Sunday, March 20, 2016

Pay to Pray?

So called prosperity gospel evangelists are well-known for running what is essentially a scam, claiming that donations to their ministries serves as "seeds" that will be multiplied by God many times over if only their parishioners have enough faith. Because of the way religious freedom works in the United States, they are free to make such claims because people are allowed to believe whatever they want, and donate to anyone they choose.

Seattle businessman Benjamin Rogovy, though, seems to have taken this idea a little too far. He was recently ordered by a judge to pay back millions of dollars raised by what is described as a "Pay to Pray" website that promised to pray for visitors in exchange for small donations ranging from $11 to $35.

Rogovy’s websites — and — offered to pray for desperate English and Spanish speakers if they paid between $9 and $35 for the service. He created fake ministers who would assist with religious ceremonies and were available for consultation. The CPC also used the name “Pastor Eric Johnson”; according to the attorney general’s office neither Pastor Johnson nor Pastor Carlson exist.

In addition, Rogovy locked his hapless victims into recurring monthly payments through a “deliberately confusing website”.

“The AGO investigation found that once consumers submitted and paid for a prayer request, they were directed to a Web page that gave them the option to receive ‘continued blessings’,” Ferguson’s statement said. “Between 2011 and 2015, CPC collected more than $7 million from 125,000 consumers nationwide. Some of these consumers were charged repeatedly, resulting in a total of over 400,000 transactions.”

Consumers must file a complaint with the Washington state attorney general’s office by 12 June to receive a refund. They can do so online, and will receive an e-mail from the Christian Prayer Center by 6 April informing them of the process.

The problem with the operation appears to be that it was built on a bunch of fraudulent claims. Rogovy's site claimed that he had ministers on staff who were actually doing the praying, except it came out that this was not true. His "ministers" were aliases created by Rogovy himself who never did any praying. Also, the website apparently operated in a confusing fashion that led to visitors being signed up for ongoing monthly charges.

My takeaway from this is basically that Rogovy is an idiot. His website made seven million dollars over the course of five years. That's easily enough money to hire a few ministers to pray over lists of people who signed up on the site, and if he registered his business as a nonprofit and treated everything coming in as "donations" he would have been completely off the hook. He even could have registered himself with the Universal Life Church and done the prayers himself, so long as they got done.

Then nothing would have been fraudulent - he would have legally been a minister, and he would have been performing prayers for people as promised. The only other issue would have been to make his website clearer, which would have lost him some of the ongoing donations, but he would have wound up able to keep all the money he made. And all of that would have been really, really easy. I can tell you, if this was my business I would have done a better job of making sure I was adhering to the law regarding religious organizations.

I would suggest building something like this for magick, except of course that so few people are interested in the occult I highly doubt that it would make any money. Prayer is seen as far more universal, even though when you get right down to it, it's the same damn thing.

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