The news that God TV co-founder Rory Alec has been suspended from his post as presenter and head of the organisation, because of 'moral failure' has come as a shock to some in the Christian world. Others have a resigned sense of 'oh no, here we go again', while still others are quick to point out that we are all sinners and we should pray for and extend the grace of God to Rory and Wendy. All of these reactions are understandable but I would like to suggest that there is a danger that we won't see the wood for the trees. The problem here is not primarily the adultery of one man, or the schadenfreude that critics of God TV might delight in. The problem goes much deeper and is something that the Church in the West really needs to get hold of.
I am not surprised at all by Rory's 'indiscretion' – nor by the continual account of Christian CEOs or celebrity mega pastors being caught with either their hand in the till or their bodies in another's bed. Why? Because whenever I have watched God TV, what comes across to me is that it is primarily about money and power. And when you have those two at the centre it's not long before the third part of that particular unholy trinity, sex, rears its ugly head. Despite the fact that there were some occasional good things on it, I had to stop watching God TV because I used to get so depressed and angry. I have spent a great deal of time helping people whose faith, though initially boosted and encouraged by some of what they saw, eventually was battered, bruised and severely damaged by the theology and practices espoused on much of God TV. Take the example of so called 'Missions' weeks. They were nothing of the sort. They were purely and entirely about raising money. Now I realise that Rory and Wendy would tell us that it was about reaching one billion souls. That was hyperbolic sales talk, confusing the possibility that God TV "could" be seen on several million TV sets, with the idea that they "would" and that then all would believe. The manipulation, sales talk and constant pleading for money "for the work of the kingdom" was nauseating.
And the power. I have yet to see a God TV programme which extolled the virtues of weakness. Everything was about strength and power. Power-dressed shiny happy people beamed out of our TV screens a picture of wealth, health and success. Continually we were assured that somewhere out there was someone called Marge who had just been healed of cancer, or Tom whose marriage was about to be restored, or Dave whose business had just been boosted because of the cheque he wrote. There was nothing about Bill who had just lost his job, Susan whose daughter had just died, or Tim who went bankrupt after he mortgaged his house in order to give money to God TV. I even watched complete charlatans like Todd Bentley kick a woman in the face because 'the Holy Spirit told him to' and then pronounce that he had raised several people from the dead – however he could not name them because of 'patient confidentiality'! He too of course fell into the money, power and sex trap – before GodTV, 'graciously restored' him and gave him yet another platform for his aberrations. And yet I know churches in the UK who were so desperate to 'catch the anointing' that they bought into all of this guff. This kind of TV is of more use to the New Atheist movement than it is to the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
After speaking at CLAN (the largest charismatic conference in Scotland), I was interviewed by God TV. The producer told me that he loved the interview but that there was no way it would ever be broadcast. When I asked why, his answer revealed a great deal about God TV: "Wendy wouldn't like it". God TV was not about what God wanted, or what the Church needed. It was the Rory and Wendy show, and the show of all those tele-evangelists who were wealthy enough to buy into it. The language was always hyper spiritual, the onstage hysteria real, but behind the scenes there were the usual power games and struggles associated with secular corporations.
And therein lies the problem. The Church is not a corporation. Nor is it an entertainment or an advertising agency. Godliness is not a way to get wealthy. Or famous. Or to have your own 'ministry'. The Church is to be the pillar and ground of the truth. Much of modern corporate Christianity has become pillarless and groundless. As a result it has also become brainless, banal and spiritually bankrupt. And it is certainly not harmless. I was visited this week by a friend who has just returned from six weeks real mission work among the poor in Africa. In some of these really poor countries, the world of corporate, commercialised Christianity, imported from the wealthy West, has taken root. There are mega pastors selling holy water for $1000, stealing money from the old, the sick and the poor, in order to pay for their mega mansions and luxury cars. The problem with God TV is not the moral failure of Rory's adultery. It is the moral failure of associating the Good News of Jesus to the poor with the prosperity gospel and health and wealth blasphemy of Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn and Joyce Meyer.
When I write like this the objection immediately comes. Don't be so harsh and hard. Why are you speaking against a brother and sister like this? How is that like Christ? Well – did not Jesus call the religious hypocrites of his day "white-washed tombs, twice dead"? Did not Paul tell the Galatian false teachers to go the whole way and emasculate themselves?! I have a genuine concern for Wendy – as I watched the cruelty of her live 'revival alert' which was much more like a Dr Phil confessional, I was so saddened for that betrayed woman. And angry with the people who continue to feed the illusion that she is the anointed one to save a billion souls. At best it is delusional, at worst it is a horrible blasphemy to have an American 'prophetess' screaming down the phone at her that the Lord told her directly that the endtime harvest was coming through Wendy. And it is oh so cruel. Far crueller than my words.
But some will say – "It has helped me...God spoke to me through it." I don't doubt that. Poison is always far more effective when coated in sugar.
Some will warn me "Don't criticise the work of the Holy Spirit". I totally agree. But is it not a false assumption to declare that everything that claims to be of the Spirit is of the Spirit? Is it not wrong to attribute the work of the Spirit to the delusions and manipulations of man? We are to test the spirits. And how do we test? If they glorify Christ, speak according to the Word of God and exhibit the fruit of the Spirit.
Rory Alec in his statement says that we should not look at him, but look at Christ. But TV says "look at me". This is not to say that TV cannot be used as a medium to proclaim the Gospel. There are Christian TV stations that do a good job. But it is a medium that it is very difficult to use. The Christian evangelist, preacher, TV personality must be someone whose aim is to point away from themselves and towards Jesus Christ – and not just when we have a 'moral failure'. We exist to serve Christ and His Church. They do not exist to serve us. Like John the Baptist we declare, "He must increase, I must decrease". Ironically even as I write this I am listening to a preacher on God TV tell us "no, no, no – he wants us to increase!"
The simple truth that we need to grasp is this: The six billion souls will be reached, not through the slick marketing, self-promoting, mega powerful corporations; nor through the hysterical delusions and manipulation of self-appointed 'apostolic-prophetic' ministries, but rather through hundreds of thousands of local churches humbly and lovingly proclaiming and living Christ in local communities, with the Word of God, by the Spirit of God, through the people of God. It's basic Christianity!
David Robertson is Moderator Designate of the Free Church of Scotland, and director of Solas CPC. Listen to his podcast on GodTV here.