I received a letter in the mail today from “Saint Matthew’s Churches” in Tulsa Oklahoma. I’ve gotten a few mailings from them in the past, and have no idea how I got on their mailing list. Inside the envelope is several things:
A “prayer handkerchief” that is a piece of paper printed with a handkerchief-like pattern.
A self-addressed envelope (addressed to “Saint Matthew’s Churches”)
A sealed envelope that contains “prophecies” that I’m not supposed to open yet.
And a few pages explaining what I’m supposed to do.
Before reading their letter, my immediate reaction is, “let me guess — they want me to send them money”. Their letter begins:
As a minister for more than half-a-century, I’ve read and reread, in the Holy Bible, how God instructs ministers to send Bible faith handkerchiefs to people’s homes, and, as a result, miracles of blessings occur.
Here, I loan you, in Jesus holy name, this paper, Bible faith handkerchief for something good to happen for you (Acts 19:11,12)…
Dear… Someone Connected with This Home, Who Needs Prayer and God’s Divine Help and Blessings… in The Name of The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit,
We’ve been on our knees, praying over this address and someone connected with it, because we feel someone connected to this home needs God’s help and blessings.
(Yes, all the ellipses are theirs, not mine.)
The letter goes on like this, talking about: God’s blessings, “actual” testimonies about miracles happening because of these handkerchiefs, how in the New Testament, people were healed by handkerchiefs that had previously touched Paul (Acts 19:11,12), the importance of *faith*, how I’m supposed to write my prayer on this “prayer handkerchief”, leave the handkerchief on top of an open Bible overnight (opened to Acts 19:11,12, of course), read the sealed prophecy tomorrow morning, and then mail my “handkerchief” back to them so that they can pray over it, and (hopefully) God will answer my prayer. What? No pleas for money? Oh yeah, that too. In *several* places they mention “sowing a seed”. Specifically:
I am asking you right now to pray about sowing a biblical seed offering unto the Lord. As your faith leads you to sow a seed gift to the Lord’s work, give God your best seed and believe Him for His best blessing (St. Luke 6:38). Get out a seed offering and give it to God as your seed toward your harvest, and toward the work of Jesus Christ, for this is the work of God that this church is doing (Galatians 6:7)
(All the bold and underlining is theirs.)
There were several other statements about “sowing a seed offering” – in one case, they said seed offerings would be used to send out more handkerchiefs to bless more people. (Ain’t that sweet?) Here’s an example of one of their mailings.
Something about the letter makes me imagine lonely old grandmothers who are improverished and in poor health being taken in my this scam. There’s degree to which it reminds me of voodoo, too, and this isn’t the first time I’ve heard of the whole “miracle handkerchiefs” thing. When Marjoe was pulling his scam, he specifically mentions giving out handkerchiefs in church that supposedly had miracle-working power. Behind the scenes, I believe he referred to them along the lines of: “cheap little trinkets that he could give out at church services”.
A quick google search on “Saint Matthew’s Churches” turns up 25,000+ hits.
Religion in America: ‘St. Matthew’s Churches’ Mail Ministry is Highly Lucrative:
“Once a traveling tent-revival preacher, the Rev. James Eugene Ewing built a direct-mail empire from his mansion in Los Angeles that brings millions of dollars flowing into a Tulsa post office box.
Ewing’s computerized mailing operation, Saint Matthew’s Churches, mails more than 1 million letters per month, many to poor, uneducated people, while Ewing lives in a mansion and drives luxury cars.
The letters contain an alluring promise of ‘seed faith:’ send Saint Matthew’s your money and God will reward you with cash, a cure to your illness, a new home and other blessings. They often contain items such as prayer cloths, a ‘Jesus eyes handkerchief,’ golden coins, communion wafers and ‘sackcloth billfolds.’ Recipients are often warned to open the letters in private and not discuss them with others.
Each month, thousands of Americans receive envelopes postmarked from Tulsa filled with biblical trinkets such as a Bank of Heaven check listing God as president and Jesus as vice president.
And each month, thousands of recipients send back cash, checks and their handwritten prayers to the organization, Saint Matthew’s Churches.
One religious watchdog group, the Trinity Foundation, estimates the pitches bring up to $6 million every month.
Though Saint Matthew’s letters list only a Tulsa post office box, the letters and money flow back to a downtown Tulsa office building owned by the group’s attorney, J.C. Joyce.
There, in the basement of a building housing Joyce’s law firm, a staff of 17 employees work up to 12 hours each day opening the letters, taking out cash and checks and depositing the rest in trash cans called “holy bins.”
The facility features heavy security, with cameras, thick steel doors and is accessible only with special elevator keys. One worker’s job is simply to bundle the large stacks of cash using a money-counting machine.
“It’s almost laughable if it weren’t so sacrilegious,” said Dick McClure, who worked for a company called Bixby Mail Inc. in Joyce’s building. Records list Joyce as a corporate officer of Bixby Mail Inc., which was incorporated in 2001.
Day’s total: $86,000
McClure, 67, of Sand Springs, said he took the job to make some extra income in March but quit several weeks ago because he had concerns about where the money was going. He said his job was to open thousands of letters to Saint Matthew’s each day and note on the envelopes how much had been sent. He said one deposit slip he saw listed that day’s total as $86,000.
“You pull out all of the marketing material and you put it in what they call a holy bin. It’s like a trash bin. People may have prayer requests on there; it doesn’t matter . . . What they want to know is who gave it and how much.”
Joyce declined to release records showing what Saint Matthew’s does with the funds, saying: “It’s not anybody’s business.”
Unlike other nonprofits, organizations classified as churches by the IRS are not required to file a 990 form stating how much they receive or how they spend their funds.
In 1999, the last year Saint Matthew’s filed a public 990 tax form, the organization reported $26.8 million in revenue. It reported spending $4 million on salaries, $989,000 on legal fees, $817,000 for housing and $649,000 for travel.
The man behind Saint Matthew’s is the Rev. James Eugene Ewing, a former traveling tent revival preacher. Evans, the Trinity Foundation investigator, said Ewing lives in a Beverly Hills townhouse and “lives a reclusive but extravagant lifestyle.”
It’s all a bunch of “prosperity theology” stuff which is also promoted by Falwell, Popoff, and other preachers. It makes leaders wealthy, and cons people out of their money with empty promises that God will reward them for their “faith based offering”. The nastiest part about all of this is the way it disproportionately draws in the poor and desperate. I’ve heard that prosperity theology has been doing especially well in Brazil and other third-world countries – where large segments of the population are living in poverty and grasping for hope. This sick scam of “prosperity theology” impoverishes the poor, and makes the churches and church leaders rich (and therefore, powerful). If Gene Ewing’s “Saint Matthew’s Churches” sounds like an obvious scam by some small-time con artist, I should point out that Ewing has ties to some of the most powerful preachers in the US:
During a second meeting with Roberts, Ewing laid out his seed-faith philosophy.
‘Gene [Ewing] laid out one of the most sophisticated fund-raising campaigns I had ever seen. He said, ‘Oral, I want you to write your supporters and tell them you are going in the prayer tower, and you are going to read their prayer requests and pray over them.’ He stayed there three days. I forget how many hundred thousands of letters we had, but it was huge.’
Robinson said that on Ewing’s advice, Roberts responded to the letters with a letter outlining seed faith.
‘You give and you get from God. It was a kind of prosperity gospel,’ Robinson said.
Roberts was so happy with Ewing’s advice that he gave Ewing the plane, Robinson said.
The next year, income to Roberts’ ministry doubled, to $12 million from about $6 million, Robinson said.
Despite the prosperous times, Robinson said, he was unhappy in the job and soon quit. Today, he is a pastor of the All Faiths Unitarian Congregation Church in Fort Myers, Fla.
Once Ewing rescued Roberts’ finances, other well-known evangelists came calling, Robinson said.
‘Once he did it with the biggest man of all, then all the others were just tickled to get on board.’
Robinson said that after he left Roberts’ ministry, he had a chance meeting on an airplane with Tulsa-based evangelist T.L. Osborn, who had also sought Ewing’s services.
‘He said, ‘We were down to counting pencils and paper clips until Gene came along.’ ‘
Ewing’s flair for effective, dramatic direct-mail appeals won him jobs writing for evangelists including Tilton, Rex Humbard and Rev. Ike. In many cases, the letters are identical but contain different signatures.
The Trinity Foundation, which obtained copies of the identical letters, has dubbed Ewing ‘God’s Ghostwriter.’
‘We had nine different televangelists essentially sending out the same letter,’ Anthony said. ‘He (Ewing) makes most of his money by selling these packages to televangelists.”