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,