By Rabbi Yeshaia Charles Familant
How does a young girl facing the ravages of a broken home, whose estranged father committed suicide, leaving her mother and the girl completely impoverished? With the mother driven to alcoholism, the girl was then consigned to various caregivers and subjected to sexual abuse from age six to thirteen. The little girl, not surprisingly, struggled with bulimia – often a coping mechanism to deal with severe stress. This bleak beginning does not portend well for a young child’s future.
The fear of suicide, alcoholism, poverty and sexual abuse, any one of which like a ghost, may pursue a person throughout her lifetime. Quadrupling the number of such ghosts, having a synergistic effect on the unfortunate person, can bring her to a premature end or may prompt her to adopt extreme measures to escape her tireless stalkers. This leads to running faster and harder with the passage of time so as not to be ensnared by any of them.
This little girl, now a grown woman in her early fifties, has become transformed into a famous personage – a multi-millionaire televangelist and “spiritual advisor” to none other than President Donald Trump. I am speaking, of course, of Paula White. Let us trace a bit of her history since childhood to see if we can understand what she has become.
Her mother, having emerged from her alcoholism, still was attractive enough to engage the interests of a two-star admiral. They eventually married. Paula, now nine years old, moved with her mother and step-father to the Washington D.C. area. When Paula turned eighteen, she converted to Pentecostal Christianity, exemplified by its adherents having a direct and personal relationship with The Holy Spirit – Christ. Through this relationship, one might become empowered with specialized gifts, such as the ability to heal and preach the gospel. This is precisely how Paula describes her conversion experience:
“When I was just eighteen years old, the Lord gave me a vision that every time I opened my mouth and declared the Word of the Lord, there was a manifestation of His Spirit where people were either healed, delivered, or saved. When I shut my mouth, they fell off into utter darkness and God spoke to me and said ‘I called you to preach the gospel.’”
Paula married Randy White and together they established a church in Tampa in the early 1990s. Through the church’s early struggles financially and changes in name and location, it came to be called “Without Walls International Church.” By 1999 in a huge outdoor tent, it is claimed there were 5000 weekly attendees with thousands of outreach ministries. During the next five years, they acquired other properties in Florida, with their membership reaching 20,000, reputedly becoming the seventh largest church in the country. A U.S. senate audit reported that the church’s income was 150 million dollars during the period 2004-6. Paula White became the senior pastor of this church and then of another with a slight name change and then of neither – just in time, it seems, because Without Walls International Church filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2014 to avoid paying the huge debt accumulated.
But Paula White had covered her, ah, ground by paving the way for her personal fortune through constant television broadcasts finally reaching as many as nine Christian networks. She has also ministered to the rich and famous, including Michael Jackson, Gary Sheffield and Darryl Strawberry. She is also the “personal life coach” to Tyra Banks and appeared on the Tyra Banks Show speaking about promiscuity [mark that!]. Still running hard and fast, in 2011, Paula was appointed the senior pastor of the New Destiny Christian Church in Apopka, Florida and, a year later, of the New Destiny Christian Center (after some controversy). She has not restricted her ministry to preaching, but has extended herself to philanthropic work in the community along with New Destiny Christian Center: mentoring of school students, donating food to the needy, assisting families victimized by violence and ministering to help young women trapped in the adult entertainment industry. So what’s not to like about Paula? Wait! There’s more.
Enter her relationship with Donald Trump who first noticed her on her TV program (where else?). He subsequently brought her to Atlantic City for private bible studies. He has also appeared on her own TV show. Paula became part of Trump’s Evangelical Advisory Board while he was campaigning for the presidency. You may remember she delivered the invocation at his inauguration. Since Trump took office, Paula has served as one of Trump’s spiritual advisors and has held Oval Office prayer circles. She had supported Trump’s 2017 decision to recognise Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and, just recently, has enthusiastically supported Trump’s choice of Brett Kavanaugh for the next Supreme Court justice. So what’s not to like about Paula White now? Wait! There’s more.
To show her compassion for young children, Paula visited a foster care facility in Bristow, Virginia. Remember that Paula was the victim of much abuse, sexual and physical, while in foster care as a child from six to thirteen. One might expect her to have much compassion for these immigrant children, many torn from their mother’s arms at the U.S. – Mexico border. So when asked later, on the Christian Broadcasting Network what biblical verses came to mind as she sat with those children, she responded, somewhat defensively, that many Christians misconstrue the story about Jesus’ escape to Egypt. Not wishing to be trapped into criticizing Trump’s zero tolerance policy with regard to immigrants, she declared that Jesus did not break the law! If he had broken the law, she added, He would not have been the Messiah. As a rabbi, I could say much to refute Paula White’s comments and spurious reasoning, but I will, instead, defer to my Christian colleagues:
“Most Christian theologians would likely find flaws in White’s analysis,” said Matthew Soerens, national coordinator for the advocacy group Evangelical Immigration Table. He said the concept of “illegally” entering Egypt hardly applied during Jesus’ time, centuries before the existence of modern nation-states that issue passports and visas to regulate migration.
“We have no reason from the text to think that his parents requested refugee status in advance of their flight [to Egypt],” Soerens wrote in an email. “Much like many Salvadoran or Honduran families today who are fleeing gang violence, their response to a credible threat to their family’s safety was to try to reach a foreign country where they would be safe, protected from those seeking to do them harm.”
Rev. John McCullough, president of the refugee resettlement agency Church World Service, said he has seen no evidence that Jesus’ family was “legally admitted” into Egypt.
“Fortunately, the Egyptian authorities did not exercise any kind of zero tolerance policy,” McCullough said. Soerens also questioned the idea that breaking a governmental law is always sinful, as White’s comment implies. He pointed to Bible passages about Jewish midwives defying an Egyptian ruler’s order to kill male children and to stories about Jesus’ apostles being imprisoned because they were on the wrong side of Roman laws.
Yes, I am in complete accord with these learned and truly spiritual Christians. They could have said much more and so could I but, instead, let me take you back to the beginning of my comments:
“The fear of suicide, alcoholism, poverty and sexual abuse, any one of which like a ghost, may pursue a person throughout her lifetime. Quadrupling the number of such ghosts, having an exponential effect on the unfortunate person, can bring her to a premature end or may prompt her to adopt extreme measures to escape her tireless stalkers. This leads to running faster and harder with the passage of time so as not to be ensnared by any of them.”
As to Paula White’s response, nowadays, to alcoholism, I cannot say. With respect to sexual abuse, she seems to have some track record of helping other females – girls and women – to deal with this. However, Paula, herself, is on her third marriage. I don’t know if that relates to her early terrifying exposure to sexual experiences, but one must wonder. Regarding suicide, it’s clear she is determined not only to survive, but to thrive. But how? By running from poverty in every which-way. More than that – accumulating more and more personal wealth by hobnobbing with the rich and famous, the Trumps of the world! If this entails giving lip-service to what is immoral or illegal – Trump’s treatment of immigrant families in the former, Trump’s moving of the American embassy to Jerusalem, irrespective of the rights of the Palestinians, in the latter; then to hell with anything but the good old dollar – millions of them. Here is an extreme form of Paula White running from the ‘ghost’ of poverty.
To buttress this final point, it is important to note that Paula White is a proponent of Prosperity Theology. Yes, you’ve read that right. She, along with other televangelists, have made millions through preaching the “prosperity gospel.” It is a ‘religious’ belief that holds financial blessing and physical well-being are always the will of God. Of course, donations to [their] religious causes will increase the material wealth of those who contribute to them.
Dress it up, if you will, with religious terminology, but at bottom, it is simply a conviction that those who are wealthy – however they come by their wealth – are entitled to have it and to keep it and to amass more and more of it. That is precisely the belief of the elite one percent. Paula White, are you listening? Or are you too busy running from your ghosts?