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Oh, Lordy: First Baptist's Jeffress Preaching About Quakes? I Think I'll Head Out of Town.

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I'm really worried about what the Reverend Robert Jeffress is going to say at Dallas First Baptist Church Sunday about the quake in Japan. I live within a three-mile radius of First Baptist, and I'm afraid I won't be far enough away.

The ad for his sermon that appeared here on Unfair Park yesterday cited a passage in the Bible, Nahum 1:2-8. I looked it up. It's all about how God punishes the unbelievers: "His way is in the whirlwind and the storm, and clouds are the dust of his feet. He rebukes the sea and dries it up; he makes all the rivers run dry. Bashan and Carmel wither and the blossoms of Lebanon fade. The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it."

Sounds pretty bad.

But I'm not talking about Japan. I fear it's going to happen to Dallas, because of First Baptist.

Jeffress sees it the opposite way. He will say Sunday, I am sure, that God did the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear reactor disasters to Japan because the Japanese aren't First Baptist-style Baptists. But I say we're in for the Really Big One here, because a lot of people here are.

Oh, I know he's crazy. But it's bad crazy. Very bad.

Who believes God is mad at the Japanese for not being Baptists? They're not even supposed to be Baptists. You know who the Baptist God is really going to come after? People who are supposed to be Baptists, but instead they have turned into heretics.

Hmm? Toes starting to feel a little toasty? Yeah, you know what I'm talking about. The Prosperity Doctrine. A lot of people have forgotten that this most popular, pervasive and pernicious of all modern Christian heresies got a big part of its start right here at First Baptist Church of Dallas under famed preacher and head pastor W.A. Criswell.

He preached it often and preached it hard. Give 10 percent of everything you've got to First Baptist. Wait. Sooner or later that big slot machine in the sky will come up all clover and make you rich.

On July 20, 1980, Criswell preached a sermon called, "The Condition of Financial Prosperity," in which he asked, "Do you believe this Word of God or not? Do you?

"God says those two always go together: 'You bless my name, and be faithful to my commandments, and I'll not forget you; I'll take care of you, I'll bless you, I'll prosper you.' Do you believe that?"

Heck, no. How would that even work? I join First Baptist, pay 10 percent of my income, and God "takes care of me?" He makes me rich? No, I never once heard any of that in one whole heck of a lot of church-going and church-school that I grew up in.

My dad was an Episcopal minister. I was always taught that the more you believe in God, the poorer you are.

God pays me? What do I do, bill him? Because ... uh ... frankly, I mean I only bring it up because we happen to be on this topic already, but if that's truly the case, I think he many be a little bit behind on his payments.

Can I foreclose? Turn him over to a collection agency? Is there a way to get the district attorney involved?

Well, you see what I mean. This is all just terrifically bad karma, indeed, like standing out in an electrical storm screaming, "Come and get me!" People usually only do that when they've been drinking, not in church.

I am not the only one to worry about this. Hardly. This idea that you can outplay God's hand is one of the oldest heresies in Christendom. It's also a fairly serious modern concern. I refer you to a fascinating article that appeared in the Atlantic magazine two years ago called, "Did Christianity Cause the Crash," suggesting that prosperity doctrine thinking is one of the things that may have cause the whole nation to go haywire. That, and Charlie Sheen.

But think about that. What better exemplar of Criswell's message could there be than Mr. Sheen? Put that in your crack pipe and smoke it.

So let's say Jeffress is right. The Baptist God spends his time going around crushing babies and drowning old people because they're not following his instructions. The Japanese would have to be low on his list. They can claim they never got the memo.

But what about us? In particular, what about First Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas? What about me, three miles away from it? The minute I finish here I'm going to start Googling lightning rods.

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