AMERICA'S LEADING "Green Evangelist" died last month. No, Al Gore is doing fine -- as far as I know. It was the Reverend Frederick Eikerenkoetter II who passed from this life.
Eikerenkoetter, "known as Rev. Ike to a legion of followers here and across the nation to whom he preached the blessings of prosperity while making millions from their donations, has died,” reported the New York Daily News.
The Rev. Ike is gone and I am going to miss him. Your ordinary run-of-the-mill charlatan is mildly amusing for a while. The Rev. Ike never got old.
One of my favorite Rev. Ike quotes is "My garages runneth over." In 1976, according to the Los Angeles Times, his church owned 16 mink-appointed Rolls-Royces. One thing you could not accuse the prosperity-gospel preacher of was hypocrisy. At one point he alternated among six homes. The Los Angeles Times once reported that he wore a gold watch, a silver-and-diamond tie pin, a silver bracelet and a large gold ring studded with more than a dozen diamonds.
His ministry reached its peak in the mid-1970s, when his sermons were carried on 1,770 radio stations to an estimated audience of 2.5 million.
Preaching from the stage of a former New York City Loews movie theater that was transformed into the United Church Science of Living Institute, Rev. Ike would tell thousands of parishioners to "close your eyes and see green . . . money up to your armpits, a roomful of money, and there you are, just tossing around in it like a swimming pool," said the New York Daily News.
As payback for his spiritual inspiration, Rev. Ike asked for cash donations from the faithful -- preferably in bills not coins. In addition to his refreshing honesty, he also had rhyming and timing. "Change makes your minister nervous in the service," he would say. He regularly told his listeners to "never mind that pie in the sky, in the sweet bye and bye, when you die, you need money now, honey."
Rev. Ike was a one-man anti-poverty program. "The best thing you can do for the poor is not to be one of them," he preached. “No one has a right to be a parasite,” he added.
The critics who called Rev. Ike a con man, saying the only point of his ministry was getting rich from the donations, wouldn't know a con man if they saw one. One commentator said, "Reverend Ike was . . . a snake oil salesman of the first order." This woefully understates Rev. Ike in his prime. He could have sold snake oil for sure. He could have sold it to the snakes.
But fakes resort to fakery. Not Rev Ike. He was completely transparent. I remember watching television sometime back in the early 70's and being impressed by one of his commands: "If you think that money is the root of all evil, then send yours to me!"
Con artist, no; extortionist, yes. One of the Rev. Ike's reported fundraising techniques was to send a letter containing a sliver of a prayer rug. The letter told the recipient to mail it back the following day with a donation -- at least $20 -- so that Rev. Ike could bless it. Failure to return it, with a donation, could have dire consequences, the letter said.
Not to treat the man too casually, he was a heretic -- by traditional Christian standards -- putting love of money in the place of the love of God and the love of man that Christ commanded. Rev. Ike taught that “The lack of money is the root of all evil.”
And finally, "If it's that difficult for a rich man to get into heaven, think how terrible it must be for a poor man to get in. He doesn't even have a bribe for the gatekeeper," said Rev. Ike. Here's hoping Rev. Ike took some of his with him.
Gary D. Gaddy is worried about how to get a camel through the eye of a needle.
A version of this column was published in the Chapel Hill Herald Friday August 14, 2009.
Copyright 2009 Gary D. Gaddy