Ever since I put up the Smoke ‘n’ Mirrors post, I’ve been feeling bad. Publicly suggesting that Pastor Smith (a pseudonym) engineered a fake miracle so that he could kick off Living Word Church’s (another pseudonym) special week of meetings with a bang and drum up more excitement about the annual “Miracle Handkerchief And Anointing Service” was just…well, probably more cynical than any Christian ought to be.
At the very least, I should not have put up the post without trying to investigate whether a particle of my suspicions could be true.
I’d take the post down, in fact, except that I’ve vowed never to do that with anything that appears on this blog. People link to this site, and I’ve personally always hated it when folks have second thoughts and remove posts. It can be very confusing…and also seem sort of dishonest.
So I’ve decided I’m not going to remove the article. Instead, I’m going to put up this disclaimer, sharing my mixed feelings, along with a request. I know that at least a few former Living Word folks have stumbled onto this site and will easily recognize the cast of characters and remember the incident I described. (It was, hands down, one of the most oft-repeated miracle stories at Living Word.) If you’re one of those folks, would you please drop me an email (at charismaniablogATyahooDOTcom)? Give me your analysis. Even more helpful would be any sort of verification. Maybe somebody out there was friendly with the Ortega (yet another pseudonym) son, to whom this healing supposedly happened. Maybe there’s even someone who knows for certain that he actually went to the emergency room. Maybe somebody even saw the x-rays.
I would dearly love, once and for all, to get to the bottom of this incident.
I’d also like to take this opportunity to explain, in a bit more detail, why I’ve become riddled with so much doubt about this particular “miracle” – even as I’m agreeing with the Pastor Smith defenders, who would no doubt be horrified that I’d dare insinuate such a thing.
Awhile back, when I was thinking about this “miracle” and how it would (I assumed) always be sort of the “final frontier” in my mind about how much that went on at Living Word was genuine and how much was mostly generated by Pastor Smith, it suddenly occurred to me that, given Living Word’s usual sophistication about showing videos on the big screen, it’s actually rather surprising that they would not have shown some still shots of this young man’s x-rays. According to the Ortega family’s story, there were two sets of x-rays taken, one set on Sunday afternoon, prior to the wearing of the “anointed” hanky, and one set the following morning. The first set had clearly shown a broken jaw. The second set had shown whatever traces that an old broken jaw leaves (I’m not a medical expert). In other words, the jaw had definitely been broken, but God had miraculously, through the anointed prayer cloth, performed a complete mending of the jaw overnight.
I just wondered, suddenly, why in the world they would not have shown those x-rays. And called the newspaper, for that matter. Think of the amazing documentation they should have had, with all those educated professionals who had seen the broken jaw but then had seen the healed jaw. The media – if not the secular media, then certainly Christian media – would have gone wild. It would have been excellent publicity for Living Word Church…and I do know that Living Word simply loves publicity. Pastor Smith was always extremely deliberate and savvy about creating relationships with other, much bigger-name ministers. He was willing to part with a LOT of the church’s cash to buddy up to Bishop T.D. Jakes, for example, donating $40,000 to Jakes’ well-digging outreach in Africa.
(Interestingly enough, Pastor Smith’s two young adult sons, Timmy and Tommy, were invited to speak at Jakes’ MegaFest that very same year, just months after the $40,000 donation – roughly 1% of the church’s gross annual income – had been given. Considering that neither of the Smith boys has exactly made a name for himself, I think it’s remarkable that they were included in such a tiny group of non-African American guys who got to speak at MegaFest. But that’s another story. As is how that donation managed to get made without even a peep to the congregation, until it was a done deal.)
Pastor Smith was also adept at getting himself invited to be a guest on TBN and Daystar. During these times, he was actually at his best, working the cameras with his unique earnest sincerity, always with many plugs for Living Word Church, and many mentions of its address.
Even Living Word’s television ministry had little to do with “preaching the Gospel” (despite being touted as exactly that). Rather, it was more of an infomercial for Living Word Church. These Living Word broadcasts consisted of a half hour of Pastor Smith going on disconnected rants that had been plucked from different spots in his sermon (which made it impossible to follow his main ideas), interspersed with video of Pastor Smith that had been shot in a local television studio, where he was on some set that resembled a bookcase-lined office. During these studio portions, Smith came across absolutely as the most gracious, enthusiastic host. But once again, he did not share the Gospel of Christ. Rather, he just kept urging folks to visit Living Word Church so that they could “experience this anointing.” (Not surprisingly, Living Word’s television ministry was not very successful and disappeared without a word after about six months of heavy promotion.)
Also, what other reason would they have had, anyway, for printing up the miracle hankies with Living Word’s name, logo, AND precise location emblazoned in such a huge font, to where there could be no mistaking where the cloth had come from?
Definitely, Pastor Smith – and consequently Living Word Church – knew exactly how to do publicity!
That’s why it does not seem likely that Pastor Smith would have let the “Broken Jaw Miracle” – if it and all its documentation had been genuine – pass without making more effort to get the story picked up by news agencies. Publicity for the “Broken Jaw Miracle,” after all, would very likely have ushered in the season of overflow that was continually being prophesied about. People flock to the miraculous, as evidenced by other revivals like Toronto and Brownsville, and now that new one being run by Todd Bentley in Lakeland, Florida. Theology hardly matters, as long as there are people with stories of gold fillings or healed bodies. The Ortega family’s story would have drawn people to Living Word Church from all over the country.
Especially considering that Mr. Ortega was on staff as Pastor Smith’s assistant and right-hand man, and had a vested interest in promoting the church, there is simply no way that Living Word would not have capitalized a LOT more on this golden opportunity, considering how much utter verification there should have been…if it had happened as they said, with two sets of x-rays, and two sets of doctors who’d seen both the injury and then the healing less than 24 hours later.
Also, as my husband and I discussed this “miracle” recently, we suddenly had another thought. Does it strike anybody else as odd that there was absolutely no concern about what had prompted a healthy young teenager to pass out in the first place? Rather than dashing off to an orthopedic surgeon the next morning, as Pastor Smith had reported them to have done, wouldn’t at least some sort of MRI or other tests have been performed first?
Like I said, I’m no medical professional, but I am a mom, and if my teenaged son had gone through an incident like that, I don’t think I would have blown it off just because his jaw turned out to be OK.
Anyway…as you might be able to tell, I’m terribly conflicted about this seemingly minor thing that happened several years ago. On the one hand, looking back on all the circumstances, I can’t help but be deeply suspicious about this “miracle.” On the other hand, I am truly fearful of ascribing this incident to fraud if it actually were the real deal.
I know that one miracle should not be used to validate an entire ministry. But I’m acutely aware of just how many people the “Broken Jaw Miracle” caused to take those prayer cloths very seriously. I know how many people clapped and cheered and excitedly waved their anointed hanky during the service, and how many people sent those hankies off to sick and broken people in desperate need of a miracle, in large part because of a few exciting stories told and re-told, year after year, about the wonders that had been performed through those prayer cloths. The main wonder, as I said, was always the Ortega boy’s story, because it was the only thing that had happened locally, to someone who was actually present in the service and could stand up and wave to the audience.
I know how important this story is to those who were true believers in those hankies. I know, because I was one of those people.