Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II, more popularly known as "Rev. Ike", has gone to his reward. The 74-year old prosperity gospel huckster died on July 29 in Los Angeles.
But in covering the story, the Associated Press and the Washington Post have carelessly tarnished legitimate preachers of the Christian Gospel by association, by lumping in Eikerenkoetter with more biblically orthodox Protestant preachers as an "evangelist."
The July 30 Associated Press obituary, linked here as syndicated at Time.com, directly called "Rev. Ike" an "evangelist," while Joe Holley's July 31 obit at the Washington Post indirectly styled the religious con man as an evangelist by comparing his popularity to Billy Graham:
Claiming more followers during his heyday than any evangelist except Billy Graham, he earned an estimated million dollars a month from listeners across the hemisphere.
But Holley's obituary makes clear "Rev. Ike" was interested not with saving souls but bringing in the sheaves of greenbacks:
As the collection basket made its way among the movie-house rows of his New York church, he reminded his congregants that the clink of loose change was offensive to his ears, and to God's. The whisper of paper currency is what he delighted to hear.
The Boston Globe noted in 1998 that he targeted the elderly and the poor in his mailings, with a particular emphasis on those of African and Caribbean descent.
One of his fundraising techniques was to send a letter containing a piece of yarn or a sliver of prayer rug that could be used as either a charm or a curse. The letter exhorted the recipient to mail it back the following day with a donation of at least $20, so that Rev. Ike could bless it. Failure to return it, with a donation, could have dire consequences, the letter claimed.
That sounds more like witchcraft than anything witnessing to the death, resurrection and imminent return of Christ, the focal point of the ministry of Christian evangelists like Billy Graham.
Of course part of the problem in the labeling lies with the Associated Press Stylebook, the bible, as it were, for journalists. Here's what the entry for evangelist (bold and italics from the Stylebook) commands:
evangelist Capitalize only in reference to the men credited with writing the Gospels: The four Evangelists were Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.
In lowercase, it means a preacher who makes a profession of seeking conversions.
But even with that definition, it's abundantly clear Eikerenkoetter's life's work was to get as rich as possible off the gullibility of those entranced by his con man charisma, not in winning converts to an established confession of faith.
Even for a mainstream media that just doesn't get religion, it's a bit much to insult the intelligence of readers by lumping "Rev. Ike" in with doctrinally orthodox Christian preachers like Billy Graham.
Photo credit: Associated Press, via WashingtonPost.com.
Caption: Rev. Ike appeared on more than 1,700 TV and radio stations across North America. His followers responded to his incessant pleas for financial support.