Robert Tilton returns, and his hand is out again
Special to the Star-Telegram
Saturday February 5, 2005
I was skimming my cable TV for tennis or football late Sunday night and was surprised to see the Rev. Robert Tilton big as life. I thought the get-rich-quick TV evangelist had gone down the drain after his troubles back in the 1990s.
But there he was, with a Bible in his hand, looking out over the Pacific Ocean with million-dollar yachts in the background.
He was imploring viewers to order free copies of his new books, How To Be Rich and Get Anything You Want and How To Pay Your Bills Supernaturally.
"God wants to bless you and make you rich," he declared, quoting Ecclesiastes 5:19: "Every man also to whom God hath given riches and wealth . . . this is the gift of God."
I found out later that Tilton has been preaching on cable's Black Entertainment Television for some time. I've been out of the loop.
One of the last times I wrote about Tilton was in 1993, when his former attorney, J.C. Joyce of Tulsa, told me the evangelist was going off the air and laying off 150 employees at his church in the Dallas suburb of Farmers Branch.
"It is a very, very sad day for religious freedom in the United States," Joyce told me back then. "They've all but destroyed him."
Tilton left the air when lawsuits were filed against him after a 1991 investigation by ABC's Prime Time Live questioned his fund-raising practices and claimed prayer requests sent to him were tossed in a Dumpster.
Tilton denied the allegations. He sued his critics, but without success. None of the lawsuits filed against Tilton was successful, either. None resulted in any damages being awarded.
His absence was brief. He began re-broadcasting his old tapes on BET in 1997, said Ole Anthony, president of the Trinity Foundation, a religious watchdog group in Dallas that helped ABC in its stories about Tilton.
"Now he's trying to reinvent himself" and is taping new programs, says Anthony. "He's grayer, fatter and he's got a new wife. That's about it."
He's doing well financially, according to the Tulsa World. The newspaper quoted records in 2003 showing he had bought a 50-foot yacht and was building a 2-story home on oceanfront property in Miami.
Tilton spends about $50,000 a month on television time across the nation, Anthony says. My efforts to reach Tilton representatives were not successful.
Tilton no longer is on prime time in the Fort Worth-Dallas area. But he's on at 5 a.m. and 10:30 p.m. Sundays on BET. Insomniacs can see him at 3 a.m. every day on BET.
Some recent programs have featured his third wife, Maria Rodriguez, a Christian singer, and their three poodles. On Tilton's Success 'N Life Web site, one can order a free Faith Aid Miracle Healing Kit with "anointing oil, prayer cloth and prayer of agreement [suitable for framing]."
When I sleepily got up to watch Tilton at 3 a.m., he was alone on his Roman-themed set in Miami, telling people God would give them spiritual and financial healing if they made a vow to support Tilton's ministry.
Looking straight at me, Tilton said, "There's a person watching me. If you make a $1,000 vow, it is going to break the shackles off your finances."
He held up his hand, tightly closed his eyes and prayed blessings on his viewers, interspersed with short bursts of speaking in tongues.
"It's not God's will for you to live a life of poverty," he said. "The devil doesn't want you to have any money. I'm not talking about greedy. I'm talking about having what is yours."
Acknowledging that some might have doubts, he declared, "This is not crazy. It's the Bible." Later, he said, "Thank God for religious freedom in America. You don't have to believe this."
I'm all for religious freedom. I know many sincere people support Tilton, praying for healing of their bodies, their souls and their bank accounts.
It's their privilege. But they should think seriously about whether their donations are being used to honor God or to benefit Robert Tilton.
Jim Jones can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.