Pay to Pray Scam
Suppose that you are in trouble. Your child is dying. You are told of a web site run by a Christian pastor with followers who can help. His site has testimonials to the healing power of prayer and how he has helped many before. All you have to do is make a thirty-five dollar contribution and thousands of Christians will pray for you. Your child may be saved.
Unfortunately some of this is true and some not. The true parts are about the dying child and the web site. But there was no pastor and no followers and no people praying and all the testimonials were lies. There were however fraudulent withdrawals from the credit card account once the site had the data. The money was very real.
As a result, the owner of christianprayercenter.com and its Spanish-language counterpart, oracioncristiana.org, have been ordered to pay up to $7m in restitution to an estimated 125,000 desperate consumers who reached out for prayers in their times of need.
Seattle businessman Benjamin Rogovy and the Christian Prayer Center “created fake religious leaders and posted false testimonials in order to attract consumers”, the attorney general’s office said in a statement announcing the settlement last week.
Christianity and other religions have always been magnets for hucksters and thieves. This is just the latest thing.
The appalling morality here is disgusting. The cynicism is breath taking. Many Americans are Christians or have some kind of religious belief. When people are in trouble they tend to appeal to a “higher power.” And the question asked by our intrepid enterprising young businessman is “How can I turn this into profit?”
He made a lot of money but that was not the only angle. He also helped with “consumer complaints” and provided ordination online.
But this whole matter I find very upsetting. I don’t see any criminal investigation. The last I heard make extra withdrawals on a credit card account is illegal. Further, is the financial penalty in any way commiserate with the profit made? The article is silent on this.
But what really gets me is this question: If he had gotten a real pastor to pray each week presumably with some members of the church participating, would he anything he did be illegal? Making false charges on the credit card would still be actionable but as long as someone prayed and people wrote testimonials about how in their experience these things were good, I don’t see anything actionable.
So, could you charge people for praying or for having someone else pray? I think you probably can. I am sure most denominations would back away from this but this is the United States and setting up a church here is quite simple.
So I don’t think we have seen the end of incentivized prayer, a kind of Neoliberal Christianity. Which, of course, makes the religion more marketable if that is desirable. I’m from a previous era where Christianity had something to do with service, believe and sacrifice. I admit to being both out of fashion and economically archaic in my beliefs.