Thursday, June 09, 2005

COM: Deja Voodoo

I was talking to a friend last night about evangelism (never mind). Anyway, i casually asked if he knew of Dr. Gene Scott, and he hadn't.

Okay, i hope this story isn't as long as i think it could be . . .

I first stumbled on him while flipping through cable channels about 20 years ago or so while staying at a hotel somewhere in Arizona or New Mexico. The cable thing had me hooked, as i don't have a TV. I was suddenly taken by all the choices.

Anyway, i found Scott doing one of his lively little mathematical dissections of scripture with his necktie wrapped around his head like a bandana. The more i listened the more i realized what a wacko he was, even though he could make perfect sense of his gibberish (i know, it's already getting too long).

I was so intrigued that i even videotaped (with a handheld camera) some of his show (and some of Tammy Faye Bakker as well), and have used clips from them in various little films i've put together over the years.

So, recently i'd gotten a link from somewhere of a film clip with ole Eugene getting peeved and cussing out some guy who wrote in to his show. I even posted that link somewhere on the blog here (but i'm not going to go look for it because i'm just going to post that link again down below).

Weeeeellllll, i tried to show this friend this little clip and in the process of googling around found out that Dr. Scott had died in February. Together we dug around on his website (which seems to be pretending that he's still alive -- perhaps to not interrupt the cash flow), and later found an obituary.

Whoa. I just thought he was a cranky evangelist. There's a whole lot more to the story.

For that i refer you to the dry version of his Wiki-Ticky here.

And then, below, i've posted an obituary which pulls fewer punches than Scott did himself.

And here's the link to his blowup.

Gene Scott
(Filed: 26/02/2005)
Gene Scott, the American television evangelist who has died aged 75, offered his followers all the advantages of Christianity with none of the inconveniences, and thus became immensely rich.

Scott's followers were assured that they did not have to go to church on Sunday and that such foibles as homosexuality, adultery, abortion, profanity and drinking were just fine. "I don't ask you to change," he told his congregation. "I take you as you are." He had little time for the conventional pieties. "You ever meet Christians?" he asked. "You wish you could shove a pipe in their mouth. Anything to shut them up."

To qualify as a member of his church, the main requirement was a valid credit card, Scott's aim apparently being to make it richer than the Vatican. "A skinflint may get to heaven," he admitted, "but what awaits him are a rusty old halo, a skinny old cloud, and a robe so worn it scratches. First-class salvation costs money."

Anyone requiring salvation had to hand over 10 per cent of their income. This was a bare minimum. "I want 300 people to give $1,000 by June 30 to humiliate Satan's efforts to destroy us," read a recent message on his website. "I also want 700 to commit to $10,000 by Christmas." He once excomminucated the entire congregation for not giving enough. Those who did not respond to his barked instruction "Get on the telephone!" were told to "vomit on yourself with your head up in the air."

His fund-raising efforts were spectacularly successful. Individual donations from his 15,000-strong congregation at the Los Angeles University Cathedral (housed in a Spanish baroque-style former cinema), and from the estimated 50,000 contributors reached through his global broadcasting empire, were said to average $350 a month. In 1980 Werner Herzog made Scott the subject of a documentary, God's Angry Man, which showed the preacher raising several hundred thousand dollars during a television show lasting half an hour.

Scott's appeal lay in his genius as an entertainer. Buccaneering, shaggy-haired and bearded under a bandana or flamboyant hat, he was by turns unpredictable, outrageous, funny and inspired, but always compelling. Fat cigar in hand, his face contorted with rage, he would mix scripture with profanity-laden monologues about the state of the world ("Nuke 'em in the name of Jesus!" he cried during the Gulf War), punctuated with demands for more money.

No gimmick was neglected. At church services a rock band would belt out such hymns of praise as "Kill a Pissant for Jesus." His television shows would sometimes feature "Scott's Bunnies", a bevy of female followers in thong bikinis. (He felt he could "probably teach Hugh Hefner a thing or two" about sex.) When he found himself under investigation by the authorities for alleged fraud, he assembled a band of wind-up toy monkeys, then proceeded to smash them to pieces on television with a baseball bat.

Scott enjoyed a lifestyle that included a chauffeured limousine, a mansion in Pasadena, 24-hour bodyguards, several ranches and a stable of more than 300 thoroughbred horses. It would be easy to dismiss him as a charlatan, yet he also spent lavishly on charity. When the Los Angeles Central Library was damaged by fire, he organised a telethon that raised $2 million, and there were many other examples of well-judged philanthropy. In consequence he acquired powerful friends who were generous with their testimonials.

During show-downs with the authorities, Scott seldom hesitated to drop a few hefty names to aid his cause. When, during the 1970s, the California Attorney General's office launched an investigation into Scott's church (and several others) following allegations of financial malpractice, the investigation was dropped after the state legislature passed a law barring prosecution of civil fraud against tax-exempt religious organisations.

The son of a travelling preacher, Eugene Scott was born on August 14 1929, at Buhl, Idaho.

When he was six, his mother gave birth to premature twins, one of whom died within hours. The following month, Gene began having convulsions and his mother saw a stairway come down from heaven: "Two angels walked down and they stopped in front of Gene," she recalled later. "I said, 'Oh no, Lord, you can't take Gene!' and they just went around him and picked the baby up." The surviving twin died but Gene was saved; it was clear that he had been spared for some purpose.

Shortly afterwards, the family moved to Gridley in northern California where Gene's father took over as pastor of an Assemblies of God church after the previous incumbent crucified himself.

Young Gene was an exceptional student. "Do you know you have a genius for a son?" asked a teacher on his school report. He ended up at Stanford University, where he took a doctorate on the works of the protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr in 1957. Despite having no formal training in theology, Scott then taught briefly at a Midwestern Bible college, helped Oral Roberts to establish his university in Tulsa, Oklahoma, and joined his father's church, the Assemblies of God movement, where he soon established himself as a brilliant preacher and fund-raiser.

But in 1970, Scott renounced his membership of the denomination to launch his own ministry.

Five years later he was invited to take over the Faith Center Church at Glendale, California, an ailing evangelical enterprise which boasted four broadcasting stations and a $3.5 million debt. He agreed on condition the church leaders gave him carte blanche to do what he wanted. To his surprise, they accepted, and he went on to build his huge evangelical empire.

Scott had several run-ins with the authorities. In 1983 the Federal Communications Commission stripped the church of three broadcast stations after he refused to hand over financial records. Later he frustrated attempts to scrutinise the church's finances by instructing contributors to sign pledge slips stating that he could spend the money however he pleased.

When Scott was diagnosed with cancer, he decided to "give God the first shot" before resorting to conventional medicine. By the time it became clear that the Almighty had stayed his hand, it was too late. He died on February 21, and is survived by his third wife, Melissa.

Obituary: Gene Scott, 75; Television Preacher Famous for His Unconventional Ministry
Los Angeles Times, USA
Feb. 23, 2005 Larry B. Stammer

Gene Scott, the flamboyant and plain-speaking pastor and television preacher who was as adept at staring down a live television audience to raise money as he was at holding forth with an erudite teaching on the Bible, has died3 . He was 75.

Scott, a philanthropist who helped raise money for the Los Angeles Public Library and the Rose Bowl Aquatic Center in Pasadena, died Monday afternoon at Glendale Adventist Medical Center after suffering a stroke, according to a spokesman. He had been fighting prostate cancer for more than five years and had suffered a heart attack eight years ago, a confidant said.

His death was mourned by thousands of worshipers in his two congregations at the Los Angeles University Cathedral in downtown Los Angeles and Kings House I in Glendale, as well as a worldwide radio and television audience in 180 countries.

Country singer Merle Haggard, a church member and close friend, on Tuesday called Scott an exceptional scholar.

"He was the mind that all other brilliant minds looked to for guidance on problems that were insoluble," Haggard said.

Scott's unconventional preaching earned him a reputation as an eccentric. He was lampooned on "Saturday Night Live" and deadpanned by the late Johnny Carson. Scott chomped on cigars, reveled in having beautiful young women dance on his broadcasts and wore a variety of hats, from sombreros to Stanford University caps. He would even broadcast tapes of his show horses. He could also occasionally be profane.

With his white mane and beard, half-frame reading glasses cocked on his forehead, Scott was a caricature of a modern-day prophet. He would alternately grin and berate his congregation.

"Am I boring you?" he would ask. "No, sir!" his congregation responded.

At times Scott would stare into the television camera until a fundraising goal was met. "Get on the telephone!" he ordered his viewers. For those who didn't send money, Scott suggested: "Vomit on yourself with your head up in the air.

"There was a purpose to the eccentricities, according to Mark Travis, Scott's longtime chief of staff. "All the peculiarities, the horses, the girls, the hats, the cigars … they were props. They were saying, 'Watch me! I've got something to say.' "Travis said the ministry takes in more than $1 million a month.

Scott would hold forth on stage in front of a plexiglass board, his back to the camera, and use markers to jot down biblical references, Greek words and diagrams as he gave detailed lectures on the verses and the historical contexts in which they were written — without referring to a single note.

Scott was an unabashed Christian4 who believed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ5 , of which he said he had assured himself following much study. Scott, who earned a doctorate in philosophies of education from Stanford University in 1957, also was influenced by the late Protestant theologian Reinhold Niebuhr6 .

In his doctoral dissertation, Scott quoted Niebuhr in describing his life's goal: "to descend from the anthill of scholastic hair-splitting to help the world of men regulate its common life and discipline, its ambitions and ideals.

"Like Niebuhr, Scott believed that this was impossible without religion.

If Scott was different in his approach to teaching, he also determined to distinguish himself from some of the scandal-plagued televangelists over the last decades. His philanthropy to causes outside of his church earned him wide praise from civic leaders, including former Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley and legislative leaders.

Scott didn't like being called a televangelist. He also did not condemn homosexuality or abortion, leaving it up to worshipers to make their own choices. "I take you as you are, as God takes me as I am," he said. He preached that if people listened to him and started to practice faith, "God is going to change you in spite of yourself.

"On issues of public policy, Scott could be a righteous provocateur. "Nuke 'em in the name of Jesus!" Scott said during the 1991 Gulf War.

Though popular with his followers, his ways and theology were not to everyone's liking. The Christian Research Institute7 , an international religious center based in Irvine that monitors religious movements, once urged Christians not to attend Scott's church. The group decried what it called Scott's crude, abusive and profane language.

The institute also took issue with what it called Scott's belief that faith in God would bring physical healing."At the end of the day, as he's discovered, we all get sick and we all die," Hank Hanegraaff, president and chairman of the institute, said Tuesday.

Scott was born in Buhl, Idaho, the son of a fundamentalist preacher. As a young man he rebelled against the strict teachings of modest dress and abstinence from alcohol that he grew up with.

He taught for a short time at a Midwestern Bible college and helped Oral Roberts set up a university in Tulsa, Okla. He joined the Assemblies of God, a Pentecostal denomination, and traveled worldwide, preaching salvation to rapt audiences.

In 1970, Scott returned to Oroville, Calif., to launch his own ministry with his father. In 1975, he left that ministry and took over the 45-year-old Faith Center Church in Glendale, along with its four broadcast stations, $3.5 million in debt and 500 members. Today, the church claims 18,000 members in Southern California, although there is no way to verify the figure.

Others say membership in the L.A. area is closer to 3,000.In 1983, Scott's University Network launched 24-hour broadcasts of Scott's sermons via satellite to North America and the Caribbean.

But soon after, the Federal Communications Commission stripped the church of three broadcast stations, worth about $15 million. Scott reportedly refused to turn over financial records to the commission.

But Scott rebuilt his broadcast operations.

Over the years, Scott became a collector of rare Bibles and often lived extravagantly, with a Pasadena mansion, chauffeured limousines, a private jet and horse ranches.

The church also purchased the historic United Artists Theater in downtown Los Angeles in 1986 and spent more than $2 million to restore the classic Spanish Gothic movie palace.

Atop the theater, Scott installed the historic red neon "Jesus Saves" sign that once topped the Church of the Open Door in L.A.

Scott was divorced twice. His third wife, Melissa, survives him. She is administrative pastor of the church and will be in charge, at least temporarily, Travis said.

Stanford Magazine
OBITUARY: GENE SCOTT, PHD ’57, 1929-2005
Maverick Evangelist

Recruited by the Faith Center Church in the early ’70s, preacher Gene Scott asked for complete control, got it, then kicked out the existing church leaders, including Jim Bakker. He found himself with a church, four broadcast stations and a $3.5 million debt. Scott took to television broadcasting like a wise man to Bethlehem. Over the next four decades, millions tuned in to a radio and television ministry that broadcast around the clock and around the globe. The Los Angeles area congregation grew from 500 to 15,000 and in 1986 moved to the historic United Artists theater, which Scott renamed the Los Angeles University Cathedral. Its beacon: a red, neon “Jesus Saves” sign. Its address: P.O. Box 1.

William Eugene Scott died February 21 of a stroke. He had been fighting prostate cancer. He was 75.

Growing up in Gridley, Calif., the teenage Gene Scott chafed against the strictures of his father’s Pentecostal congregation, which chided him for wearing shorts to play basketball. He graduated from Chico State in 1952 with a degree in history and stayed on for a master’s in social science.

In 1953, he enrolled in Stanford’s School of Education, where he wrote a proof of the Resurrection for Professor Alexander “Lex” Miller, an agnostic. Scott “was extremely proud of being a Stanford alum,” says Mark Travis, the preacher’s chief of staff for 20 years. Attributing his work ethic to Stanford training, Scott liked to tell audiences that he retyped his 394-page doctoral dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr after finding one typo.

Scott became famous for a TV ministry that mixed exhaustive examination of Bible passages with relentless demands for donations. His broadcasts showcased his passion for horses, cigars, comely women and profanity. To ensure that telecasts weren’t disrupted, attendance at Sunday sermons required an advance ticket. He recoiled from the designation televangelist, however. “He considered himself a teacher,” Travis says. “He did not seek to convert anyone.”

Travis considers Scott’s flamboyant TV persona a shtick to draw viewers, who would then linger for the sermons. And draw viewers it did: in a 1994 Los Angeles Times article, their tithes were estimated at more than $1 million per month. His faithful wrote on their checks that the funds could be used in any way Scott saw fit, thus thwarting FCC inquiries into church finances. His salary of $1 per year plus unlimited expenses allowed him to live handsomely, collecting stamps, art, Bible texts, show horses and coins. Scott once said that if he were stranded on a desert island, God would provide a market for sand. He was profiled in a 1980 documentary, God’s Angry Man, by Werner Herzog, and lampooned on Saturday Night Live by Robin Williams.

Richard Parker, a lecturer in public policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, grew up in Southern California watching Scott on TV. “Scott was in the best American evangelical tradition,” he says, “but he oozed contempt for the unwashed masses who attended his sermons. . . . He felt he was the smartest person in the room. Scott’s appeal was in the promise of access to superior knowledge.”

Fans saw Scott as a philanthropist with highly placed friends; a scholar who learned six languages in order to read Bible verse in the original; an enthusiast who painted, played saxophone and owned a vineyard.

Critics called him a cult leader, pompous and an embarrassment to the Christian church. Evangelical Christian ethicist David Gill says Scott “appealed to angry people who identified with his outlaw image.” In the Hereafter, Scott told followers, he planned to “punch Adam in the mouth” for all the trouble he caused mankind.

Scott is survived by his wife, Melissa, and two former wives.


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