On the front it said, "Two homes are about to be blessed.... then it must go to another dear friend."
Odd, I thought. I'd never gotten a Christian chain letter before.
On the back it said: "Dear Jesus, We pray that you will bless someone in this home spiritually, physically & financially. And please dear Lord, bless the one who's hands open this letter. Make good changes in this one's life and give them the desires of their heart. We pray over and bless this letter in your holy name. Amen."
Well, of course I had to open it.
Inside was a cheap paper "prayer rug" and very specific instructions: I was to kneel on the rug, pray for what I wanted, put the rug on a Bible open to Philippians 4:19 ("And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus"), then mail the rug back to them the next morning along with a form on which I was to check off everything I wanted them to pray for me to get.
Among the choices: A new car, a better job, and a fill-in-the-blank option with the words: "Pray for God to bless me with this amount of money."
I've always been alternately amused and disgusted by the peculiar subset of Christians who follow "prosperity gospel" -- who believe that not only is it appropriate to pray for material things, but that God will actually reward them with a big-screen TV or a new car or what have you because they did so. But this was a new one for me: don't just pray for money yourself, but have an entire church pray for you, too!
As an extra bonus, the eyes of Jesus on the rug are closed, but on the eyelids are painted, very faintly, a pair of open eyes. So if you stare at the rug long enough it will appear that he opens his eyes. Apparently cheap optical illusions are evidence of divine presence.
Finally, the letter included a "sealed prophecy" for me and me alone. It was generic gobbledygook that didn't actually contain a single prophetic word.
By this time I knew I was not reading a Christian chain letter; I was reading Christian spam.
Turns out it was from a group known as Saint Matthew's Churches. While it appears to be a real church (and finally owns a church, too, having bought the former Memorial Baptist Church in Houston in 2004), it also appears to be a longstanding mail scam.
That dubious distinction hasn't stopped the founder, James Ewing, from advising various televangelists on how to scare up donations. The church uses a Tulsa lawyer, J.C. Joyce, who has represented Oral Roberts and the disgraced Robert Tilton.
Many Christian groups have condemned Ewing, and he and his ilk do not represent mainstream Christianity. But they do provide a stark example of how religion is not an absolute good. It is a tool, and as with any tool it can be abused to bad ends. Ewing's pitches debase Christianity in order to prey on the poor and the elderly. For me, it was an amusing bit of absurdity that helped color my day; but for others it has serious negative consequences.
I still haven't decided what to do with my prayer rug. I should just throw it out. But I'm tempted to do something a little more splashy than that. Problem is, it contains a picture of Jesus. And while I don't subscribe to Christianity, my gripe is with Ewing, not Christ. So some of the more obnoxious possibilities -- like using it for a dartboard -- don't seem appropriate.
Perhaps I'll ask God to smite Mr. Ewing. That ought to cause some metaphysical difficulties back at church headquarters.
scams, religion, politics, midtopia