Saturday, August 22, 2015

Fourth Saturday’s Loneliest Liberal: Call me Father James

Or email me

By James Knudsen

Last week on Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, host John Oliver fixed his sights on the topic of televangelists. The 1980’s were, we thought, the zenith of flashy evangelical hucksters, preening, prating, and preying on the prayerful. Turns out this sector of the economy is alive and thriving. Mr. Oliver put particular attention on Reverends Robert Tilton, Creflo Dollar, and Kenneth Copeland and his wife Gloria. Apparently private corporate jets have become a “vital” part of spreading the good word. The humble parsonages of these men of the designer cloth were also featured.
    Their immense wealth is the result of a dogma known as the “prosperity gospel,” and this gospel’s main feature is the concept of “seed money.” The way seed money works is, you plant your seed ($$$) in the preacher’s bank account and it will grow and thus make you prosperous – a sure sign of God’s favor. Sometimes it just convinces viewers not to seek life-saving cancer treatment as described in the segment.
    Oliver even went so far as to write to the Rev. Tilton and donate money, just to see what would happen. Oliver describes it this way, “it’s like having a pen pal who’s in deep with some loan sharks.” But John Oliver was inspired by the words of the Rev. Tilton to start his own church, “Our Lady of Perpetual Exemption,” so named because what the IRS will allow you to get away with is staggering. [“John Oliver takes on lucrative (and tax-free) televangelism,” by Amber Phillips, The Washington Post, August 17]

My own religious life has been blessedly free of such individuals. I’m Catholic. I suppose the more accurate description would be to say I’m a cultural catholic. And while the wrongs of the Church of Rome are well known and documented, I can at least say that I’ve never been asked for my credit card.
    And we have a new sheriff in town, Pope Francis I, who is a welcome change. I’m still an occasional church-goer, but my spiritual world has recently become more complicated. I’m now a man of the cloth.
    A couple of months ago I was asked to officiate the wedding of my niece Luiza. To do this I would have to become some sort of officiant. Turns out that it’s not that difficult.

    It’s actually easy...REALLY easy, like a-few-keystrokes easy. As of July 5, 2015, I am officially recognized by the Universal Life Church as a member of its monastery and have all the rights and privileges to perform all duties of the ministry. And I have a parking pass. Today marks my first official officiating as officiant, when, in the woods of the State of Washington, I join Dylan Murphy and Luiza Gildea in matrimony – the holiness of which has yet to be determined.
    All this has caused me to consider the whole business of “a calling.” I wasn’t called, I think it was an email. I didn’t receive a sign or hear a voice, but I did get a bumper sticker. All that really happened was, I was asked by someone to do something – a favor – and I said, “yes.” Maybe that’s all any of us needs to do.

Copyright © 2015 by James Knudsen


  1. Ah, memories! Tent revivalists used to come to Tulare occasionally. Jan Strawmeyer and I liked to drive up next to the tent, wait until the preacher reached the crux of his pitch for money, then burn rubber outta there. Entertaining in a high school boy way, and inspired by the film Elmer Gantry.
    And...welcome to the fold, brother. I was ordained in the ULC by my brother (a friend of the founder, and holder of a Doctor of Divinity therein) so that I could marry him. It was a glorious ceremony in the Colorado woods, featuring a surrey with a fringe on top and a cowboy riding shotgun. (The marriage still lives!) I did a few more weddings until once the couple wasn't happy with the outcome, then decided perhaps I shouldn't trifle with such matters.

    1. This is a refreshing revelation! Who knew? Who could have known? Thanks for sharing and connecting with James in this way.

    2. I forgot to say that I also enjoyed your mention of Jan Strawmeyer. I have seen Jan only one time since high school (briefly in a restaurant in Aptos, I think - about ten or fifteen years ago). Have you kept in touch with him?

    3. Jan disappeared after graduation. I haven't heard a word from him since, and you're now the only one I know of who has. Though truth to tell, you are the only high school friend other than Don Richert from whom I have heard more than a few times. Don dropped out of contact at least thirty years ago.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for the assessment, Morissa! I hope that James will provide details in his "character update" for September 7's First Monday with Characters column.
          By the way, Morissa, you too are a "character" of Moristotle & Co. I am remembering your January 30, 2013 interview on "phototrotting in Asia". So, please, submit your own "character update" for September. (By September 4, please.) Thanks!