George Burns’ geriatric career went into overdrive when he appeared in a magnificent movie, playing the Almighty Himself.
The problem was that I wasn’t allowed to say the name of the movie.
Why? Well, it was called “Oh, God!” and repeating that title was taking the name of the Lord in vain. I would describe the movie to my friends as “Oh, Gosh!” and they had no idea what I was talking about.
We Mormons, and a large number of Christians, Jews, and religionists of every stripe, are often warned against taking the name of the Lord in vain. It’s the Third of the Ten Commandments, for the love of Pete! (Notice my non-vain-taking sleight of hand there?) I think, by and large, that not using the name of the savior of the world as a profane epithet, is very good counsel, but I’m also convinced that people are missing the point.
I believe that the real problem with taking the name of the Lord in vain is not in the recounting of the title of the George Burns movie. I think the thing that God has a beef with is those who invoke His name to pretend to authority they do not have.
Case in point: Robert Tilton.
I used to watch televangelist Robert Tilton back in the early 90s with a toxic mixture of awe and horror. This man was so deeply shameless. There was a certain amount of perverse majesty in his ability to prey on the good impulses of stupid people.
The premise of his show, titled “Success N Life,” was that if you sent Robert Tilton a thousand bucks, Jesus would make you rich. That was it. There was nothing in his show about turning the other cheek or going the extra mile or welcoming a returning prodigal. The whole Gospel of Jesus Christ boiled down to how much cash you could send to Robert Tilton.
Tilton promised that he would take each of your “prayer requests” and pray over them personally in the name of the Lord, and he spent a great deal of airtime doing just that. Sometimes he would pray in tongues, spouting gibberish like “allabondo delasoya,” and then he’d move on to the next one.
His empire unravelled when ABC exposed the that most of these “prayer requests” were piling up in dumpsters, unopened and unread, with the checks ripped out of them and the rest of the piece discarded.
Tilton vigorously denied this and insisted that he’d had several small strokes as the result of all the ink that had seeped into his hands from personally handling every prayer request. But the jig was largely up – “Success N Life” collapsed, and Tilton faded. But he never went to jail. And he still has a huge mansion, a beautiful young third trophy wife, and an Internet show that continues to bilk the ignorant.
Tilton is a classic example of taking the Lord in vain.
Who authorized Robert Tilton to personally accept the Lord’s cash? What gives him any more power than you have to call upon the Lord for miracles and material wealth? Every single time he screams something ridiculous “in the name of Jesus,” Robert Tilton is taking the name of the Lord in vain. He is using the name of Jesus to rob people and line his own pockets.
I can’t judge anyone’s immortal soul, but if there is a Hell, I shan’t be surprised to discover Robert Tilton burning in it.
There is one upside to this whole thing, however. Tilton has become the subject of a series of Internet videos entitled “Farting Preacher” or “Pastor Gas.” They have greatly improved on Tilton’s original message.
I present the premiere installment of the series for your spiritual edification: