30 Charismatic Superstars – Danger!


charismaticAt the end of this month an American charismatic superstar is to visit Britain and is to lead a big event in the South West in connection with the God Channel.  There are some who will be able to guess who I am talking about but I find it easier to discuss my thoughts on the man and his visit without mentioning an actual name.  That way I am able to discuss the phenomenon of charismatic superstars generally without limiting myself to a single individual.  There may also be search machines on the look-out for mentions of this particular name so that legal action can be taken against any disparaging remarks.  The world of charismatic superstars is full of such involvement with the law.

Our charismatic superstar, henceforth to be called HB, is notorious on both sides of the Atlantic.  He is known for so-called Miracle Crusades which have taken place in every part of the world.  HB emerges out of the so-called Word of Faith tradition which declares that it is God’s will for us to have material abundance.  He himself is a vivid example of this belief system, dressing extravagantly and flamboyantly at all his meetings.  His hair is always immaculate and he exudes a style and over-confidence that is culturally alien in this country.  Nevertheless the over the top style does appear to have an attraction for some people in the same way as the excesses of the God Channel.  For our particular individual the most notorious and chilling example of excess was the appeal via a mass mailing to supporters to send in money for a Gulfstream jet.  Apparently this money was raised in less than a year.

The evidence for miracles at the hands of HB has been examined by various researchers, journalists and students.  The evidence for actual miracles turns out to be extremely thin.  Not only have few miracles been verified but there have well-attested examples of fraud uncovered.  Individuals going into meetings have been questioned at the door and then their symptoms are ‘miraculously’ described by HB during the course of the meeting through ‘words of knowledge’.   Also the very obviously sick, the brain damaged and those with severe physical complaints are prevented from coming anywhere near the stage by the ushers.

I have probably said enough to indicate my own position over HB which is that it is highly regrettable that he has been given a visa to visit this country.  What is worse is that there are people in this country who feel moved to sponsor him and take care of his considerable entourage not to mention his extravagant requirements for hotel accommodation.  Such people seem blind to the appalling suffering that is caused by extravagant claims to be able to heal the sick.  This issue is not that it is impossible for such healings to take place but the crass exploitation of a very, very few instances to make a lot of money at the expense of the hopes of countless others is obscene.  We are back to the familiar theme of this blog which is that it is the most vulnerable that suffer the most at the hands of spiritual abusers.  The refusal of HB even to touch the most severely afflicted on the grounds that they will harm the PR of the organisation makes one wince.  What are the adjectives to describe such behaviour – callous, cruel, cynical, exploitative?  I am sure there are other adjectives but they all involve the denial of Christian love.  This behaviour all suggests an individual who is totally addicted to wealth and self-importance.

I will be returning to the psychological profile of people like HB because it is a subject on which I have done a fair amount of reading.  Meanwhile I just want to make one or two observations.  The apparent cynical exploitation of huge numbers of sick people to make a lot of money for HB is indicative of a complete absence of empathy and imaginative identification with other people.  This lack of empathy and excessive cultivation of image is a pointer to a full blown personality disorder, particularly that known at the Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  This affliction of NPD is fed and encouraged by all the razzmatazz of big crusades which convinces the leading speaker that he or she is above ordinary people.  They believe ‘we are special, anointed by God himself’.  This grandiosity or messiah complex is precisely something that our abusive Christian cultures seem to encourage.  In short, areas of Christian life are creating monsters with severe personality disorders who are able to wreak havoc on other people’s lives, particularly the most vulnerable.

My final comment is to question the whole crusade enterprise and to ask who benefits.  It is not God who is hardly presented amid all the loud music and appeals for money.  It is not the sick who come normally to be cruelly disappointed.  The person who benefits is the speaker whose massive need of money, adulation and attention is being gratified.  In short charismatic events, not to mention charismatic organisations are all designed ultimately to benefit a single person, the one at the top.  HB is no exception and it may be that the large numbers of people supporting him will eventually come to this same depressing insight.  But the nature of Christian abuse is that it hides this insight from us as long as possible.  It is up to us in different ways to open our eyes and those of other people to see what is really going at these events.  This blog will continue to provide material to help the reader to have clearer vision.


About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

7 thoughts on “30 Charismatic Superstars – Danger!

  1. When we look at the early church we find exhortations to give up material wealth, to share what one has with others in the community. Poverty was a state to be striven for. Looking at today’s churches which make financial demands on their congregations, which charge an ‘entrance fee’ to cathedrals and sell gifted assets when many of the congregation may be in receipt of food parcels and state benefits I have to ask myself what the values of such institutions and crusades really are.

  2. Thanks for your comment Mark. Reading it I am reminded of the slogan that Christian Aid put out a few years back: Live simply that others may simply live. The Health and Wealth teaching from America is totally obscene. It is an attempt to put a Christian gloss on the rampant materialism that is a mark of American society and it is exported to places like Nigeria. You are only a good (i.e. successful and rich) preacher if you drive a very large car. What can one say? It needs to be countered actively and vigorously but few mainstream Christians seem interested in even thinking about the problem let alone debating with it.

  3. Thank you Stephen, Thank you Mark. As I look back down wasted years shackled to charismatic empires, men and women worshiping their own conclusions,making an idol of the bible, an inverted tyranny
    that they dared to call ministry. I think of all those from who’s ranks I am proud to have come and feel a monumental sense of failure that I can do nothing to stop the broken hearts that always follow these ‘meetings’. I warm to the orthodoxy of poverty that Mark speaks of, it is so simply right! It is also a great sense of comfort to me that a man of Stephen’s intellect who also is an ordained minister, has the vision and guts to speak out on this issue. But for now we must watch on this puppet theatre until its ghost drags itself back to the sewer it came from. “They are spoon feeding Casanova to get him to feel more assured, then they’ll kill him with self confidence, after poisoning him with words” (Bob Dylan ‘Desolation Row’1965)

    Chris Pitts

  4. The church of England is to a degree shackled by its buildings. They are usually listed, precious, part of our heritage, and the congregations have to support them. If you are going to have a “professional class” of ministers who, crucially, are trained, and who hopefully, but not always as we know, know what they’re doing, then these people need to be paid. Again by the church members. I much prefer churches that don’t charge. But I do have some sympathy for those that do, particularly when the majority of their visitors are just tourists seeing an attraction. I do actually know of visitors saying things like, “The council (sic) shouldn’t allow them to use the monument for services when people want to look round”! I completely concur with Stephen’s sentiments. At least this guy seems like an upfront money grabber, if he asks people to send him money for a new car. I worry about the ones who still claim to be humble preachers and healers.

  5. Thanks English Athena. I am pleased to say that I know some humble people in leadership however, the demonstrative wave of praise bands and the normalized church theatre, that intrudes its way in (Often uninvited) pushing aside all who object, leaves them very, very, lonely and on the outside.

    Chris Pitts

  6. Utterly creepy phenomenon, thanks for the useful critique. All Christians need to become much more aware of these dynamics and stop turning blind eyes to the potential for religious expressions to become satanic.

    Mark: “Poverty was a state to be striven for”. Yes, I agree. Strive for is a good word. But a huge reality that can be misinterpreted, and misinterpretations can be abusively imposed on people. “Poverty” has many different aspects. I was just watching the great film about base communities in South America, White Elephant. The social worker makes the wry comment to the slum priest from a comfortable European background “you can afford to be poor”. There’s far more here than I can unpack. Poverty for many people means not just being less well off materially, down to being absolutely destitute. It means not just becoming one of the poor as a conscious choice. Poverty generally means being vulnerable to exploitation, abuse and assaults both practical and psychological. Those who have been brought up in a privileged background of wealth, education and love can never be poor in exactly the same way as those who haven’t. Yet they may have experienced poverty in ways that others haven’t.

    Choosing this poverty may not be possible or have much value for anyone unless a person is internally sustained by “the riches of his grace”. The aim of accepting poverty is to share God’s healing with others who are broken, and work in solidarity for God’s kingdom, so that all can prosper. This will involve sacrificing much in taking up our cross, it might involve sacrificing everything one day. People need prayer, support and wisdom to embark on and be sustained in this road. It can’t be imposed on people or be held up as guilt trip to those who are aware that they have privileges.

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