The other day, my husband and I were musing aloud about our time at Living Word Church (for the record, a pseudonym, as are all other names used here – except for those of widely known celebrity TV preachers). As we reminisced, I had a fleeting thought of a story I’d shared once before, in the “comments” section of another post. When someone new replied to that post recently, I happened to be reminded once more of that same little incident, as I read through the comments again. It now strikes me as so bizarre that I thought I’d resurrect my re-telling from obscurity and turn it into a post. Here it is:
When we were in the midst of our love and loyalty for our church (which was actually our love and loyalty for our PASTOR and his family, because they made themselves synonymous with the church), we actually DEFENDED these same birthday offerings if anyone would ask us about them.
I mean, I always thought that taking up a collection for yourself – openly asking people to give you money – was a little odd. But because of how much we loved the Smiths, I always thought of their money-grubbing with a sort of indulgent smile, like, “Aww, there they go again!” In a weird way, I believed it was their RIGHT to do this.
I bought into their reasoning because I’d internalized all the stuff we heard from them, over and over again. They had “sacrificed for the anointing,” so they deserved to be blessed. They were our “covering,” and “anointing/blessings flow from the head down,” so if we blessed them, we were in effect blessing ourselves. If we blessed them (financially – it was ALWAYS with material stuff!) we would receive similar blessings. The Bible told us to “give honor where honor is due,” after all.
The Smiths worked very very hard to cultivate the perception of themselves as special, and since we were spending at least 7 hours a week in that environment (our Sundays were completely consumed by church, with the morning service having us at church from 9:30 to about 1:30, and the evening service clocking in from about 6:00 to 9:00), we were very much inundated with the message that the Smith family was a cut above.
It really was like Living Word Church was an alternate universe. The Smith family had their photos plastered throughout the church facility, gorgeously lit (and very retouched!) portraits of themselves that had been taken by the most expensive photographer in town. On the rare occasions that they did mingle with the people in the lobby or stroll throughout the building, they would be accompanied by security people, big guys who volunteered for the privilege of being their bodyguards, fully decked out with Secret Service-like ear pieces and radios. Pastor Smith and his wife were never with the congregation for the entire worship time, instead making a grand, sweeping entrance into the sanctuary about 20 or 30 minutes after we’d started singing.
They always sat on these plush, throne-like chairs on the stage, perched a good 4 feet above the audience. Even that gave them a psychological edge over their people. They wore the best clothing, drove the finest vehicles, lived in a home that was better than the houses of about 99% of their congregation, and went on at least two or three luxury vacations each year to places that most of the rest of us could only dream of visiting. When it was raining, you could watch the bodyguards scurry out with umbrellas to meet the Smiths at their cars, open their doors, and usher them into the building so that they would not get wet.
The celebrity treatment extended to the two Smith sons, young adults who were lauded and applauded for what would have been seen as merely mediocre talents anywhere else.
Like I said, it was like once you walked through the doors of Living Word, you were in another world, a world where regular rules did not apply.
And once you bought into one part of Living Word – like once you believed that Pastor Smith was an amazingly accurate prophet and/or an amazingly “anointed” preacher – you simply bought into all the rest of the celebrity treatment that went along with it.
So even though I was always uncomfortable with the birthday offerings and knew on some deep level that such obvious greed for money was inappropriate, ESPECIALLY for a supposed “man of God,” my thinking was so clouded by my belief in Pastor Smith’s anointing that it was like “anointing” somehow trumped all normal standards for good behavior. Like I said, when we were in the midst of our love for the Smiths, we would have defended the birthday offerings as somehow being their right.
It really is like brainwashing. After all the reading I’ve been doing lately about Kundalini manifestations and crowd hypnosis, I’m even beginning to believe that Pastor Smith works some sort of mind control over people, through the use of repetitive music, and through the use of all the psychologically manipulative things the Smith family does to isolate themselves and set themselves apart as special. I also now believe that Pastor Smith just has one of those dynamic and charismatic (lower-case “c” ) personalities that can exert force over others and control them.
One other example, and then I’ll wrap up these musings.
Living Word Church did a “Handkerchief and Anointing Oil” service once a year, during which time every member of the audience would receive a small vial of anointing oil and a hanky that had been prayed over by various visiting ministers. On the night of the hanky service, Pastor Smith and his wife would also pray over the hankies, and then we’d all file up and they would momentarily “lay hands on” each hanky individually. This process was done in a very efficient, orderly way, and we were instructed to keep the line moving. All the handlers and bodyguards and ushers would be enlisted to help in this service.
My husband and Pastor Smith had an interesting friendship, one that was often watched with envy by others who had been at the church longer. Pastor Smith had an obvious soft spot for my husband, which he demonstrated in various ways. One year, during the hanky service, we were among the later ones to walk up with our hankies to receive the 1-second moment of the “laying on of hands” from Pastor Smith.
Pastor Smith had already worked up quite a sweat when we reached the front of the line, and in a gesture that was watched jealously by everybody, Pastor Smith took my husband’s hanky and wiped away the sweat off of his (Smith’s) face, before rather dramatically handing it back to him.
The message was clear – Pastor Smith was so anointed that having his sweat on your prayer hanky gave you a special edge.
In retrospect, it sounds nuts! My husband even jokes now that if anyone else had ever done that to him, he would have punched him.
But at the time, we felt extremely privileged. And just about everyone else in the sanctuary was jealous! They would have done a lot to be able to have the hanky with Pastor Smith’s sweat on it.
Brainwashing. Mind control. It was crazy!