Televangelists who fell from public favor a decade ago are having a second life as they buy time on cable television and “repackage” themselves for a largely African-American audience, reports the Washington Post (Sept. 3) Such televangelists as Robert Tilton and Peter Popoff, who lost much of their followings in the 1980s due to financial scandals and charges of fraud, are among the most popular preachers on the Black Entertainment Television network.
Only a few years ago, televangelists, particularly those preaching a prosperity gospel, were a disappearing breed. But now, such preachers are “turning to what they see as a reliable audience for the prosperity gospel: the black community. And by selling themselves as men who have suffered, who have been unfairly punished by the system, they hope African-Americans will identify with them,” writes Hanna Rosin.
Popoff and Tilton were investigated for fraudulent and unethical fund-raising and practices and were the subject of major investigations on television, although both were not convicted of crimes. Among the dozens of other preachers on BET is Don Stewart of Phoenix, whose ministry also collapsed after investigations for financial misdoings.
Steve Winzenburg of Grand View College in Iowa says that these televangelists’ appeals are still close to the prosperity gospel message that brought them attention in the 1980s (that giving money in faith increases the givers’ prosperity). An informal survey of viewers of BET’s televangelists by Rev. Imogene Stewart found many of the most devoted followers were elderly women to infirm to go to church.
Such viewers may “figure the prosperity they never got from a lifetime in the black church they can get from half an hour with the white preacher,” says Stewart.