I love comeback stories (well, OK, most of them)

A vast majority of comeback stories deserve to be told. Take Gioia Bruno’s story for example.

Bruno was – and, thanks to a miraculous recovery plus a reunion dating back to 2006, still is – a member of the all female trio Exposé. A benign throat tumor sidelined her vocal career. Years of retraining and healing followed – and then came the comeback. She has since released albums as a solo artist and a member of the group Wet – followed by reconnecting with Jeanette Jurado and Ann Curless in Exposé.

Yes, Exposé’s music doesn’t fit the format of RockTrax – but can easily be included in the format of Rock 104’s sister station, KZ94.3. With that plug – and an example of a great comeback story – out of the way, here’s a comeback story that deserves to be told only for the sake of caveat emptor. It’s the story of Rev. Robert Tilton.

If the name rings a bell, you likely remember the then televangelist from being the focus of unflattering, yet fair, exposés (go figure) from the likes of “Inside Edition” and ABC News’ “PrimeTime Live” in the early 1990s.

As viewership of his “Success ‘n’ Life” TV ministry grew, Tilton often preached to the television congregation on making vows of faith – preferably $1000. “Oh, you probably don’t have a thousand dollars,” Tilton said, “but vow it.” He recommended paying off the vow a few dollars at a time “as God provides” – and then, according to his sermons, God will bless you in the form of better housing, new cars or whatever your heart desired at the time.

Well, if many prayers were answered this way, there’s reported proof many others went unanswered. There’s the story of a gentleman who vowed as much as $5000 – and ended up with an empty pocketbook and his wife leaving him. As that marriage ended in divorce, other marriages ended in widowhood. Certain viewers turned to Tilton’s programming, vowed for a miraculous comeback in health (some of whom stopped seeking medical attention in fear that would “breach the vow to God”) and succumbed to their illnesses.

What’s worse? There were follow-up reports Tilton’s ministry was still sending mail to the deceased reminding them of the vows they initially made (in layman’s terms, billing statements). Some mailings were “personalized” – implying God spoke to Tilton and indicated the miracle was in progress. The press and critics alike rightfully asked this question. If God spoke to Tilton, how come He didn’t tell him certain viewers’ funerals have taken place?

And of course, there was the lingering question of how much money did Tilton *really* pocket in the process. There were reports of Tilton owning lavish homes and expensive cars. Tilton responded that he preaches prosperity and lives it.

As you’d expect, lawsuits followed. Attendance at Tilton’s church in the Dallas area dwindled. Viewership of “Success ‘n’ Life” also dwindled. Tilton even went through divorce – twice – and is currently on his third wife. You’d think he’d fade into oblivion, right? Wrong.

Thanks in part to technology he sure didn’t have access to “back in the old days”, Tilton’s “Success ‘n’ Life” show was rebooted a little more than a decade ago – airing on cable networks. You can even watch the some of the newest episodes of “Success ‘n’ Life” on his official YouTube channel. One search of his name should point you in the right direction – assuming you can get passed the unauthorized “Pastor Gas/Farting Preacher” clips. Recent accounts indicate he has a radio version of “Success ‘n’ Life” in Los Angeles and holds monthly worship services in the L.A. area. And trading in 20th Century tactics for 21st Century strategy, his website asks visitors to make vows of faith online.

While Tilton has often shouted out, “IT’S IN THE BIBLE!!!”, critics and former Tilton ministry employees are quick to point out Tilton’s knowledge of scripture is limited to certain verses that “validate” making vows. While a tip of the hat is owed to my fellow journalists’ hard work on the evolving story back then, I genuinely wish they picked up a copy of the Bible and discovered a glaring fallacy in Tilton’s logic at the height of the controversy.

For example, Tilton often preached from Psalms 66:13-14. Here’s how the two verses read in the easy-to-read version…

“So I bring sacrifices to your Temple. When I was in trouble, I asked for help and made promises to you. Now I am giving you what I promised.”

…but – if you read a little further into the 15th verse, you don’t see an account of a monetary vow…

“I bring my best sheep as burnt offerings. I offer the smoke from them up to you. I give you sacrifices of bulls and goats.”

…now – can you imagine someone being on the phone with one of Tilton’s prayer ministers making a vow of faith in sheep, bulls and/or goats in lieu of dollars?

I assure you I am a believer in Christ. I’m also a believer in miracles. But, as I’ve witnessed, miracles come from either being at the right place at the right time – or, in Gioia Bruno’s case, a lot of hard work, belief, determination and, in all likelihood, prayers plus kind thoughts.

And as you’ve probably figured out, I’m also a believer in this old adage: “If it’s too good to be true, it probably is.” If critics of Tilton really wanted to team up and bring him down, all they had to do was look in Psalms 66:15 and really demonstrate his Bible knowledge was limited.

After all – “IT’S IN THE BIBLE!!!”

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