulnerable among us (young teens finding their way) is nothing less than cult-like? Everyone of of us out here, teen or adult have issues and areas within our lives we struggle to make sense of;perhaps some guilt, seek comfort & direction for problems, a good and honest spiritual experience and here is this guy preaching fear and damnation. I watched him USE people's problems and take advantage of them to put on a show of how HE JJ was the best thing that ever happened to them because he could show them the way all the while exposing some of the most personal and painful experiences these people were encountering. They were desperate and he knew just when to light up their perceived weaknesses so he would look like the savior. He knows exactly what he is doing when he does this and that is to play on people's emotions and empathy. He then had the nerve to laugh at one of them behind his back as he mocked his emotional response as this person accepted Christ. Need I say more; I don't think so.

revpeep said...

Dear anonymous,

I'm sad to hear of yet another painful experience caused by jerry Johnston. The good news of this whole sordid story is that those of us who have been manipulated and hurt by people like Johnston and who have lived to tell the tale, can offer a different perspective on God's grace and love. Thanks be to God, that the love of God has nothing to do with the self-serving religiosity of people like Jerry Johnston. Thanks for sharing.


revpeep said...


I'll look forward to hearing your story. When you said "too rich' was that an intentional pun????


Anonymous said...

It shoud not matter what a pastor makes if he is "honest about it".
Jerry and Christy should open the books get this behind them. The only reason for such hidden nonsense is possibly "something to hide" If one is willing to keep supporting the church and not actually make him accountable than one can wait for the Lord to see just what happened to "His" money on judgement day. If they have an independant company auditing the books let them provide the findings of their audit.

Anonymous said...

My eyes certainly have been opened about this guy. My parents attend his church (for 3 years now) and my mom sounds like a cult member when she talks about him and her church. They've now decided to cut me off from their lives because I'm gay. They also refuse to acknowledge my children and partner. Thanks Dr. Jerry! Your family values have ruined yet another family!

revpeep said...

Dear Oct. 3 Anonymous,

I am saddened to hear of your parents treatment of you, your partner and your children. Jerry might not want you in his church, but count me as one minister who would be proud to have you and your family in mine. Not all Christians are homophobic and close-minded, just an awful lot of them. I wish you peace of mind and warm acceptance from others.


Anonymous said...

Thanks Revpeep! I know there are great and accepting churches out there that teach love rather than money grubbing and hate. I don't know why my parents fell for this man - I suspect he reinforces what they already felt. I've moved on and we're looking for the type of church you describe. We're not in the KC area though.

Stacey Barrett said...

it is sad to me that someone would post something so hurtful about a man who has saved many teens from taking their own lives. Someone who God clearly worked through for many years. Who has the right to judge (according to the Bible) We all make our mistakes. Are you findings from personal research or is it all what the media wants you to see, and hearsay? I heard Jerry Johnson speak many times during my youth and God used him to influence my life and lives around me. There is none righteous, no not one. I bet that you have sins in your life also, we all do, but would you want someone posting blogs about your mistakes and selfish moments? I am sorry I came across this blog.

Anonymous said...

Good fill someone in on and this enter helped me alot in my college assignement. Say thank you you as your information.

Anonymous said...

My mother also fell to the words of this man and she continued to protect him over the last couple of years. I, however, went there a handful of times, gave my money to this church, and left the last time with a migraine thinking I was destined for hell. His son is a horrible preacher and used words of condemnation to scare the congregation into giving and believing.

I also take great offense that he refers to himself as a "Dr". I have a doctorate and realize the immense work I put in to achieving this degree.

All of this makes me sick. But, above all, what I can't believe is that they have the wherewithall to start another church in KC...Just doesn't make sense. "Delusions of grandeur" - love it.

Anonymous said...

Jerry Johnston is one of the absolute best Ministers and can deliver the message of Christ better than anyone I have ever seen! I am a former Board Member and I can tell you that Jerrys heart is in the right place. Although I left the congregation I can tell you that if you go to Church to get "fed" the word of God then you will get that! If you don't like how Jerry runs his Church, then leave and quit judging him!! "Judge and thou shall be judged!" Stop the nonsense of condemnation and get on with your life! Just a thought! God Bless!!

Anonymous said...

I have never heard of Jerry Johnston - I recently listened to him and witnessed what he has done for the youth. I also have a doctorate and studied for it -
Jerry has done some significant exploits for God and I guess he may have worked harder than I did, and an honory doctorate should be given to him (just as Billy Graham got)- I know what it is like to be slandered - the media are experts in twisting what you have said as a preacher - and if you correct yourself in the same sermon, they don't care about that! Jesus saved me when I was 17, I am now 64 and I love people (especially youth - their innocence are targetted by the enemy) and I love the Lord Jesus - I know young people who innitially accepted Christ and abandoned their fervent faith in the Lord - my best friend did, because he loved the present world like Demas in the Bible did, and became just a person that go to church ... and opposes those who are sold out for Jesus! It is so easy to twist the words of someone you don't like. ... I am not perfect, and if the media could get hold of me - by way of those who reject the message of true repentance, and by way of their kind of reporting! Wow! I pray for those who are tall trees and get all the gale force winds! I pray for you, my friend - I have been hurt by many Christians over the years, and have forgiven them, but who am I to judge, they have intended the best for me - the criterion is the Word?

Anonymous said...

I worked for Jerry Johnston way back in the 80s when he was still doing the travelling evangelist thing. I was in college and worked part time dolicating tapes of his sermons that he sold at speaking events. He was awful to his staff, it was a snall hous near Lenexa. He was obsessed with numbers of young people converted at his events. But, only because of the money he could rake in. His whole basis was fear. He repeatedly told the story of smoking marijuana as a teen and eating a can of uncooked biscuit dough which damged his stomach and led to painkiller addiction. The straw that broke the camels back was arriving at his mcmansion to drive him to the airport. He was rude made me take his trash cans to the curb. I met his blond trophy wife too. He was angry about running late, blamed me, even though I waited over an hour for him. He is tge worst kind of snakeoil salesman. Thankfully, I have realized that Organized Christainity is false teaching ( all denominations ) Any religion that uses fear to convert you is wrong. Jerry Johnston should be in jail. He is a crook and liar. He has harmed many young people with his guilt based delivery. I condemn him before all.

Anonymous said...

I first became acquainted with Jerry Johnston from the old Youth for Christ ministry in the 1970s-80s. When he started the church, I was excited. I had fond memories of his testimony and the way he seemed to care about teens. Fast forward to the FFC church. I visited, and felt way too poor to be there. When I found out they charged for vacation bible school .... I did attend some events, and the people were sincere, but I couldn't get over his hiring his kids as he did. Initially, I think the church was southern baptist, but it changed affiliation somewhere. I knew Sunday school teachers that were called in by JJ and chastised for not giving enough money and that is when i could deny the reality no longer. I am thankful that I never made it my church home. I hope the former members find comfort knowing that the building that they built still serves the community as part of the school system. I know too much went to the family, but the building is still a vibrant part of the community. Some frauds leave nothing.

I am sorry the church failed, but there are reasons for accountability in churches. He didn't do this alone. Many others just didn't get exposed. Jim Baker landed in jail and JJ should have too. I know several people who made real sacrifices for Johnstons to get rich. He could have been a great cult leader had he been a little smarter. He has disappointed a lot of people, but the bible says we should discern based on fruit. His is rotten.