Update, Nov 2008: This is an old blog post. Like most old blog posts, there are quite a number of things I don’t like in it, and would write differently these days. But, FWIW, this is how I felt at the time:
Last night (30 December) I attended Shofar again. Interesting stuff. To be fair, it wasn’t one of the regular speakers, it was another guest speaker named “Jarrod Davidoff”, whose organisation is titled Save the World Foundation.
Some of the things I learned: it takes his organisation on average R10 to lead a soul to Jesus. By giving them R100, you could thus lead 10 souls to Jesus. Why would you want to do this? Because money is an earthly possession, and you cannot take it with you to heaven. The act of giving them money lets them “save souls” on your behalf, and every soul you are responsible for, adds to the balance of your heavenly bank account. The more people you help “save”, the more money you give to Jarrod here on earth, the bigger your balance when you get to heaven. Or so goes Jarrod Davidoff’s rhetoric. It seems what’s really important, according to Davidoff, is the headcount. “How many? How many?” Over and over. “How many people will you lead to Jesus next year? 10? 100? 1000?”
To an outsider, this sermon would look much like a pyramid scheme. If you (Shofarians) do yourselves a favour and replace every use of Jesus’ name with, say, “Bill”, I’m convinced you would see the similarities between this and a pyramid scheme as easily as an outsider. Complete with personal-story hook at the start, emotional build-up line in the middle, and climactic finish sinker at the end to close the deal.
Jarrod advertised he is selling a “comprehensive” insurance policy. Except, the policy is free! You don’t have to pay anything to obtain this policy, you only have to give your life to his boss. Oh, and the insurance policy only applies once you’re dead, and it doesn’t help the ones you leave behind.
All good and well, because it’s free. However, now that you’ve given your life to his boss, his boss requires of you to resell the insurance policy to other people. You can either do it yourself, or you can give money, to fund Jarrod Davidoff or Fred May’s lifestyle, amongst other things, so that they may do it on your behalf. (I hope the “amongst other things” is true… are Shofar’s financial books available to members of the congregation?)
Thus, a free insurance policy. Completely free. Except once you’ve bought into it, they guilt you into giving more money every Sunday. This seems typical of many financial scams: get you hooked on some free product, get you into the fold, and once you’re part of the organisation, they start milking. I’m not saying Shofar is a pyramid scheme, I’m merely saying that to an outsider, it looks very much like one. Do yourselves a favour, watch the video in Get the Good News Right, and think to yourself: “how do my religious perspectives differ from that which is illustrated in that video clip?”
Just like one might expect from an effective personal-contact pyramid-scheme scammer, Jarrod made great use of his history, particularly the fact that he was born Jewish, suffered anti-Semitic sentiments, and later “found Jesus”. (So what, that helped him escape anti-Semitic sentiments, right?) Despite then being taken to numerous Rabbi’s in an attempt to “win him back to Judaism” (his words), the hand of the Lord was upon him to “guide and protect” him. (To what, protect him from Judaism? That seems like an anti-Semitic slight to me, actually…) “If God can use me, a shy Jewish boy, to lead two hundred thousand people to Jesus every year, he can use you as well!” Two hundred thousand people per year at R10 each seems to indicate his organisation has a cash flow of around two million Rand per year.
He also taught the congregation to be bold in their attempts to “save” other people, to be healed from diseases like tuberculosis (through prayer), and to go cast out demons in his boss’ name. I’m sure that kind of rhetoric really wins souls during his “crusades” (his word) into Africa (e.g. Nigeria, Botswana, also Khayelitsha. These miracle cures sound great, just what Africa needs. Could we send in some scientists to do a study to determine how many thousands of people were cured by these crusades, and how many still died from TB, possibly because of “backsliding” (losing their faith a few weeks later)? We could then show the world some numbers on how effective this kind of “saving” is, by comparing it to the effectiveness of “secular” medical treatments…
Oh, and they also target prisons, orphanages and schools. In the case of schools, they need cooperation from principles to allow them in, because some principles refuse on the grounds that it is illegal. For that reason, you should pray for cooperation from the principles. Do yourselves a favour: don’t get your hands dirty by pulling illegal strings, just pray! Pray that God will do all the illegal dirty work for you, because God does not have to obey human laws. Also, I don’t think God expects of you to do anything illegal, right? He did come to “raise the bar”, to fulfil the law, not abolish it, right? (That is not my understanding of what Jesus taught, that is what is typically taught in Shofar.)
Sharing The Gospel
Jarrod’s incredible oratory powers: he is able to share the whole Gospel for twenty minutes, at a bus stop for example. Not even in twenty minutes, for twenty minutes, implying he doesn’t even need twenty minutes. I took a look at my Bible: the shortest of the four canonical Gospels is the Gospel of Mark. In my NIV, that’s more than 23 pages. The intro in my copy of “The Message” (another translation, actually, a bit of a paraphrase) points out:
Mark wastes no time in getting down to business — a single-sentence introduction, and not a digression to be found from beginning to end.
That sounds like a decent enough benchmark. A quick experiment indicated it takes me more than a minute to read a single page, If I do speed reading. I can probably only get value from the pages at that speed, because I’m already familiar with the material. And I read much faster than I speak. There is no way I’d get through the Gospel of Mark in less than half an hour. As such, Jarrod must be a supernatural orator in order to share “the whole Gospel” in just twenty minutes…
The other possibility is that he is sharing a small fragment of the Gospel, a short extract significantly simplified — something which can be shared in as little time or as much time as you have, very nice for our modern single-serving culture (Fight Club) where we don’t want to build real relationships. It’s only the head-count that is important, after all. Who cares about their lives. Um, God can take care of that, you say? But aren’t we God’s hands and feet? (Christian doctrine.) Doesn’t God expect of us to care for one another and make a difference in each other’s lives? Either way, if he’s only sharing a small extract, couldn’t he drop the “whole” from his rhetoric? Otherwise he seriously runs the risk of being a liar, does he not?
I don’t know if people like Jarred are charlatans (as some of my friends suggest) or if they really and truly believe they’re doing the world some good, I just know that this kind of behaviour looks extremely suspicious to people that keep their wits about them. I further believe it causes Jesus a huge PR nightmare — something militant anti-theists (or Satan?) might celebrate.
Dear long-time Shofarians (I’ve only been back at the church for two sermons now), I would like to know if this is the kind of thing you approve of for your church (own it, you pay for it). Is this the kind of evangelism you would like your church to promote in this hurting world of ours? If so, yikes, but okay. If not, don’t you think you can make a stand and demand that your church, your money, be employed to make more of a positive difference in people’s lives, rather than just hitting people with the Jesus truck in a real-life game of Carmageddon?