Kyle at Right Wing Watch has the details on Rod Parsley’s claims that a “demonically-inspired financial attack” is threatening his ministry. Parsley’s ministry, World Harvest Church, recently paid $3.1 million to settle a case alleging that a teacher in World Harvest’s pre-school brutally abused a young child.
This isn’t the first time Parsley’s ministry has been sued, or the first time he suggested his legal troubles were the sources of his financial problems. In my 2005 expose of Parsley, I detailed three lawsuits Parsley faced in the 1990s:
[R]ecords in three lawsuits ﬁled against Parsley in the 1990s indicate that the autocratic structure of the church shaped his behavior and, in some instances, drove followers—and even his own family members—to the courthouse. All three plaintiffs complained that other church members ostracized them for questioning Parsley, and one plaintiff became the target of a venomous sermon during which Parsley publicly accused him of trying to extort money from the church. All three cases were settled in secret, and the lawyers and parties are prohibited from discussing them publicly.
Read more here or in my book. I first wrote about Parsley’s legal problems less than a year after he was credited with helping George W. Bush win the 2004 election, by getting voters out for Ohio’s gay marriage ban — voters who presumably pulled the lever for Bush in big numbers. (Although we haven’t heard much politicking from Parsley lately, one of his big cheerleaders at the time was the now seemingly omnipresent Bishop Harry Jackson.)
Parsley appeared to Republicans to be a big enough draw that John McCain sought his support during the 2008 presidential campaign. But as soon as people started paying attention to some of Parsley’s more, shall we say, colorful sermons, McCain shoved him aside, along with John Hagee. Although the media were focused on Parsley’s comments about Islam — notably that it is a “false religion that must be destroyed” — not that much attention was paid, regrettably, to how his church and other Word of Faith churches exploit their tax exempt status for the personal gain of the pastor.
Parsley, for example, has his own jet, which he flew to Las Vegas one Sunday in 2007, apparently for a personal trip. From God’s Profits:
Parsley boasts that over the years he has had four different planes that have shuttled him more than a million miles around the world, allegedly to preach the gospel. The current plane is dubbed Shamgar VII, which Parsley translates as “God on the move.” (In the Bible, Shamgar was a judge who slaughtered six hundred invading Philistines with an ox goad.)
In 2007, Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) and the Senate Finance Committee opened an investigation into the financial practices of six prosperity televangelism ministries, although Parsley’s was not among them. Some of the televangelists, like Joyce Meyer, cooperated with the investigation, but one, Kenneth Copeland, refused to cooperate. The investigation apparently is stalled at this point, given health care reform and financial industry catastrophes (not to mention the presidential campaign, during which no one would dare question the integrity of “good” Christians).
Financially, Parsley is small potatoes compared to Copeland and some of the other powerhouses (all heirs, as Anthea Butler points out in her remembrance, to Oral Roberts’ legacy). And perhaps his ministry is indeed threatened with extinction as a result of paying out this settlement. But to me, it seems more like a classic prosperity gospel gimmick: the devil is about to wipe me out, and God will bless you a hundred times over if you bankroll my battle with Satan.