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Used by permission from G. Richard Fisher, Personal Freedom Outreach.
FINANCES, FRAUD AND FALSE TEACHING
by G. Richard Fisher
It is happening! Though Christians may say, "Make merchandise of me, exploit me, make profit from me? No way," it is happening all over. The multimillion dollar lifestyle and blatant materialism of many televangelists screams the point as a reality. It is in our face. "Miracles," mesmerism, and magic sell, and sell big.
Because of its dependence on emotions, and with little regard for the Scripture, the Charismatic movement has a long history of spawning false doctrines and strange personalities. J. Stephen Lang writes:
In an amazing turnaround, Parham denounced the Azusa Street movement he helped to create.2 Parham also was an avid supporter of the Ku Klux Klan.3
Things have not changed, and strange personalities and strange teachings keep cropping up on the Charismatic circuit. Don Stewart has a long history in televangelism and a long history with the long arm of the law. He also has a long history of an extravagant lifestyle on par with any Hollywood mogul or movie star, though he is not very photogenic. His broadcasts are a smaller, slower version of Benny Hinn's. His claims are as excessive as is his lifestyle. Little has been written about him (even by countercult ministries). He has managed until now to "fly beneath the radar."
During his services, Stewart sings off key to people just before they are "slain in the Spirit" by his touch. He warbles and croons songs (partially Scripture and partially positive affirmations) that sound like he is just making them up as he goes along. His broadcasts feature highlights of past meetings interspersed with dialogues with his current wife, Brenda, who is so emotionless and monotone she almost appears robotic. Together they tout repetitiously the miracle power of prayer cloths, and "the point of contact" and the power of Stewart's intercession when he brings the prayer requests to his Arizona prayer mountain.
The investigative news program, Inside Edition, did a drive by and then a flyover of his million dollar plus mansion, and reported on his continuing battle in court over his non profit religious tax exempt status.4 Knowing Stewart's enormous holdings, it is hard to believe him when he claims that he has gone into a closet with only a jug of water for days to get a revelation.5 Stewart looks like a man who has something to hide as he runs away from the Inside Edition crew and refuses interviews.
Stewart offers miracle prayer cloths that he claims will give healings and prosperity, and sends out computer generated letters created to look hand written and even claiming to be from his own hand. Inside Edition also interviewed a critical former employee as well as Trinity Foundation's president Ole Anthony, who turned up hundreds of prayer requests in a dumpster minus the cash and checks. Inside Edition, by means of a hidden camera, recorded brazen undisguised appeals for money with followers being urged by Stewart to charge donations on their credit cards.
BEHIND THE CURTAIN
The letter campaign and "blessed" trinkets are the brain child of a little known Californian named Gene Ewing, who could be called the granddaddy of exploitative mailings. Ewing has created the mother of all appeals. The Dallas Morning News reported on Ewing in 1996 and his computer generated letters constructed around hooks like brown paper prayer sheets, anointed coin wrappers, and faith shower caps. They said of this millionaire recluse:
Though unknown to the evangelical public, Ewing lives among the "rich and famous" of Hollywood:
Dallas newspaper reporters Swindle and Wyatt further elaborated:
So much for personal letters from televangelists.
IT'S A BIRD, IT'S A PLANE, IT'S DON!
To hear the accolades on Stewart's web site, one would think he is a walking bundle of miracles somewhat equivalent to Paul or maybe even Jesus:
One almost expects to hear: "He's faster than a speeding bullet, more powerful than a locomotive, and leaps tall buildings in a single bound." The above outlandish claims and buzz words are music to a Charismatic's ears and Stewart knows it.
Stewart's shallowness is all too evident as he uncritically, undiscerningly, and foolishly endorses healing claims from anywhere. He touts the mythical healings of St. Bernard and St. Francis of Assisi and states:
Any thinking Christian would not appeal to medieval and Mormon "healings."
SHYSTER AND MENTOR
Who is this "miracle" man with a 40 year old preaching career and a multimillion dollar ministry? For that answer we need to go back to a place called Miracle Valley, Ariz., and a man named Asa Alonso Allen. To hear Stewart preach is to hear Allen all over again. Stewart was an evangelist and secretary treasurer of Allen's organization.
A.A. Allen was a shameless religious huckster who lived from 1911-1970. He ran a sensationalistic religious sideshow claiming miracles, healings, and risings from the dead. Allen even claimed that weird looking things preserved in bottles were demons of various diseases that he had expelled from individuals. "Pickled devils" in Mason jars looking like spiders and toads were said to be disease demons.
Allen would chemically treat his forehead so a cross would appear there in the midst of sweaty preaching.11 This is an old trick used also by Marjoe Gortner, a self professed Pentecostal charlatan and spoofed by Steve Martin in his film, Leap of Faith.
According to apologist Hank Hanegraaff, Allen used many magician's tricks including claims of changing dollar bills into twenties, fat melting off the overweight as they sat in services, and oil flowing from his hands. Both Benny Hinn and Rodney Howard Browne have called Allen a great man of God.12 Allen was called many things, including "the Spike Jones of the pulpit"13 because of his resemblance to the zany musician.
Upon Allen's death, Donald Lee Stewart, then 30 years old, claimed his mantle. He changed the name of Allen's organization, Miracle Valley Fellowship, to the Don Stewart Evangelistic Association.14
Allen's dark and secret side, his love of alcohol, was no secret to the Assemblies of God denomination. His unorthodox ways were no secret, either:
Allen launched Miracle Life Fellowship International (aka, A.A. Allen Revivals) during World War II and claimed to have healed and propelled Leroy Jenkins into ministry in 1960. Jenkins was convicted of arson on a state trooper's home and sentenced to 12 years in prison in 1979.16
According to the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements, Jenkins was arrested on more than one occasion on drug and alcohol related charges while in the ministry, and divorced his wife.17 The Calvary Contender reports even more disturbing news about the faith healer:
Jenkins peddles miracle healing water from his Holy Hill Cathedral in Delaware, Ohio. He sells his miracle water in plastic gallon jugs for $1.40 a bottle and claims it has healed people from various diseases.19 So much for A.A. Allen's "trophy."
Allen divorced his wife Lexie in 1967. The only "miracle" is that Allen lived as long as he did with his severe drinking problem:
The Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements mentions Allen's "sclerosis [sic] of the liver."21
Stewart, when asked about Allen's drunken lifestyle, evasively replied, "This part of his life was deeply, deeply personal."22 Stewart went on to admit that when Allen was too drunk to preach, he and the staff would cover for him and sometimes whisk him offstage and take him to his room and put him to bed.23
Stewart further admitted, though Allen railed against doctors, he and the staff went to great lengths to hide and cover Allen's knee surgeries in San Francisco.24
Compounding the lies and deception was Stewart's (upon finding Allen dead in his hotel room) loading all the vodka bottles into a trash bag and putting them into a dumpster, and then trying to tidy up the room.25 There were many attempts to cover up the cause of Allen's demise until the release of the autopsy report.
Stewart not only survived the reputation of his drunken mentor, but also an embezzlement charge from Allen's Board of Directors. Like his mentor, Stewart would later divorce his wife.
Stewart said Allen taught him that it was necessary to shock an audience, that Scripture could prove almost anything, and "don't forget your own self interest."26
The historical aftermath of Allen's demise is interesting and quite bizarre. In 1987, James Randi noted:
Then things really heated up in the religious battle zone:
Miracle Valley lay in disuse and disrepair until a costly attempt at cleanup against a resistant Zoning Board in 1999. Since then, Melvin Harter, who claims God spoke to him about a Bible School there, has been trying to launch Miracle Valley Bible College and Seminary as "the only answer to the world and to the general church world."29
Harter seems unaware that many other Pentecostal ministries are claiming the exact same thing about their efforts. It is pretty heady to think or claim one is the "only answer to the world."
Harter, claiming to have invested nearly $100,000, says he wants to train "Holy Ghost anointed preachers" to "turn the world upside down," and is promoting a sanitized version of A.A. Allen's past, not mentioning the cause of Allen's untimely death. Harter has also posted web pages of Allen's past prophecies and sermons. In a strange way Allen's garbled influence does live on.
Stewart is no novice when it comes to court battles, legal wrangles, and stonewalling groups such as the National Charities Information Bureau:
The Apostle Paul had different ideas about honesty, integrity, and fiscal accountability: "avoiding this: that anyone should blame us in this lavish gift which is administered by us providing honorable things, not only in the sight of the Lord, but in the sight of all men" (2 Corinthians 8:20 21). The context here is that Paul surrounded himself with men so as to be honest and accountable in the handling of Church money. Paul realized that he had to have a good reputation not only before God, but also before men. Charles Ryrie tells us that these verses indicate that three men "acted as trustees of the money to insure complete propriety in the handling of it."31 Paul told Timothy that an elder "must have a good testimony among those who are outside, lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil" (1 Timothy 3:7).
Stewart continued to battle on in court through 1997. The Business Journal reported that the IRS was investigating his organization for mail fraud.34 It was reported that of the $8 million raised annually, less than six percent went to overseas ministries, while a special attorney was being paid a retainer of $10,000 per month. Stewart and his wife were reported to be "receiving salaries of about $250,000."35
The above is reminiscent of the flamboyant Aimee Semple McPherson Hutton, founder of the Foursquare Gospel Church. In the 1920s and 1930s, she was in court constantly in over 40 lawsuits. Two thirds of them were settled out of court over time, and at one point she set up through her Angelus Temple the "Aimee Semple McPherson Defense Fund."36
In spite of a dwindling following and finances because of the negative publicity, Stewart was able to mount a comeback in 1998, as reported by Hanna Rosin in the Washington Post.37 Rosin described how a number of disgraced televangelists were revived with a new constituency simply by repackaging themselves for an African American audience via the Black Entertainment Network (BET). Stewart had found a new, very lucrative, circuit.
Discernment ministries are not only concerned with Stewart's lavish lifestyle, fraudulent money raising schemes, IRS problems, obvious lack of integrity, and overblown hype regarding his powers, but more so with his unbiblical teachings while claiming a "divine calling." His published statements are replete with New Age buzzwords and overt occult terminology. He demonstrates either a complete ignorance and naïveté in regard to Scripture, or an outright promotion of metaphysical and occult practices. Perhaps it is just his ad men wanting him to be trendy.
In a garbled message that promotes metaphysics, holistic medicine, and visualization, we have the following from Stewart's organization:
HOLISTIC GRAB BAG
The testimony to Don Stewart goes on:
We certainly believe that God can heal in answer to a believer's prayer and that He may choose not to as well. The question is not God's power. We have every right to question modern claims of healers, especially those with false doctrine and belief. We know that God Himself documented three miracle periods of approximately 70 years each (Moses and Joshua — Elijah and Elisha — Christ and the Apostles). So the Bible does not promise miracles all the time, every moment.
We would not deny that judicious use of vitamins and supplements can be of some help to us. However, one should always be certain of the interactions of vitamins, herbs, and minerals with other medications and there are publications to help determine that.
Dr. James Rybacki and Dr. James Long warn:
The problem with Stewart's blanket endorsement of holistic medicine is that holistic medicine (treating the whole person, sometimes called alternative medicine) can be a grab bag of everything from reading the iris, to coffee enemas, to indoctrination into eastern religions. One has to use much discernment in looking at the myriad of alternate medical claims to sort out scripturally the good from the bad. A discerning Christian must also ask about the philosophy and belief system behind every practice.
Some of the theology behind some holistic practices is radically different than that of the New Testament.
The word "holistic" can at times be a New Age catch all word for use of crystals, dreams, TM, mind therapies, Taoism, Tibetan Reiki, pantheism, and a host of other occultic practices.41 One will find the term "holistic" used over and over in New Age periodicals. One must be discerning and selective in following any practice, no matter what the claims or testimonials. Caring for one's body and health must be done in a balanced biblical way and never in violation of scriptural principles. Any system of health care should never violate the biblical world view. Endorsing "holistic" in such a broad and undiscerning way would be akin to endorsing, let's say, "religion." Just what do we mean by that?
For some people holistic pursuits is religion. Since many that follow the holistic way undiscerningly endorse anything that is "spiritual," we must ask what they mean by that term. There are many spiritualities being promoted today, including Native American spirituality and even voodoo. We know that not all spiritualities are good. Some may be demonic (1 John 4).
Consider this description of spirituality:
SOMEWHERE OVER THE RAINBOW
However, it gets progressively worse:
There are major flaws and errors here that are glaring. We already have "a word from God" in the Scriptures. Worse, Stewart casts himself as our mediator. This displaces Christ who is the only Mediator. We don't need direction from God through Stewart; we need and get direction from God through Christ, the Living Word, and the Bible, the written Word.
Stewart's suggestion is undisguised mysticism with Stewart taking the place of Jesus and the Bible. It is outlandish and heretical, humanistic, and gnostic.
Stewart is simply promoting the old worn out ideas of New Thought promulgated for years in self help books. Chris Thurman has explored the history of self help books in America and writes:
John Ankerberg and John Weldon inform us that New Thought is "A general openness to the psychic and occult realm reinterpreted through New Thought metaphysics."45 It is essentially a religion of the "self."
I SEE, I SEE, I THINK I SEE
Stewart also promotes "visualization." Dr. David Sneed explains visualization:
Dave Hunt and Tom McMahon warn:
Hunt and McMahon warn further that attempts at trying to visualize God and Jesus may set up a situation where "the definite possibility exists of opening the door to demonic contact or even of acquiring a 'spirit guide' that we think is the real Jesus."48
As we are seeing, what Stewart advocates is frightening for the thinking Christian. The world of our fallen imagination is unpredictable and can be a doorway to altered consciousness or the demonic realm. Imaging techniques are well known in the world of ritual magic and other forms of witchcraft. Donald Tyson in his handbook, Ritual Magic, What It Is And How To Do It, instructs on magical and occultic techniques:
Believers are to long to be and work to be all that God wants them to be. This is done not through imagination but by daily study and practical application of God's Word. Doers of the Word are blessed (James 1:25). Our dreams and visualizations are always suspect.
Lakota Indians practice a form of visualization called hanbleceya which means "crying for a vision." As they fast, call on the spirits, and move into altered states of consciousness, it is all done "for healing; to acquire the relationships with the spirits necessary to become a SHAMAN; or to receive guidance about difficult personal decisions."50 Why would any Christian want to identify with a pagan or occult world view?
Christian physicians Donald O'Mathuna and Walt Larimore say:
Alan Morrison traces the "Christianized" versions of visualization starting with the mystical goals of Ignatius Loyola (1495 1556). It is hard to believe, as Morrison shows, that this strain of error is selling in "Christian" bookstores through the writings of Quaker Richard Foster, Episcopalian Morton Kelsey, Agnes Sanford, David Yonggi Cho, Kenneth Copeland, and many others. Morrison concludes rightly that visualization leads to idolatry, illusion, and ultimately can be the doorway to spiritism. His entire section, with all its extensive documentation, should be read and digested by every Christian.52
So called visualization can be no more than wishful thinking or human imagination. During the time of Noah, God destroyed the world because the thoughts and imaginations of man were continually evil (Genesis 6:5, 8:21). Graven images, forbidden by God, are the product of man's fallen imagination. Jeremiah indicted the people of his day for their evil imaginations (3:17, 7:24, 9:14, 11:8, 13:10, 16:12, 18:12, 23:17). Paul talked of those who "became vain in their imaginations" (Romans 1:21). This root sin seems to play out in every generation; now it is playing out in the Church with a fury.
Listen to where Carl Jung's imagination took him:
DESCENT INTO DARKNESS
How far can the human imagination go? Look around you. The Christian News reports that body piercing is now evolving into mutilations, branding, scarification, and steel balls and other metal shapes being planted under the skin to create, for instance, devil's horns protruding from the forehead. One case is cited regarding Eric Sprague who filed his teeth to a sharp point, split his tongue and put implants over his eyes for a horned effect so as to resemble a lizard. He said this was the fulfillment of his childhood daydreams and fantasies. CN concluded: "Beware of evil imaginations. We can't always control what flits through [our] minds, but we can control, by the grace of God, what dwells there."54
Even the old secular song recognized the fickleness of imagination as the crooners used to sing, "imagination is silly, it makes the world willy nilly." Without the parameters of Scripture and the restraint of the indwelling Holy Spirit and grace, our tainted and sinful imaginations can go anywhere and justify anything.
To see the length and depth to which Satan can motivate the fallen human imagination, one only needs to look at the Holocaust. David Rausch called Auschwitz, "Every Evil the Mind Can Conceive," and then quoted Otto Friedrich:
Paul Coughlin is absolutely right when he speaks of the "frail and frayed line separating prophetic revelation from human speculation."57 The Apostle Paul urged that we "give attention to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine" (1 Timothy 4:13), and not give attention to feelings and imaginations.
Jonathan Edwards affirmed at least five positive signs by which experiences should be judged. Stewart and the new Charismatics fail on most, if not all, of these points. Edwards said that experiences of "awakenings or rapture" were only genuine when: "they raise the esteem of Jesus ... they impel people away from sin and lust. ... people are led back to the teachings of the Bible ... people are led to truth instead of error ... [and] they promote love among people."58
Stewart's troubled history and obvious false teaching show him to be hopelessly confused or a practitioner of deception, or perhaps both. His battles with the law and unethical practices are more than red flags to any thinking Christian. Loud warnings should be sounded about the one who is obviously more profit than prophet. He is indeed a clone of his mentor A.A. Allen.
SHAMELESS SALES PITCH
It is obvious from watching Stewart's meetings that he uses cold readings and pre interviews. Pre interviews are a time honored trick among many of "healer" evangelists. A staff member of the faith healer will circulate among those entering the service, get acquainted (learn personal background), and further learn of their sicknesses, burdens, and heartaches. This is then passed on to the "healer" in various ways (sometimes on note cards) to be used as a "word of knowledge."
When the evangelist says, "I have not ever spoken to you or met you, have I?" he is telling the truth and the effect is electrifying. The real truth though is that someone close to him has met them. Often people unsteady on their feet are placed in wheelchairs provided at the meeting and later wheeled to the front and pulled out. The drama is mesmerizing. It is hard for people to believe they are being manipulated and conned in this way. It is hard to believe that anyone would do it in the name of God.
All of these kinds of manipulations and circus tricks are fully explained by James Randi in his book, The Faith Healers.59 After reading about the ins and outs of these techniques, one wonders how they could have so easily been taken in by and believed in Stewart's "supernatural" powers. We do not always see what we think we see. Many so called faith healers who are obviously without conscience have been using these shameless scams for years.
Stewart openly admits that these tricks are used. In his own words:
Later he says, "Kathryn Kuhlman rented hundreds of wheelchairs for her big crusades ... she didn't stop the service to explain that the person being wheeled to the front in a wheelchair was only someone with back trouble. ... It happens in my own ministry."61
During recent broadcasts, Stewart offered a "red anointed miracle handkerchief" that he promises will bring healing and blessing. He also extends "a prophetic word from Don Stewart," with his wife Brenda assuring the audience there is a miracle just for them. She nods approval in mechanical fashion at every word Stewart says. Along with the above he also offers a booklet, How to Use a Point of Contact to Receive Your Miracle, in which he claims to show "how to release your faith for healing and prosperity."62
Stewart intones a litany regarding "a point of contact." The point of contact teaching is described by Robert Liichow of Inner City Discernment Ministry as "fraud perpetuated on many of God's most vulnerable people, the poor and the biblically ignorant. ... [it] is a form of witchcraft known as sympathetic magic" along with other "shameful gimmicks used by unscrupulous ministers for the sole purpose of increasing their personal wealth."63
The Apostle Paul wrote, "Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content. I know how to be abased and how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me" (Philippians 4:11 13). Was he faithless? Was Paul faithless when he offered Timothy other means for his stomach problems and infirmities? Paul did not suggest that Timothy use him as a point of contact. None of the Apostles went around offering scrolls for prosperity or promising us something if we got on their mail list.
Last summer, the Missouri Attorney General filed a lawsuit alleging 94 violations and consumer fraud against psychic Miss Cleo who appears in national television commercials, speaking with a Caribbean accent and claiming psychic abilities through Tarot cards.64 It would be wonderful if such laws existed for religious charlatans and religious hucksters who sell cures, healings, and prophecies, and over-promise to needy people with the peddling of false hope and the use of cheap gimmicks. They then retire to their luxury mansions, ensconced in opulence, unconcerned with the fallout, hurt, disappointment and despair left behind. In the light of Stewart's questionable financial dealings, his lavish lifestyle, his gimmickry, and his blatant false teaching—there ought to be a law!
1. J. Stephen Lang, 1001 Things You Always Wanted to Know About Angels, Demons and the Afterlife. Nashville: Thomas Nelson Publishers, 2001, pg 16.
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