A month ago I got cable television for the first time in 8 months so that I could watch the World Cup, which airs in the Philippines at 2:30 AM. And lately, I find myself stopping at Daystar – “faith-based TV for today’s generation” – for a lot of different reasons. For one thing, it is difficult to comprehend just how easy it is for these guys to ask for huge amounts of money. For another, whenever I see these guys I can’t help but think of Bill Paxton, AKA Simon, in True Lies (“let’s face it Harry – the ‘vette gets ‘em wet”). There is one in particular, a fellow by the name of Pastor Rod Parsley, who is particularly intriguing, in part because of what he is doing in southern Sudan.
Pastor Rod is a firebrand who could sell snow to an Eskimo, and he lays on the hard-sell for buying redemption and supporting his efforts to take back America from the godless Sodomites. But he also raises a lot of money to provide food for orphans in Southern Sudan and combat “slavery” there. I watched a 30-minute special on Pastor Rod’s efforts to bring 100,000 meals to starving children in the Sudan. It is filled with scenes of Pastor Rod holding malnourished children with his arm around their destitute mothers talking about how we need to pity them and offer our support in the form of donations for food aid. I am not sure what to think of it, since, on the surface, Pastor Rod seems to be doing some that I can’t disagree with. But his motivations and lack of sincerity are what make me step back for a minute.
At it’s core, the crisis in Sudan is fundamentally about resources and religion. The ruling government, led by Omar al-Bashir, is Muslim and predominantly represents northern Sudan. Bashir has been indicted by the international war crimes tribunal on human rights violations committed against the different tribes of southern Sudan, which is where most of the oil and natural resources lie. The Bashir government is supported financially by other Muslim countries and China, which buys oil in exchange for not asking any questions about its appalling human rights record. So, at least in part, this is a religious conflict with genocide being perpetrated by a Muslim government.
Pastor Rod just came out with a book called Silent No More, where he discusses, among other things, the grave existential threat posed by Islam and the Christian duty to wipe it off the map. He made headlines during the 2008 presidential election when John McCain refused his endorsement after saying a few things that probably wouldn’t win him any support among American Muslims. Advocating for a holy war between Christianity and Islam doesn’t make you a beacon of tolerance:
Parsley is not shy about his desire to obliterate Islam. In Silent No More, he notes—approvingly—that Christopher Columbus shared the same goal: “It was to defeat Islam, among other dreams, that Christopher Columbus sailed to the New World in 1492…Columbus dreamed of defeating the armies of Islam with the armies of Europe made mighty by the wealth of the New World. It was this dream that, in part, began America.” He urges his readers to realize that a confrontation between Christianity and Islam is unavoidable: “We find now we have no choice. The time has come.” And he has bad news: “We may already be losing the battle. As I scan the world, I find that Islam is responsible for more pain, more bloodshed, and more devastation than nearly any other force on earth at this moment.”
So Pastor Rod clearly has a vested interest in seeing Islam wiped off the map. I don’t know whether his interest in Sudan has something to do with this, or whether that even matters. From a development standpoint, Pastor Rod is also kind of making the problem worse. The problem with offering food aid to countries is that it undermines the domestic market by driving prices below the cost of production. When you ship in huge amounts of food, the local producers can no longer compete and end up closing down. This isn’t really an issue in Southern Sudan, where people are destitute and surviving on subsistence farming, if at all. Pastor Rod’s Sudan Survival Kits are actually a very good and useful thing that probably save a lot of lives in Southern Sudan.
Pastor Rod also uses the opportunity to preach the gospel to a potential flock of thousands of desperate human beings. A major component of his missions in third world countries is to save the unsaved. And, like most preachers on Daystar, he is incredibly rich:
Parsley, his wife, Joni, and their two young children live in a five-bedroom house they have built next to his parents’ house on a 21-acre compound in northwest Fairfield County. The compound has an electronic gate at the road to discourage uninvited visitors, and stables and a corral have been built in one corner. Rod Parsley’s home is worth $857,090, say records at the Fairfield County recorder’s office. His parents’ home, also new, is valued at $831,480. Each was built with a $200,000 mortgage taken out in 1990. … Parsley also owns a $500,000 jet, a seven-passenger Hawker Siddeley 125.
And, in the words of another critic:
He describes Parsley as a “power-hungry” man, living “an extravagant lifestyle that has become the hallmark of televangelists these days.” With his wife and children, Parsley resides in a 7,500-square-foot house valued at more than $1 million.
So he is taking a lot of the money that is meant for his missions in southern Sudan and spending it on airplanes and mansions. He also advocates for the annihilation of Islam, among other morally repugnant or just-all-right activities, depending on your view. And he uses heart-wrenching images of near starving Sudanese children to raise money to fund all of this. But, at the same time, he is raising an awful lot of money for a valuable cause, most of which is probably actually ending up in the right place. Should I question his motives or say that he is wrong to exploit these images to attract donations from his flock? Is it worth it, given that he is helping a lot of desperate people? I’m not sure. Or, what about the fact that much of the money he raises through his church actually goes to domestic political causes that actually increase income disparity and inequality? Take this statement:
“I’m convinced the best thing government can do to help the poor is to get out of the way. If government reduced taxes, removed industrial restraints, eliminated wage controls, and abolished subsidies, tariff[s], and other constraints on free enterprise, the poor would be helped in a way that [Aid to Families With Dependent Children], Social Security, and unemployment insurance could never match.”
Really? I’m not sure which Gospel highlights Jesus’ support of the elimination of wage controls. This hardly jives with his professed duty to serve the poor in developing countries, which he seems to view more as the Christian man’s burden than anything else. And Parsley refuses to publicly disclose how much money actually goes towards his missions, as opposed to his own pockets or his political movements. In fact, he has an committee, which consists of himself and his parents, who thoroughly audit all the financials of the organization, yet they don’t share the results with anyone but themselves.
Pastor Rod stands against most things I stand for. He is sanctimonious and self-righteous, deceptive and manipulative, and disingenuous beyond imagination. But he is getting people to give money ostensibly to a good cause, and starving families in Sudan are eating because of Pastor Rod’s good works. Is he doing good works, or exploiting the suffering of people for personal and political gain? I am no