March 22, 2002
By Raffique Shah
AT last! I’m bowled over by a Pentecostal preacher who is honest to the extent that I, an avowed agnostic, am prepared to sing hosannas to him. Really, how could anyone accuse an American televangelist named Creflo A Dollar of being your run-of-the-mill, double-dealing, dishonest preacher? I have no idea whether Creflo’s father was named “Dollar”, in which case the old man’s old man must have had big dreams for his black son in a country where whites dominate the dollar-chase. If Dollar isn’t his given name, then Creflo must be credited with being forthright in re-naming himself, no doubt after he’d had a vision from the Great Unseen One.
For those who came in late for the show, Creflo, sporting designer suits that must have cost loud dollars, was the star preacher at the Centre of Excellence earlier this week. He is, as I mentioned above, an American televangelist who was invited to this country by the San Fernando Open Bible Church. In case you are wondering why the Church did not choose a venue in the South, you must be living in dreamland.
Jack Warner’s fully-air-conditioned venue is the stomping ground for predators of national and international repute. A few weekends ago, has-been American singing legend Kenny Rogers had Trinidadians eating out of his mouth—for $600 each (I believe those who had to equip themselves with binoculars paid $300). Before Rogers, the UNC almost stamped its logo on the venue, holding meeting after meeting there, from as far back as in the 2000 election campaign. And everyone knows that the UNC-of-that-time was well-heeled, with participants in its rallies getting free transport, free rum—and free doubles made-to-order for quick trips to the toilets (or cane fields, whichever was closer).
In fact, Warner’s Centre has become the magnet for the rich, as well as for those who, in order to impress, probably take out loans to attend functions there. But I digress. Back to Pastor Dollar. When I saw and listened to the man on television, and most of all when I read his name, I couldn’t help but be impressed. Really, he understands the tenets of “G-a-a-d’s” Bible, and he is no hypocrite. His local counterparts with names like “corfie” or “coco” (they deliberately leave out the “a” to spell out their true intentions), “sugar” or “soursop”, they are the jokers. They know little about marketing G-a-a-d.
Dollar knows where he is coming from. He knows that sink-or-float, Uncle Sam’s almighty dollar is king. And to add to his surname a first name like “Creflo”, well, it might signal what one expects from your dollars: they should flow into the Church’s coffers. I couldn’t quite make it to Warner’s Centre for the occasion because I came down with the flu. (Okay, if you must know, your boy’s wallet will not have got me past the blue-note scanner they had at the door!) But I did think of the man, of how he could—and I hope did—teach our local pastors, priests, imams, pundits and sundry church leaders some sense.
Ever since I saw and heard Billy Graham, undoubtedly the grand-daddy of televangelists, in London back in 1965 or thereabouts, I realised our local boys were two-bit jokers. Old Billy (he certainly was no kid) had packed the Earl’s Court Arena with thousands of deviant English men and women, and more than a handful of foreigners, who had come to save their souls. I happened to be there because Sandhurst was invited to send some cadets, and since so few took up the offer (that gave a free evening out after Graham’s show), I grabbed it.
I was awestruck by the stage setting—thousands of fresh-cut flowers, pretty girls dressed up in choir uniforms, and an audio system that was years ahead of its time. Still, I almost fell asleep during the lengthy sermon. Then I heard Old Billy say: “My brothers and sisters, when G-a-a-d speaks to you today, he speaks in dollars and cents. Putting on this crusade cost a lot of money. G-a-a-d is now asking you to give.” Well, one time this Trini cadet became wide awake. Suddenly, as if by some miracle from above, hundreds of well-dressed men, all armed with plastic buckets, materialised as if from Heaven. And to this day I swear I heard Old Billy, his voice sweetened by the accompaniment of the choir, add: “And let us not hear the jingling of coins, but the rustling of leaves.”
I, needless to say, could muster only a few coins. But Billy must have collected quite a pile, since I saw lots of “pound” notes inside when the bucket for my row reached me. I was sorely tempted to dip my hand in and take my “change”—in notes, of course. Today, our local pastors have achieved a lot. They own air-conditioned, plush-carpeted churches. They drive only luxury limousines and live in walled mansions that would make Dole Chadee green with envy—if he had not ended up in a pauper’s grave in Golden Grove.
But none is as sensible as Creflo Dollar. The man’s name says it all. The road to Heaven was not paved by Carlos John. It’s paved with “greenbacks”, all the way to the Big Gate. And if anyone can get you that far (no guarantee you’d get past the wily St Peter), the person must be Dollar. Not “corfie” or “coco”.
Copyright © Raffique Shah