In a sin-filled world, the headlines that cross our paths everyday are no longer shocking. In fact, we have come to expect them. That’s why when the ‘pay-to-pray’ scam recently broke, it received little attention. Yet stories of deceit and fraud such as this, should cause us to pause with great consideration about the serious long-term impact that remains after they are intercepted and inhibited. The ‘pay-to-pray’ scam reveals much about the status of Christianity in our culture.
The story begins in 2011 when a Facebook page was established for prayer, even going so far as to establish a sister sit in Spanish. Complete with pastors committed to prayer, responding with various updates, and even a large array of testimonials. The problem? All of it was fake. The pastors, the testimonials, and the sites were all setup to extort money from suffering individuals. With promises to pray on behalf of those individuals, the site charged somewhere between $9 – $35. Over the course of four years, the site garnered over $7 million, with very little of that going towards the overhead of maintaining the supposed operation.
It is a situation that reminds me of the interaction between Jesus and His disciples upon observing a widow give all she had to the temple treasury (Mark 12:41-44). Often this passage is used to exhort believers to give all they have and the widow is praised for her willingness to give so sacrificially. However, there is another aspect of this story this often overlooked. In the preceding verses Jesus has just taught about the need to be on guard against the Scribes, specifically stating that they devour the widows houses (Mark 12:38-40). Context reveals that Jesus is also condemning the scribes for taking advantage the poor widow who had nothing. It is a despicable act to prey on the most needy of our society when instead we should be taking care of them (James 1:27).
The same condemnation given to the scribes in Mark 12 is the same condemnation to be given to those running the site for pray. With more than 1.3 million people following the site and 125,000 people paying for prayer, there arises a deep concern about what took place on several levels.
First, Christians should find themselves concerned about the impact such a story has on the testimony of Christians and the one, true God. A hoax such as this has the power to wrongly portray Christianity and impact the views that others have of Christianity, not to mention deceive Christians themselves. There are at least four major impacts of such deceit:
- A False Portrayal of Prayer: By requiring people to pray for people to pay it creates a false understanding of what prayer is. Prayer is meant to direct relationships between people and God. As Christ is the high priest, we are given direct access to God through our prayers. Furthermore, the relationship between believers is strengthened when they pray for one another, not out of compulsion of money, but out of a willingly devotion that comes from love for others.
- A False Portrayal of Hope: It creates a false hope for those requesting prayer. Rather than resting in the hope of the Father, it places humans at the forefront. A person’s hope of deliverance comes from the hope that others are faithful to pray for them.
- A False Portrayal of God’s People: The circumstances here also create a false perception of what true believers are to be like. No longer are they a family that supports one another, but instead are part of the world motivated by what they can get out of a situation.
- A False Portrayal of God: Finally, this wrongly portrays that God is subject to men, being compelled to act only based on the prayers of people and the number of their prayers. It denies His ultimate sovereignty.
As we can see, not only is deceit falsehood in itself, but it generates even more falsehood.
Second, we should find ourselves concerned about how and why individuals are taken captive by deception from fellow human beings. Revealed to us are two things about people:
- Desperation: There is a revelation in this situation of people’s desperation to know something or someone beyond themselves is ultimately in control of all things. Thus, there is a great opportunity to demonstrate God to others.
- Doctrine: Secondly, for those that profess to know God, we see here that theology matters. A weak theology leads to the idea that paying others to pray for you is something worthwhile. However, God’s Word does not teach us this at all. In fact, it teaches a willingness to pray for one another not motivated by selfish greed.
There are great needs expressed here. A need to rightly portray God and God’s truth in all aspects of life, so that we do not mislead people, but instead demonstrate true life in Christ.
Such deception and false portrayals can impact the testimony of the church and God. Whether those participating by paying for prayer are believers or not, they will leave feeling swindled and may turn their backs on God and Christians out of resentment. Before us is a serious responsibility that is outlined for believer. It is the responsibility to rightly contend for the faith.