'A Voice for Sanity'
J.Lee Grady didn't wait for an economic recession to battle the prosperity gospel. He has been fighting it for years.
Grady is the editor of Charisma, the magazine that serves as a gathering tent for Pentecostal and charismatic Christians. Its columns and advertisements feature some of the most prominent names in the movement—and some of the most frequent targets of Grady's criticism.
Other evangelicals have long criticized the teaching that God promises his followers wealth and happiness. But few within the movement have made their calls for repentance so public.
"Martin Luther had to say something, or they were going to keep selling indulgences. Now we have that going on in our midst," Grady told Christianity Today in his Orlando office. "If someone says, 'Send your $100 to be saved,' that is selling indulgences, and there are people doing that on Trinity Broadcasting Network." The TV corporation's fundraising appeals have been among Grady's most frequent targets.
"I don't want to lump all of those people and everything they teach under the umbrella of indulgences," Grady says. "But if they're doing manipulative things to get people to open their wallets, and twisting Scripture just like it was done during medieval times, we ought to challenge that. All we know to do is to get on the housetops and shout for reform."
Many within the charismatic movement are hearing Grady's shouts and applauding.
"Lee gives a corrective word to some of the excesses that none of us want to be identified with," says George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of God. "We've always valued the prophetic word, and part of a prophetic word is correction."
In recent years, Grady has attempted to correct some of the movement's most high-profile names amid both their financial successes and public troubles, including divorces, foreclosures, and investigations.
"Many unbelievers now associate ministers with wife-swapping, wife-beating, no-fault divorce, gay affairs, and $10,000-a-night hotel rooms," he wrote in a 2008 column. "We need a Holy Ghost housecleaning."
A Troubled Movement
The author of a weekly column titled "Fire in My Bones," Grady doesn't look particularly fiery behind his computer. Dressed in khaki pants and a green button-down shirt, he speaks softly and slowly with a thick Atlantan accent as he explains his love and concern for the movement.
"I've read enough history to know that even in the Pentecostal movement, there's always been a tendency for people who embrace the life of the Holy Spirit to go off on tangents," he says.
But the past few years have been particularly tumultuous for some of the most recognizable names in the movement. Grady has deemed such tumult indicative of "a charismatic meltdown":
- Bishop Thomas Weeks III married Christina Glenn in October 2009, just two years after being charged with assaulting then-wife Juanita Bynum in an Atlanta hotel parking lot.
- The Cathedral at Chapel Hill in Atlanta, one of the most celebrated Pentecostal churches in the United States, sold its property in August 2009. The church's founder, the late Earl Paulk Jr., faced accusations throughout his career of coercing women into having sex and molesting children. In 2007, dna testing revealed that Paulk had fathered a child with his brother's wife.
- Florida megachurch pastor Paula White returned to lead Without Walls International Church in July 2009 after she and husband Randy divorced in October 2007. The church faced foreclosure in November 2008 but renegotiated its loan.