Conversion factor, a theory (II of II)

So what are people like John Starnes and the Crabb Family doing on these shows? The obvious answer is, they probably genuinely believe in the stated goals of these ministries. In the case of John Starnes and Gerald Crabb, though, it’s interesting to note that a prodigal-son narrative figures prominently in their spiritual autobiographies - Starnes was a rock-n-roll singing bartender who came to Christ (and went to work for Jimmy Swaggert) after bouncing around listlessly for years; Gerald Crabb was, famously, an alcoholic and, by his own admission, a general no-account reprobate before having a powerful conversion experience and turning the crabb family into “The Crabb Family.” For people who feel they have gone from eating with the swine to living with the Lord, so to speak, perhaps the radical shift in the existential meaning of their lives before and after conversion creates a more pronounced sense of disproportion generally in the world than is true for people who grow up in religious lifestyles and never have prodigal-son experiences. If this is at all true, then the distorted proportions and immoderate tendencies of TBN and PTL and Benny Hinn and the like - the outlandishness of everything on these shows - may give expression to a certain kind of religious conversion and belief in which a person feels the disparity between “before” and “after” much more sharply than others do. Of course this isn’t an iron-clad formula. Vestal and Howard Goodman were, by all accounts, Christians all their adult lives, and the PTL Club resonated with them too. Still, it seems worthwhile to try to offer an account of the appeal that this particular brand of evangelical ministry has for people, including prominent sg types, if only to better understand how to avoid the fate that befell the Bakkers. As always, I’d love to hear your take on it.

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