‘Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies and everyone go, ‘cause everyone knows, it’s Brother Love’s show. Hallelujah.” – Neil Diamond
ROLLING FORK – Once upon a time on this very week of the year in a city some 100 miles from here, I had occasion to cover one of life’s more entertaining events – a tent revival featuring a fellow who at that time was causing something of a ruckus as that city/s newly arrived and self-proclaimed spiritual leader and healer, one “Bishop” Joseph Appiah. Wouldn’t have missed it for the world.
Suitably attired in a smock-like robe adorned with what from a distance looked remarkably like Red Cross symbols and with heavily accented booming voice, Appiah’s initial appearance projected to the about 200 of us there was strikingly akin to that of the late Little Richard, absent the talent, of course.
And while his message was not “Good Golly, Miss Molly,” it was every bit as subtle:
“Those who need healing and blessing, this is your night,” he said, “Say yeah!” And they did.
“Since I have arrived here, many have been healed and touched,” he said. “Say Yeah!” And they did.
“I tell you people, that I have the power. I tell you that whatever (Jimmy) Swaggart and Oral Roberts can do, I can do. The power is the same,” he declared. “Say YEAH!” And they did yet again.
The audience had been primed for the good bishop’s performance from about two hours of the charismatic chanting and singing (flavored with just the right hint of snakeoil) which constitutes the oh, so, American phenomenon of tent evangelism. Before the “headliner” even arrives, his following gets whipped into a frenzied fervor.
You know, just like all those Trump rallies you watched on TV.
And the good bishop, who can read a crowd and size up his marks, struck while the proverbial iron was hot. “I ask only in the name of Jesus for a special offering,” he said in a tone dripping more piety than the collective sweat from the assembled brows. “I want a hundred of you to stand with Him, to come stand with Him, and give ten dollars,” adding in a truly deft touch, “Remember, what you give, the Lord gives back to you.”
And they came. And reaching into their pockets and wallets and purses, they gave. A finer fleecing of the flock I’d never seen. Elmer Gantry would have been proud.
As one might expect, Appiah’s arrival on the local scene had been the source of some consternation among both the city’s ministerial and law enforcement communities and with the “special offering” safely in hand, Appiah then turned his attention to his brethren of the cloth. “They say I am evil. I’ve been here only two months and I say they are jealous. I’ve got the power and all that talk is just professional jealousy.”
But, as it turned out, the good bishop did have something of a hazy background. The city’s police chief told me that Appiah had showed him a passport from Ghana and a driver’s license from Louisiana (neither renowned for their sanctity) and said he purported to be in some manner affiliated with something called “New Life Ministry,” chartered in Hempstead, New Jersey and claimed some association with the local Church of God Pentecostal Temple, then a new addition to the community’s places of worship, housed as it was in something of a shabby shopping center.
As the night wore down, only this latest heaven’s huckster told those in attendance to feel free to come by the shopping center temple and claim their “free Bible” and then invited his plants, uh, guests to come give testimonies as to his healing prowess. One young woman allowed as how he had healed her of a 19-year headache merely by “rubbing his hand across the sweat on his forehead and touching me” (she didn’t say where) and an older woman maintained he had provided her with for years unknown strength and rejuvenation merely by his presence. “If it’s hoodoo he’s doing, God give me some more,” she said.
Like the gals say in their song, “Try to understand, try to understand, try, try, try to understand, he’s a magic man.”
But as it usually does, Appiah’s magic began a fade a bit after that night under the canvas. He was to have another week or two of the laying on of hands (primarily to the women of the flock, oddly enough) and a short-lived exercise in his exchanging bottled remedies for this and that for contributions to his cause.
And then one day he was just gone, a departure I’d like to think was hastened a bit my my front page investigative story in the local newspaper detailing the righteousness of some of his religiosity. But true or not, I surely benefitted from the experience in that tent so many years ago – if only through a deeper understanding of Hank Jr.’s highly underrated observation: “They tell you to send your money to the Lord, but they give you their address.”
Ray Mosby is editor and publisher of the Deer Creek Pilot in Rolling Fork.