Fonticulus Fides

Monday, July 07, 2003

So lemme get this straight – Baptist church, guest evangelist preaching repentance asks for a sign, the steeple is immediately struck by lightning, the charge travels through the sound system (blowing it out) and out the microphone held by said evangelist, "enveloping" him but not hurting him. Oh, and the church had to be evacuated because it was on fire.

Call me crazy, but the "sign" seems to be a "Stop that!" sort of message, don’t you think? The lightning bolt, the damaged sound system, the fire… But members of the church gleefully reported that it was "Awesome!"

Are you wondering how anybody could take that "sign" as positive? Well, welcome to the mind of the American evangelical.

I experienced something similar to this about eight years ago, when my husband and I were still attending that charismatic/pentacostal/evangelical church. It was the "beginning of the end" there for us. They brought in a guest evangelist who was a "healer," and the whole congregation was up in arms. Reports varied wildly, from "definite miracles" to "devil in disguise," though the scales tipped more heavily in favor of the man. I was at a mid-week service watching him do his stuff, and it was just like so many charleton preachers I’d seen exposed on television.

The senior associate pastor’s oldest boy had a genetic growth inhibition, and I watched the "healer" compare the youth’s height to the pastor’s wife, then sit the boy down in a chair and call up all his friends to crowd around him so they could "See it happen right up close." This, of course, cut the rest of us off from view. Apparently, the "preacher" slowly pulled one leg out until it was a couple inches longer than the other. Easy to do – the kid wants his leg to grow, so he stretches out as much as he can, which gives you an inch right there. The rest comes from a minor adjustment of the hips, which the "healer" can mask by pressing on the boy’s opposite thigh just so.

I remember clearly how the boy laughed and said, "Well, do the other leg now!" The man "evened out" the "growth." The boy stood next to his mother, standing tall as he could, and she – being a mom, wanting the problem solved – seemed to shrink into herself a bit. Voila, the boy was now two inches taller than his mother, when he had started out exactly the same height.

I bit my lip and shook my head as 50 or more people ran up and got in line, waiting for a personal touch of the healer. I went up, too, telling God that I trusted Him to show me if this man was for real or not. I showed the "preacher" a long scar on the back of my wrist from two surgeries, explained the lack of motion and early onset of arthritis. He gave me wrist a twist – which hurt – asked me if it was better. I said nothing, and he told me to give it time and pronounced me "healed," shooing me off the stage as the applause thundered on.

I was pretty sure he was a fake, but the ardor with which all these other people – whom I loved and respected – embraced this guy confused me. I decided to keep watching and waiting.

The next night, the "healer" was preaching when a bolt of lightning shook the building. All the electricity was gone, and we fell into darkness. Sitting near the back, I jumped up and felt my way to the nursery, where about two dozen kids were bawling with fear. (I was on staff, so I knew the building well.) Emergency lights came on outside one of the nursery doors. I dashed in and tried to help the two teenage babysitters account for all the babies and toddlers. Pandemonium. Some parents showed up right away, and we were able to match them with their kids in the narrow beam of the emergency lights. Other parents took their time, oblivious to what their tiny children must be feeling in such a situation.

My evaluation of the experience was all pretty negative. There were all these little kids in a nursery – some had been there every evening, all week, with just graham crackers, saltines and water to fill their tummies. The adult volunteers all wanted to be in the "healing services" so we could only scrounge up a couple of teenagers to keep track of so many little kids. I wasn’t a mom then, but I still thought it bordered on neglect. Now that I have kids, you wouldn’t catch me ever leaving my children in such a situation.

And what kind of "sign" was God sending us? In my mind, I thought it was clear that this was not a positive thing. If it wasn’t just a coincidence, it was definitely God’s way of putting an end to the chicanery I had been witnessing.

Furthermore, I didn’t like the way the church was dividing over this fellow. Seems like anybody who was really "of the Lord" as we used to say would bring people together, not cause so much strife.

On top of that, I noticed that the senior associate pastor and his family -- including the boy who was "healed" stopped coming to any of the services until the guest preacher left town. Nobody ever said anything aloud, but it was evident that the young man was still only as tall as his mother.

But the day after all this happened, there was only positive chatter about the "healer." Some folks even attributed the lightening strike to his "power." The church sent him on his merry way with a wallet full of money…and never mentioned him again. If the pastoral staff ever joined the senior associate pastor in a conclusion that this "preacher" was a fake, they never said anything to the rest of us.

It’s a sad thing when people hunger so much for a "sign from God" and don’t see it when He answers their prayers.

Being Catholic puts the whole idea of "signs" in different light. We have sacramentals. We have saints. We have religious art, statues and icons. And every day at Mass, we have the most wonderous Sign of all, when Christ enters each of us through the Eucharist.

God knows that people need signs. The whole Bible is full of this hunger that people have for holy things. Isn’t it a terrible shame that so many modern evangelicals have so thoroughly wiped their religious practices clean of holy things that they can’t tell a true Sign from God from a fake?

Thanks to Envoy Encore for the heads up on this story.



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