Recently, I read an article written by Charisma News entitled, “What Happens When Someone Calls a TV Show to Accept Christ?”. It outlined an intensive study conducted by the company, “Inspired Media” and documented what happens when someone calls a television ministry to make a decision for Christ. The study looked at a cross-section of media ministries, and while there were a few exceptions, the results were less than stellar. While disappointing, these results did not surprise me. Having worked for a large ministry, I was painfully aware that the salvation message can easily be obscured by the vociferous marketing pitch. They concluded that a whopping 64 percent of media ministries spent less than 5 minutes on those seeking to make the most important decision of their life. Only a paltry 13 percent of the operators were warm and knowledgeable, meaning 87 percent were either cold and apathetic to the would-be convert, or simply lacked enough knowledge to adequately lead them to the Lord!
This is heartrending; aren’t ministries supposed to minister? Why the tearful and angst filled pleas for funds, if not for souls? What is the relentless parade of products and slick sales pitches for, if not to snatch the perishing from the fire? After all, television time takes money, paying salaries takes money, buying TV cameras and jets takes money, right? We know it takes money because we have been told so many darn times; usually from teary eyed preachers who assure us the lost will not be won unless we sacrifice, dig deep, and give till it hurts. In fact, it does not just take money; it takes lots and lots of money; your money! Common sense tells us that ministries spend money on the things they deem most important. So where does that leave the lost? Does it make sense to beg for money to save their souls, only to have them linger on hold in endless loops of sales pitches?
After reading this article, I wanted to give people an inside glimpse of a ministry call center from someone who actually worked in one. I wanted to see if their experiences would line up with the findings in this study. I decided to interview Danny Wright, a former student of World Evangelism Bible College, and ex-employee of Jimmy Swaggart Ministries. Danny Wright worked for the better part of two years in the Donor Services Department which handled the ministries incoming calls. Below is the interview in its entirety.
Deception Bytes: So Danny, I understand that you worked for Jimmy Swaggart Ministries in the donor services department. What did you do there?
Danny: Yes, I worked there for the better part of two years and was promoted to weekend supervisor. I was in charge of fulfilling all of the free Bible product requests for people with limited income. I also answered the phones and the prayer line.
Deception Bytes: You mentioned free Bibles and product- how did that work?
Danny: I would receive a stack of letters from the mail department that had been already been opened. The letters had a red zero over the front of the envelope indicating that no payment was enclosed. I would identify the nature of the request and see if it was in fact a request for free product, and then file it.
Deception Bytes: When you say “file it”, what do you mean exactly?
Danny: The files I maintained were specifically organized according to product, you know, Regular Print Bible, Giant Print Edition, Spanish Edition, Crossfire Edition, CD’s, books commentaries, and whatever.
Deception Bytes: So once it was filed according to the product they were requesting, what happened with those requests?
Danny: Oh, make no bones about it; Jimmy Swaggart Ministries never personally donated anything, at least to my knowledge, from their cataloged items, to the poor or needy! Every product request I fulfilled, had to be already paid for by local church members, media church members, or other donors.
Deception Bytes: So, you are saying that people would designate donations to be used for free Bibles for prisoners, or military, or what have you, and you would simply match those donations to a request? Is that what you are telling me?
Danny: Correct. For example, if a church member called in and said they would like to contribute the cost of ten Bibles to be donated, then upon receipt of that donation, ten Bibles would be added to my list of available items to send out.
Deception Bytes: So in essence they were only shipping product that had already been paid for by other donors.
Danny: Yes! That is what I am saying. People being blessed with product had nothing to do with Jimmy Swaggart Ministries, but everything to do with the obedience of other good Samaritans.
Deception Bytes: So what happened if you had more requests than paid inventory?
Danny: The answer is simple- I didn’t send it! Get this, I would have callers tell me that they had already been told to send in a request and had done so numerous times. Some had been waiting for 6 months or more and I would simply pull out my inventory sheet and would tell them that we still did not have that specific product paid for to send to them.
Deception Bytes: Did this happen very often?
Danny: More than I would personally like to admit. To put it in perspective, they say they preach to a potential audience of over 80 million, yet we only had an average of 40 donated Bibles total- to give away each month. My file was filled with requests and every month we would just accrue more and more. The request files just kept getting thicker and thicker.
Deception Bytes: So, just to be perfectly clear, no matter what the circumstance, if the product was not already paid for by another donor then you could not give it away?
Danny: Yes, let me share a story. A caller called in and told me to disregard their request for a free Bible because they got tired of waiting and called, [name of ministry omitted], and got a Bible within two weeks!
Deception Bytes: Not sure what to say. So, switching tracks a little, what about people calling in for prayer? Surely, you prayed with people.
Danny: Oh! That’s a funny story, first of all, starting day one, I could not wrap my head around the fact that the only line they made available toll-free was for sales and donations. The prayer line was intentionally long distance! I could not tell you how many callers would respond in complete confusion and disgust when I told them that I could not pray for them, they would have to call the prayer line. Then, I would have to tell them the number was long distance! I would get responses like, “I don’t have long distance on my phone”, or “I can’t afford it”. Oh! And a third quote would be, “You mean you can’t pray for me”?
Deception Bytes: So if you were calling to give a donation or buy something from the ministry then you could call for free, but if you were calling to give your life to Christ or needed prayer, you had to pay?
Danny: Yeah, pretty much. Uh sometimes people would call the product line and just absolutely could not call the prayer line, then we would pray with them but had to limit it to no more than 5 minutes.
Deception Bytes: I’m sorry, I am still stuck on this, I never really thought about it before. They claim that they have to sell these products and raise money so they can win more people and yet they don’t have a toll-free number for prayer? Seems odd, especially since they have so many toll-free lines for products and donations! OK, moving on, let’s say someone calls in and gives a donation of a thousand dollars and then asks for prayer; what do you tell them?
Danny: To call the prayer line. Actually, I had one guy call. He had a thick Southern accent and had just bought a Bible and asked for prayer for him and his family. I told him about the prayer line and I started to give him the number and his response was, “You can’t pray with me? What if I buy another Bible, can you pray with me then”?
Deception Bytes: So what happened if someone called the prayer line- did they pray for them?
Danny: Oh, yeah, yeah, they did, but they only had an average of 2 main prayer counselors for all those viewers ….. ummm they preach to a potential viewing audience of 80 million viewers, and they have 2 prayer counselors! Ahhhh, let me say it again…. a potential audience of 80 million, and 2 prayer counselors! I will say though, that the two main prayer counselors were very good and did care immensely for the callers.
Deception Bytes: Yes, having worked for this ministry myself, I know who you are referring to and I would have to agree with that assessment. Are there any other kinds of calls you would get?
Danny: Oh yeah, I would get a lot of calls about tax receipt errors- shortages and stuff.
Deception Bytes: What do you mean exactly?
Danny: Well, when people would get their receipts for their charitable donations for that year, they would be wrong, so they would call.
Deception Bytes: OK, what are you saying? I mean errors happen. You aren’t suggesting this was done on purpose are you?
Danny: No, I am not saying that because I don’t know, and yeah, errors happen if you don’t know basic math but this happened all the time! I had to pass the donors information down to [name omitted] and tell them that they would call them back as soon as possible. I would get calls saying that it had been days and they had not heard back and I would have to pass another message down to [name omitted]. People would have to call back three, four times to get a number fixed.
Deception Bytes: Were these small errors like transposed numbers, or are we talking about something else?
Danny: According to the donors, there were large shortages.
Deception Bytes: This is not the first time I am hearing this. I know a former JSM supporter who was a large donor and had a significant shortage on their tax form. From what I understand, she had a difficult time getting the form in the first place! So, are there any stories that stick our in your mind- or anything else you want to add?
Danny: Yes, I have something I would like to say. I got a call once from an elderly couple who were living on social security. They lived on well water that was contaminated with pollutants and poisons. They were forced to go into town and buy bottled water to drink with to cook with and to bathe. Can you imagine having to fill a tub with bottled water? They were very badly off and the husband was in a wheelchair. They called initially for prayer, and I was moved with compassion for them, so I did not pass them off to the prayer line but went ahead and prayed for them. I felt it was appropriate, considering their circumstances, to send an email to my supervisor in hopes that the ministry could contribute some relief. I did not want to just pray over them but like a Good Samaritan, wanted to go the extra mile and actually carry them, treat their wounds and feed them. My supervisor said that she would forward it to the “front office” to [name omitted]. Having waited a couple of days, [the supervisor] told me that there was no response and that typically, the ministry would not respond to requests like this. Feeling like I had reached a dead-end, I decided to forward the request to Gabriel Swaggart. I knew him personally and had expected that he would at least reply. I sent the email and unfortunately my expectations were let down. I did not get a reply, a text, a phone call, nothing. Feeling personally let down by the ministry that I considered my home, I took the initiative, called the couple, and paid out-of-pocket for $80 dollars of bottled water to be shipped to their house. They were extremely grateful and I was intending to send them this under the name of the ministry but when they kept asking if I had paid for it out of my own pocket, I told them the truth.
Deception Bytes: Was this during the time you were a poor starving Bible College student? (laughs). That $80 dollars would have bought a lot of Ramen Noodles!
Danny: (laughs) yeah, I know, right?
Deception Bytes: Actually, that reminds me of something similar that happened to me. When I did Frances Swaggart’s website I had included a forum. I thought it would be a good place to discuss things from her show and also thought it would be a good place for some interaction with supporters. Well, it really became a place where media church members went for fellowship.Frances would not tolerate opposing opinions or anything that was the least bit questioning of them, or negative in any sense. Well, I was being stretched to develop new sites, and the forum was getting neglected. I made a couple from the media church, forum administrators and they volunteered and did a great deal of refereeing. I wanted to send them a free Bible to thank them and asked Miss Frances if I could do that since they had been such a help. She replied that no, that would not be possible because then other people might expect free things as well. I was devastated. I was so embarrassed to go back to them and tell them that we could not even send them a free Bible after all the work they had done, that I went and bought it from their store and told the couple it was from Frances. (Laughs) the funny thing is that they came to the Camp Meetings not long after that and I was praying… “Jesus, please don’t let them go up after service and thank Frances for that Bible”. (Laughs) That’s what I get … should have just told them.
Danny: typical, nothing surprises me.
Deception Bytes: No, and certainly these are not isolated incidents… well I think we could probably go on and on. I think after reading the article concerning calls to major ministries, I thought it might be appropriate to interview someone who had actually worked in that capacity. Oh, one more thing I want to touch on. In your opinion, did the lives of the operators exemplify Christ?
Danny: Maybe two, well maybe a few more, not many.
Deception Bytes: Are you including yourself in that few?
Danny: Nope. I have already gone on record and openly stated my short comings at the ministry. The sad truth – the reason I know so much about the hypocrisy there is because I was part of it.
Deception Bytes: So you behaved hypocritically in your opinion? I guess this is an unfair question because I know your story- but for the sake of those who don’t know, what exactly do you mean?
Danny: It is no secret, nor do I hide the fact, that I partied with the best of the leadership there.
Deception Bytes: Whoa Danny- careful.
Danny: Well it’s true and they know it’s true! Keep in mind, I’m not referring to “senior” leadership, or Gabe, but some of the youth leadership. I had either partied with them directly, or had partied with others who had partied with them.
Deception Bytes: That a lot of partying!
Danny: Oh, I know, right?(laughs) However, a short while after my last “indulgence”, this Prodigal Son decided to stop eating with the pigs and return to the Father . This was just after losing my mother in a house fire.
Deception Bytes: Pigs?
Danny: Not literally Mishel! I’m not calling anyone a pig (laughs).
Deception Bytes: Had to be sure.
Danny: I know
Deception Bytes: OK, so when you say you partied with the leadership who do you means?
Danny: I do not want to mention any names.
Deception Bytes: I completely understand and think that would be best. I would only have to blank them out anyway.
Danny: They know who they are.
Deception Bytes: Uh huh, yeah, I know who you mean; we do not need to go there. So drinking and partying was common place?
Danny: Among the younger people, yeah – not all, but way more than you would expect.
Deception Bytes: Anything other than the drinking that you want to address?
Danny: Plenty, but how much time do you have? (Laughs) No, actually, I want to go on record and say that not everyone at that ministry is a hypocrite. There are some genuine people there- but the ministry as a whole is not how they come across on SBN.
Deception Bytes: I would agree with that assessment. Well, thank you Danny for your candor, I appreciate you taking the time. As webmaster, I did not have much to do with donor services, so I appreciate your honesty and insight.
Danny: No problem, it would have been a better interview with a video nicely edited on a Mac Pro (non-related material edited out).